Set Me Free – Unrestricted Babies (And Equipment They Don’t Need)

Many months after becoming a mom I realized a shocking truth: we don’t need to buy every contraption on display at the baby super store! I had fallen into the trap of believing I needed all the technology that was available. I naively assumed that these products must be in stores because they were helpful and necessary, and no one had advised me to do otherwise.

‘Luckily,’ I found hand-me-downs from family and friends, and so I was well-equipped with a bouncy seat, electric swing, and a couple of C-shaped pillows in which you can place the baby in a sitting position. If I had added walkers, jumpers and baby saucers, my gizmo inventory would have been complete.

Later I learned that the real requirements for a newborn are a crib, bassinet or co-sleeper, a car seat, carrier (and/or stroller), a changing table, and doorway gates — so that safe play areas can be created. Playpens make life with a young infant easier, especially if you can buy or borrow two, and have one outside also.  The other stuff is not only a waste of money, but can even be detrimental to a baby’s development.

If a voice of reason could be heard through the din of marketing, consumerism and peer pressure, all of which prey upon a new parent’s self-doubt, it would say: “What did babies do before all this gadgetry existed? Did babies walk before there were walkers, jump before there were jumpers? Were children long ago deficient, unintelligent, physically awkward, slower and less capable? Were they less loved?”

Similarly, we can ask whether today’s high-technology for babies gives parents more free time. My sense is that they do not. In fact, when we place an infant in constrictive apparatuses or parent-controlled positions, we can create a habit of dependency that can later undermine our quest for free time. The baby who gets used to being situated by adults is inclined to continue to require adult attention, instead of developing the joyful habit of independent play.

An infant can move most freely when he is placed on his back.  Some doctors suggest ‘tummy time’ for an infant as young as one or two months old. But infant expert Magda Gerber and her mentor, pediatrician Emmi Pikler, believed that infants should be trusted to ‘discover’ the tummy position when ready, without our assistance.

Here’s an experiment: lie on your belly and then lie on your back; compare the two positions with respect to comfort and mobility. Now imagine you have limited upper body and neck strength and can barely lift your head. Do you feel stuck? An infant placed on his back in a safe place can see all around him, stretch, arch his back, move his limbs freely, examine his hands and feet, even find his thumb and self-soothe. Our body functions best when we are free to move. I found evidence of this fact when I visited a friend and her son.

Cheryl’s four-month-old boy spent most of his waking hours in a bouncy seat, a seat that elevates his back to an almost vertical angle and secures the baby by a T-strap at the bottom of the chair. I used a bouncy seat with my first baby, too, and would never dream of mentioning possible  ‘downsides’ of using the seat to Cheryl.  Even if she asked, I’d be hesitant to say something that might sound judgmental. Most of us are extremely sensitive to perceived criticism as new parents (now how would I know that?)

But when Cheryl shared her worries about her son’s constipation, I had to bite my tongue. I couldn’t stop thinking that if I was unnecessarily stuck in that seat all day, unable to stretch or move without feeling myself slip down the seat, I’d be ‘irregular’ too!

There are not only physical, but also possible emotional consequences when a baby is strapped into a seat or propped up. As infant expert Magda Gerber cautioned, “Every time we put an infant in a position she cannot change all by herself, we deprive her from moving freely. So she feels passive, helpless, and less confident.”

Doctors often advise parents to place an infant in a sitting position when he is six months old. However, just as a baby rolls when he is ready, a baby also finds his own ability to move from a horizontal position on the floor to sitting upright when he is able. When the child achieves this position naturally he can smoothly transition himself back into a horizontal position for mobilization when he wishes.

Doctor’s ‘checklists’ neglect to acknowledge the wide range of normal motor development, and often breed parental fear and doubt. Worry that our child will ‘fall behind’ is one of the reasons we all find it difficult to resist the temptation to place our baby in a sitting position or hold him up to stand. Another is that adults see the world from an upright position, and we perceive it as preferable to a horizontal view. Our child may seem to like it, especially when that is what he’s used to.  (He might also like to devour a giant hot fudge sundae, but that doesn’t mean we’d give him one! )

Parenting is sometimes looking beyond the moment, the week, or even the month to establish healthy habits that serve our child best in the long term. Encouraging natural gross motor development is worth the effort.

