Sling Time is Not Tummy Time

One of the common misconceptions circulating in babywearing circles is that time upright in a carrier can be equated with “tummy time”, or time an infant spends playing on its tummy. These two activities should not be equated, there are important differences for the child’s development in each position. However, there are also many similarities and time in a carrier is a good alternative to tummy time when the latter is not practical.

Tummy Time

“Tummy time” is commonly defined as time an infant spends playing on its stomach while awake. It is commonly recommended by many medical professionals to start at birth as a way of reducing or avoiding the mishaping of an infant’s head (plagiocephaly) caused by too much time in one position.

Tummy time also has the benefit of strengthening an infant’s abdominal and chest muscles while offering a different view of the world and an opportunity to engage with it directly as a tactile experience, rather than observing it while lying on the back.

However, some babies, especially those with reflux, protest and detest tummy time. Many parents are left wondering whether an activity so distressing to their child could be beneficial developmentally while worrying that failing to engage in regular tummy time may result in an avoidable disfigurement for their child in the form of plagiocephaly.

The good news is that babywearing is an alternative to tummy time. The common misconception, however, is that the two are equal.

Sling Time

Like tummy time, sling time has many benefits for an infant’s development. Upright time in a carrier removes pressure from the back of the head (present when the baby is lying on its back), reducing the chance of plagiocephaly quite effectively.

Time spent upright in a sling also exercises many of the same core stability muscles that are used during tummy time, however these muscles are not being used to the same level of exertion over the same time period as tummy time. Consider doing a pushup on the floor (or not). Now, think about pushing up while leaning against a wall. The latter is much easier, thanks to gravity. This is a similar comparison to tummy time and sling time. Another difference is that upper abdominal muscles may be used to a greater extent than lower abdominal muscles during sling time. The reason for this is the way the child is secured to the caregiver in the sling.

Since a baby is less likely to be frustrated in a sling and spend much longer in a sling more regularly throughout the day, the overall cumulative effect of sling time will be very beneficial to the development of these core stability muscles. The stimulation of the world around the very young infant will provide a very good incentive for the baby to develop its neck muscles from a very early age. In addition, since the babywearer is generally moving about while carrying the infant, the baby’s sense of balance and movement will also be developed.

There are several benefits of tummy time that sling time does not replicate, however. When a child is playing on its stomach, it can reach for (and usually mouth) toys. Gradually this will develop into a desire to move towards a desired object. Although a child can be given a toy to manipulate while it is in a carrier, this latter encouragement to take the first steps towards autonomous movement is missing in the carrier. Not all the same muscles are used to the same degree when in a carrier compared to when a baby is on its stomach. With this in mind, however, there are many benefits of closeness to a loving caregiver while in a sling that tummy time cannot replicate. Time babywearing can be used as a good way to develop those gross motor skills an infant needs to find tummy time less frustrating.

Conclusion

Although tummy time and sling time are not entirely interchangeable, they are two similar forms of exercise for an infant, each with benefits. Sling time, while not replacing tummy time, can help reduce the probability of placiocephaly while also developing core stability muscles in the worn infant. It is a good alternative to consider when a baby is frustrated by tummy time and an easy way to develop a child’s muscles in preparation for tummy time. However, time spent on the stomach should be introduced at some point for optimal development of gross motor skills.

About Steph

Steph is a Mum of three with a passion for babywearing and some excellent skills with knots.
This entry was posted in Babywearing Info, Special Needs Babywearing, Special Topics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Sling Time is Not Tummy Time

  1. Ruby says:

    Another great post, Steph! One reason tummy time doesn’t meet the same need as tummy-TO-tummy time is that “floor time” is often in the absence of the attention of a caregiver. When in a sling or otherwise up around mum/dad/grandma etc, our babies are near our hearts/our warmth and are near our ears and mouths, They develop language skills as we talk to them, they learn about their environment as we explain where they are and what we’re doing. And as they settle and sleep, they hear the sounds of their family, the ones who love and cherish them. On the floor, babies see feet, paws, detritus (certainly on my floors) and inanimate toys. Tummy time (floor time) ought to be limited because of it’s lack of human interaction.