If our infant is accustomed to us placing him in a sitting position, then he may become less willing to attempt his own positions independently. Rather than enjoying all he can do, he gets in the habit of expecting the parent to intercede. This was the dynamic I observed between Robert and Shelly.

Seven-month-old Robert cried while lying on the floor until his mother, Shelley, placed him in a sitting position. I had been trying unsuccessfully for weeks to encourage Shelly to allow Robert more time on his back.  A few times, we’d seen him roll to his stomach and began to scoot forward. But, even though his mobility was completely hampered while sitting, he now wanted to do what he was used to doing, or perhaps he wanted to do what he thought his mother expected. Instead, he lost his balance, fell and cried again. Robert’s helplessness was reinforced by his mom’s well-meaning actions.

When our infants are free to develop motor abilities without artificial aid or the restriction of baby apparatuses, they progress independently and confidently in their own unique way. The biggest challenge for parents is also one of the biggest gifts we can bestow on a child: waiting for readiness.

“We believe that the infant should be able to move and explore freely, to choose and change his own body position, to come and go as he wants — within the safe and challenging environment we create.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent – Caring For Infants With Respect


I share more about natural development in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Hi Janet…

    i would love to start applying more of the philosophies taught at RIE as a parent….but since i do not have classes to take in my area i have to read about it……

    so i have some questions…

    1. how can i get a 6 month old used to being on his back more….?….he is definitely a baby who enjoys being in the lap more….hes a constant kicker and wants to be active…anytime anyone picks him up he starts jumping up and down without help or kicking the air, people, objects…..consequently his bottom half is very strong…but i am not sure about his upper half….he rolls over both ways and started this very young but will not stay on his tummy long enough to push up and play…….he can sit up for the most part….and now i believe prefers this position…. but i dont feel comfortable with placing him sitting up after witnessing him falling backwards onto his head….”The Little Gym” seems to think this is ok…i do not….

    2. are you/Gerber really saying to leave a baby on his back ALL of the time….?…

    this doesnt seem instinctively right to me please would seem like too much of anything is not a good thing….

    our day usually goes as follows:

    7am: benjamin wakes up for morning feeding….then plays in the bed for 45 mins to an hour while i sleep a little longer

    8:30: he plays in his kickin coaster in the kitchen will i make and eat breakfast

    9: he plays either lying down outside or either floor time or play from my lap inside depending on his mood…

    10/11: morning nap

    after his morning nap “routine” goes out the window and everything is usually a blur to me….sometimes i can get him to play some more on the floor after his morning nap (45 mins at the most)….most of the times not….he still not really into reading books unless he is sleepy…so this is usually when i run errands or just get out of the house for a stroll or something…just because i feel guilty when we stay inside and he gets fussy…i am not sure if i am doing what is necessary for him to be stimulated….also staying inside crates a depressed state for me because i become insanely aware of all the work that i am not able to do piling up……

    he usually takes another nap before we start winding down for bed….

    so if baby is supposed to be lying down for more than 50% of the day not including naps….then how do you address flat head syndrome…?…what happens when baby wants to play from mothers lap….?…..and if parents are not supposed to “play” with and interact while the baby is playing but only observe… then how does the parent not become some kind of weird voyeur automaton….?…

    thanks for the insight… is much appreciatd…..

    1. Mary Ellen,

      Thanks, these are really good questions and I’ll try my best to answer them!

      Children, especially infants and toddlers, form habits quickly. As a parent, we constantly create patterns of behavior that our baby will naturally want to continue. Babies thrive on predictability. It is the small bit of independence they can have — knowing what will happen next, and what is expected of them.

      Having said that, babies are also very adaptable. If we want to make changes for our baby, there will be a brief adjustment period, and then the baby will form new habits. It is up to us to create the habits that we believe will set our baby in the most positive direction. Babies (and children of all ages, even adults!) might seem to “enjoy” things that aren’t necessarily good for them in the long haul (like candy, partying all night, etc.!)

      1. It sounds like you are interested in allowing Benjamin to develop his gross motor skills naturally, but you are doing some things that are getting in the way. Babies have the most freedom to move when placed on their backs. But if they are placed in more vertical positions, (like in the saucer or bouncy seat, playing in a sitting postion on a parent’s lap or just placed in a sitting position on the floor) they get used to being in those positions. Ideally, Magda Gerber and Dr. Emmi Pikler would say to wait until an infant can move himself from a lying down postion on the floor to a sitting postion before ever placing him in that position. This takes patience, and a real committment to the natural gross motor development approach. But, you can wean your baby from playing in more vertical positions quickly, if you make a concerted effort to stop placing him in those upright postions. If your baby complains when he is on his back, try lying next to him and talking to him. Then, if he continues you might pick him up and hold him, and after a few minutes try again. All the while, talk to him about what you are doing. He will be able to build the muscles necessary to play well on his tummy soon, but if he is being moved into other postions, he doesn’t have the time he needs to work on his tummy and develop his pivoting and scooting skills.

      Your instinct about “The Little Gym” is healthy. When babies are allowed to develop naturally, they have amazing balance, grace and control. This is good for them psychologically as well as physically. Imagine how your boy feels when he is stuck in a sitting up position, immobile, and the only way he can leave that position is to fall. That is what happens when we sit babies up. And yet, doctors often suggest it.

      2. If Benjamin has more time on the floor, he will begin to manuever in the ways he wishes to, independently. Yes, we teach parents to allow babies to be on their backs until the baby chooses to do otherwise. And they demonstrate that choice by doing it.
      The difference in this approach is that is TRUSTS babies to do what they are capable of doing on their own. And we believe that what an infant can do is enough…more than enough…it’s the perfect thing for him to be doing.

      Afternoons, especially late afternoons are usually the most difficult time for parents. Your need to get out is very understandable! Go for a stroll, or if it’s a nice day, bring a blanket to the park. But, this is not necessary for Benjamin… Babies are fussy late in the day, period. He needs less stimulation and activity than you probably think. Please don’t feel guilty! Guilt is not allowed. Anyway, you sound like a sensitive and terrific mother!

      > Flat head syndrome… This one really baffles me, I am certainly no expert and am obviously going to have to do more research. I’ve been involved with RIE for 17 years, and only in the last two have I heard about the plagiocephaly issue, and have had a couple of babies come to class wearing helmets. Pikler and Gerber have been encouraging the back position for sixty years and many, MANY babies have been raised this way. I believe in taking every precaution, but could this be a case of over-diagnosis — and someone making lots of money on these helmets? Don’t the majority of cases self-correct? Normal babies on their backs can (and do) move their heads from side to side. The reason sleeping on the back is better prevention for SIDS is that the infant can move his head more freely. And if Benjamin is already able to roll, he will soon be spending more and more time on his tummy by choice.

      Of course you should play with Benjamin and enjoy him in your lap as much as you want to! Just make sure he has a lot of time on the floor (or in a play pen) so that he can work on his moves. And you don’t have to be an automoton:-) … just be in responsive mode. When he looks at you acknowledge what he is doing, but also enjoy peaceful moments of just “being” together. The more you do while he plays, the more he will be responding to his magical mother, rather than the other way around. It’s different, I know. And I have the greatest admiration for you for wanting to try this different approach without the availability of classes and the support of other parents. There are several parents like you who have been contacting me privately, and I’ve been inspired to develop a “community” section for my site, so that you all can connect. My dream is for parents in the same cities to form playgroups and support each other. I’ll be announcing it soon!

      Mary Ellen, thanks so much again for your questions!

      1. The flat head syndrome is real. Years ago, we put our babies on their stomach when they slept, so they had a lot of time on both their stomachs and their backs. Babies are supposed to now sleep solely on their backs, which means most of baby’s time other than when they are being held, or in one of the “gadgetry” that you question.