    With regard to plagicephaly, keep an eye out for my upcoming post about craniosynostosis – or “When a Bent Head is More than Plagiocephaly”! 🙂

  2. Steph says:

    I think you’re right, Ruby. Tummy time simply cannot develop many of the cognitive skills and emotive concepts that sling time actively encourages. 🙂

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  4. mystic_eye_cda says:

    That’s simply ridiculous -babies in carriers are constantly reaching for and grabbing objects. One of the primary safety concerns of baby wearing is keeping their hands out of things, particularly in back carries. Babies in carriers reach for and grab things far earlier, babies on their tummy have to learn a lot of arm strength and head control before they can even start to grab things.

    Babies that are worn are used to being in the thick of things and have a desire to get where they want to go. Babies that are taught to stay in a swing, bouncer or exersaucer all day, or confined to a play pen most of the day except for 15 minutes twice a day on a mat do not always have that drive. Often its trained out of them, they expect to be passive observers and watch the world go by.

    Its true that in cultures where babies primarily are carried they walk about 2-3 months later -but that’s because the ground is so unsafe. And what’s the big deal so they walk later? I don’t love my older son more because he walked at 9 months and my second walked at 16 months. One isn’t smarter. They both have superb balance and climbing skills for their respective ages.

  5. Steph says:

    I’m sorry Mystic Eye, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. My point was that in a sling a baby is not able to exercise (some of) the lower abdominal and leg muscles that will eventually lead to independent motion. The issue made was not with fine motor skills (grabbing, etc.), but with gross motor skills- crawling, walking. In other words, if a baby is going to crawl or walk, then they have to be put down to do it- at some time. No recommendation was made for how long or when to start that time. That will obviously be different for each child and each family and is clearly best decided by the parent. In the case of babywearing cultures you mentioned, that time probably starts much later and for shorter periods than in western culture. Clearly it’s not harming the children!

    Certainly, the post made it quite clear that there are numerous advantages to babywearing, many of which are contiguous with tummy time. After all, this is a babywearing blog!

    So I’m not quite sure what’s ridiculous- but would love to continue the conversation.

  6. Amy says:

    I realize this is an old post, but I am a Physical Therapist hoping to soon formally research, “Is sling time equal to or better than tummy time?” I believe the trunk muscles can be developed dynamically when worn in a sling rather than being in a prone position.

  7. Lunachick says:

    In her book ‘Babywearing’, Maria Blois (M.D.) states:
    “all the evidence points to…carried babies develop[ing] better than stationary babies. BWing activates baby’s vestibular system (used for balance) and encourages him to use his head and neck muscles to compensate for your movements. Because of this, the time that you wear your baby can actually count as ‘tummy time’. BWing is not a passive activity. Your baby is an active partner…. You can trust your baby to ask for exactly the ‘down time’ he needs to develop properly.”

  8. Hunter Setter says:

    There’s lots of baby activity gear out there, and baby swings are one of the most popular baby items you can find. Baby swings are a great way for babies and parents to take a break, but they aren’t a necessity like car seats and cribs are. For some, the decision to buy a baby swing is easy, but for parents on a budget or with little space in the home, the choice isn’t as easy. If you’re stuck between whether to buy extra baby gear, like a baby swing, or not, read on to learn the top 5 reasons to buy baby swings, and maybe the decision will become easier.-

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  9. Thanks for sharing! Interesting analysis! I only disagree with the implication that having some non-sling tummy time is necessary for optimum development. It may be true (I am not qualified to figure out whether it is) that some muscles that are stimulated during tummy time are not stimulated in the sling, but that statement implies that it is important that those muscles get a work out. However, human babies were not designed to develop with tummy time. They were designed (ev0lutionarliy speaking) to develop *optimally* with being held against a caregiver.

    So if tummy time works out certain abdominal muscles, teaches them to read, or drive, or walk a tightrope, great. But that’s not to say that babies don’t get everything they need from being held (some cultures don’t put the baby down until around 6 months old).

    And I see no reason to make tummy time sound like something more than what it is: a modern practice invented to combat the negative effects of not holding your baby very often 🙂

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