      2. Hi! I just started with RIE 2 months ago and our 4 month old has been strictly on his back. He was just diagnosed with flat head and it’s pretty apparent when you look at his head. I’m struggling with how to treat this issue while still being aligned with RIE principles that I believe in. We bought a non restrictive pillow where his head can still move. And I’m going to start carrying him more often I suppose. I’m really struggling with how to proceed and am feeling immense mom guilt. Feeling like maybe I should have done tummy time?? I don’t know. I would love to get your opinion now on flat head since it’s been awhile since this was posted. And any advice!!! Thanks so mu Co

        1. Hi Alli – Sorry you are in this dilemma. Does your baby seem to be working towards rolling while in the supine position? What are his movements like? Have you tried placing his head at opposite ends of his bed while he is sleeping so that he naturally turns different directions?

  2. Now, after 12 years, you have solved my oldest child’s infant constipation mystery. In all the scenarios my husband and I ran through we never thought about the bouncy seat bringing that on. Oh, hindsight…someone please learn from it!

    1. Dawn, you are hilarious and I am BEYOND honored!

  3. Hi Janet,
    My baby has severe brain damage from birth resulting in dystonic cerebral palsy and ‘developmental delay’. We have so much input from physio, speech and OT and I have tried a few different approaches to helping his gross motor development. He is now 9 months and is unable to hold his head up for long (tends to flop forward or overextend backwards with his whole body). He can roll over (tummy to back) and hold himself up for a short time on his arms whilst on his belly.
    I really appreciate your approach to motor development-allowing the child to develop at his own pace. It has made me think.
    What about a child like mine who has a hard time reaching out for anything (he is only just starting to reach out for objects) and difficulty with muscle control ? He is irritable (crying, body arching etc) unless I make a noise with a toy or a song. I can’t tell if this is him or if I have conditioned him to always need/expect distraction. His first 3 months we were told he would die so he didn’t do much moving around.
    What can I do (or not do!) to help him?

    1. Faith, it seems I missed your comment somehow and I humbly apologize for this delayed response.

      Magda Gerber began her work in the U.S. as a child therapist, working with children who had cerebral palsy at Children’s Hospital. She then spent seven years working with autistic children. In her words (from Your Self-Confident Baby), “I loved this work. I was somehow able to develop relationships with extremely disturbed children whom no one else had been able to reach. The director, Belle Dubnoff, called me ‘Madge with her magic’. (Madge was my American nickname at that time.) My magic was simply observing closely and expecting of the children only what they could do. When a child is expected to do something he cannot, he is set up for failure.”

      Magda believed in trusting babies to do what they were ready to do and allowing them to experience mastery in their individual way and time. She treated babies with special needs no differently. She taught us that respecting a child means waiting patiently and trusting, enjoying what the child is able to do rather than wishing or (ever so subtly) asking for more.

      Your son’s abilities (reaching, etc.) will come… It sounds like the song or noise “worked” once when he was expressing his discomfort, and has become a little habit and expectation. Instead of the song or noise, you might try acknowledging his communication honestly… “I hear you. You seem uncomfortable. Do you want me to pick you up?” If he continues to cry or seems to indicate YES, then pick him while sitting on the floor, hold him until he calms down and after a while maybe try again. “Would you like to go back to playing? I’m going to lay you down now.”

      If his fussiness seems to be about him working to achieve something (reaching, etc.), talk to him about what you know. “I see how hard you are working. That’s difficult to do.”

      Please let me know if this helps at all…

  4. This really rings true for me — I live in the UK and 8.5 years ago when I had my eldest, none of my doctors/nurses/health visitors/midwives said a word to me about “tummy time.” I saw it on the internet and was slightly baffled.

    I have never owned an exersaucer, baby swing or jumperoo (mostly b/c our house was too small to keep such massive baby things!) and all 4 of my kids have been early walkers & crawlers.

    Now, who’s to say that me leaving them on the floor to roll when they were ready is the reason for that? There are too many variables! But clearly they have not suffered for the lack of it.

    In fact, with my fourth, I used a baby sling a vast majority of the time when she was tiny and she still crawled at 6 months….

  5. Hi Janet! I’m wondering if you can advise me on how to maintain this process of natural motor development and introducing solid foods. We are interested in Baby-Led Weaning with our son. This method is safe to use only when the child is in a sitting position (to prevent choking). If we aren’t helping him to reach this position, how can we begin solid foods? He’s currently 5months, and we were planning to begin this practice after he reaches 6months, but he won’t be sitting independently by then. I’ve read that RIE recommends lap feeding over use of a high chair. Is this true? What is the benefit of holding him in a seated position on my lap over placing him in a chair?

    Thanks for your insight! I learn so much everytime I visit your site!

    1. Hi Kara! Yes, RIE recommends lap feeding because it is more intimate and also because the younger infant doesn’t have to be quite as upright as in a highchair, we can support his back and allow him to be in a more diagonal position. I can see how that might be worrisome with “chunkier” food, but you could always gently help adjust his position on your lap. My husband and I always wore a cook’s apron, because it could get a little messy!

    2. Oh I should have kept reading becaise we had similar questions!

    1. I believe all these findings to be true (in italics below), BUT the misguided conclusion that forced “tummy time” is the answer (rather than more time free to move ) reflects a common misunderstanding of natural, healthy gross motor development.

      When are babies are given plently of opportunities to move freely, beginning on their backs, and allowed to progress when ready, they end up spending lots of time on their tummies, eventually scooting and crawling and NEVER skipping developmental milestones. It just doesn’t happen. As hard as it is for some to believe, babies know their own bodies and can be trusted to choose their preferred positions if we can just stay out of their way. We don’t have to make tummy time “happen for them”, they do it themselves. Physical development is a completely natural, organic process. It doesn’t have to be taught or “urged” forward, in fact, it is so much healthier for the child if it isn’t. (And a relief for parents, too, no?)

      Babies don’t have to be forced into uncomfortable positions to make them develop. And giving babies our trust pays off bigtime. They not only develop their motor skills naturally and beautifully, they also develop keen body awareness and self-confidence to last a lifetime.

      “Extensive time in containers limits movement, which causes problems with development,” said Young.
      There is growing clinical evidence that it’s causing delays in otherwise normal children.
      “It’s affecting motor skills, both fine and gross, and sensory development overall. The developmental milestones have changed dramatically in 20 years.”
      It’s all because spending time on your stomach establishes the upper body strength that babies will use for the rest of their lives to do things like read and write, hold a scissors properly, and even climb a jungle gym.
      “It’s absolutely vital for development. It supports neck development, which supports the jaw, which supports talking and eating. It supports the neck, which supports the eyes being able to focus together and scan,” said Amy Vaughan, an occupational therapist with Burrell Behavioral Health.
      Because they don’t have the upper body strength to support them, more and more children are completely skipping over the crawling stage. Once seen by medical professionals as unnecessary for the normal development of children, more and more of them now believe crawling is crucial.
      “Crawling will help strengthen muscles to support handwriting and endurance. It’s going to support the midline to swing a bat and hit a ball and have hand-eye coordination to do it well,” said Vaughan.

  6. I agree with you about a lot of the baby gizmos that are marketed. I can’t believe that they sell walkers still after their has been so much research showing it means kids walk later and on top of that they are so dangerous!!

    However, I don’t see how this is connected to your criticism of tummy time. Before SIDS’ “back-to-sleep” campaign most babies slept on their tummies. The campaign was so successful that all that time babies spent on their tummy disappeared (because they were now sleeping in their backs). Prior generations had slept on their tummy and played on their back (and some babies were just expected to die during their first year). What is “natural” is affected by culture.

    Are you saying that babies should not be encouraged to have a chance to experience being on their tummy unless they can roll over on their own? To me it make sense that we put our babies down on their backs sometimes and their bellies sometimes. Babies can learn about what life is like in all directions, sometimes they can see all around and other times they can focus up close on the texture of the carpet, etc.

    With your perspective on avoiding any position where babies’ movements are confined I was surprised that you a carrier because that confines children’s position.

    1. Lara, I don’t recommend carriers, except for traveling with babies. And yes, babies enjoy the experience of being on their tummies when they are truly ready and have the strength to be there… They let us know they are ready by rolling from the back (the most mobile position) to the tummy.

      1. Genevieve says:

        I really like most of what you have to say, but I have to disagree on the carrier. For my daughter, who had major tummy issues (ended up being a milk allergy), the carrier was one of the only ways she could be comfortable. It is also a much healthier way to walk a baby than a stroller.

  7. Another great article. “Self-doubt” jumped off the page. It is so common for parents to start off our journey with our first child with fear, and the feeling that we will mess up and thereby mess up our children. If I could give parents only one gift, it would be the gift of trial and error.

    There are definitely wrong ways to bring up kids, but for every wrong way there are 10 right ways, and the only truly right way is the way in which you are being the self you want to be as you raise your children. The most important thing we have going for us is the genius in every child, and the fact that that genius is very resilient, very forgiving and nearly indestructible.

  8. Hi Janet!
    I am wondering what you would say about baby hammocks for young infants. I am pregnant and love the idea of a baby hammock for hopefully having the baby sleep somewhere other than on me sometimes. I feel like if the baby needs me I will of course hold her and probably wear a ring sling so I can still tend to my other child (who will be just barely 2). I feel though that unless she needs me to sleep then I should let her sleep by herself when I have other things to do. I didn’t do this with my first one and I feel that she could have slept without me and now we have a tricky sleeping relationship.
    Thank you for your work!!

  9. I love this post and everything rie. I would like some advice on this subject. My baby was practically born with her fingers in her mouth! I was so pleased and so proud that she had the power to soothe herself whenever she needed it…but I ran into a problem. She is 12 weeks old now and has twice gotten a sore finger from sucking (she uses her two middle fingers, not the thumb). It’s to the point where I have to put an antibiotics ointment and a mitten on her when this happens. I have an abundance of breast milk, so she doesn’t comfort nurse and therefor relies on her fingers. My doctor urged me to buy a pacifier for her, so I did…and my baby loves it! I always ask her if she wants it, and sometimes she “says no”. So far I’ve only needed to use it when she has sore fingers and mittens, so it seems to be a useful tool. Crazy how you think you have everything figured out and then your baby finds an exception! Oh well, I seems to be working for now, but if you or anyone have any suggestions or better ideas, I’d love to hear it.

  10. Oops, my last comment published on the wrong post. It was supposed to be on the article Passing on Pacifiers (Thumbs Up).

  11. Brilliant article. I am a scientist living in the UK. Because of my background I have a big need for evidence before I believe anything. I don’t like to go against the advice of health professionals in the NHS, but when it comes to “tummy time” they have got it all wrong. Where is the evidence to show that placing your baby on their tummy is helping them to develop? I have no idea where the concept came from. Yet practically everyone from midwife to GP tells a new mother you must put your baby on his or her tummy from a very early age. It’s crazy.
    None of my children were ever forced into a position they disliked and two of them walked unaided just after they turned nine month. The other two walked before their first birthdays. I actually developed a play mat for mums and babies,so they can spend time together in comfort, because I think it is beneficial for a small baby to have his or her mother nearby (as opposed to being on their own in a playpen). But I must say trying to educate the world about the benefits of freedom of movement for babies is an uphill struggle when the medical profession has decided that to plonk a baby on the tummy is the best advice.
    Just look at the increasing number of babies with plagiocephaly and you know that this strategy clearly does not work.
    Thanks for the great article. I will post it on my facebook page later.

    1. The reason for increase in plagiocephaly IS due to not enough tummy time or it can be due to torticollis where one muscle at the side of the neck is tight or shorter than the other side leading to an assymetry and a favoring of a certain position (head turned slightly to the left or right) while on their back. Babies used to sleep on their tummies and play on their backs. Now they don’t and if they don’t get into tummy time most babies learn to hate it. Tummy time is EXTREMELY important to assist in the development of antigravity neck musculature, upper body and arm strength and the formation of the curves in the cervical spine its also important for babies to be able to move their head and neck once they can lift and extend the head.

      Babies then learn to push up on bent elbows then on extended elbows then they begin to start being able to reach for objects that are of visual interest then they try to move towards objects out of their reach which then encourages them to start to crawl.

      Babies can do tummy time by cuddling with mum and dad while you lie on your back it doesn’t have to be long to start with. If you start early there are usually no issues with baby not liking the position. You can prop babies arms across in front of him and allow his face/chin area to rest on these arms when he gets tired. I found tummy time good after a bath with some baby massage I started this from birth and had no issues at all. They learn quickly how to roll from tummy to back but from back to tummy takes a bit longer.

      I definitely agree that babies should play freely so limited time should be spent in bouncers baby jumping devices and babies should not use walkers. Push toys are ok as long as the baby is free to move and choose another activity or object to explore 🙂

  12. Hi Janet just wanting a bit of advice as it pertains to walking a toddler. I have a 2 yr 10 month child that is not walking by herself. She was born prematurely at 24 weeks and had a stage 4 bleed in the brain at birth among many other problems that micro preemies get at birth. She has come through pretty good although developmentally delayed. She is cruising and has being doing this for over a year. She climbs onto and off chairs and likes to climb onto and sit on the kitchen table.She is being followed up by PT OT SLT . Her PT says that she has a lot of weakness to her hip muscles that makes her unstable and this is helping to hold her back where walking is concerned. Her left foot is also turned outward when she is walking with her push along toy. We also from time to time let hold to our fingers to walk. Have we being doing wrong all this time and do you have any advice?

  13. Hi there,

    This is such a great subject, Janet, and reminded me of a book I need to finish that promotes this sort of “less is more” approach. It’s called, Retro Baby. Have you heard of it? Thought I would share!

  14. I am wondering if you have recommendations about babies who spit up quite a bit. My sweet boy is just over a month (adjusted – he was a preemie, so he’s actually almost 4 months) and when I mention that he spits up everyone asks if I keep him upright after I feed him, which I do either by holding him or putting him in a bouncy seat. Of course I haven’t really questioned it, but after reading this article, I am thinking about it and realize he still spits up sometimes so maybe him being upright isn’t making any difference. What do you think?

  15. Hi Janet. I have really been enjoying these posts and I have a question that goes along with this one. I have a 5 month old daughter and I have been waiting for her to learn how to roll onto her tummy when she is ready. Over the last 2 weeks she has really mastered the rolling over part but can’t seem to figure out how to roll back to her back. I have been letting her really try to figure it out but after I can see that she is really upset and crying/frustrated, I turn her back over. Sometimes she spits up when she is on her tummy and puts her face in the spit-up so I can’t just leave her to sit in that. what is your suggestion for helping babies learn to roll back over to their backs? how long does it generally take for babies to figure this out? should I just keep letting her struggle with it until she gets really mad or should I be doing something else?

  16. I really appreciate this article. My baby is 7 months and is usually the only baby in a group not sitting up. For a moment, when I realize this, I start to second guess myself, but then I watch her. She rolls constantly, scoots, leans on her side, and turns on her belly. She loves to move and has no interest in sitting. I get encouragement from reading your articles (and from observing her).

  17. Hi Janet,
    I have really enjoyed reading about RIE principles and trying to apply them to parenting my 6 month old. I am looking for suggestions about “unlearning” bad habits. My son suffered from terrible reflux starting at 2 weeks old, until just a few weeks ago at 6 months old. He spit up what seemed like gallons of milk. Consequently, he hated being on his back. We held him upright at all times, even holding him semi-upright to sleep. Now that his reflux is mostly resolved, I’m having a hard time getting him to lay on his back for independent play. When I try to lay him down, he cries almost instantly. We have been sitting him up, but he can’t get there on his own. He can, however, roll both ways on his own. He either wants to be held or wants to sit up and be entertained by us. How do I undo the bad habits we’ve taught him?

  18. As a first time mother, I bought all of that for my 2 year old son…..exersaucer, carrier, stroller, jumperoo, sling, bouncer, etc, you name it. But, as you say, baby knows best… he never wanted anything of that,he would only play with the cardboard boxes that came with the gadgets, and after reading all of your articles and learning from personal experience, I am glad he didn’t .

  19. I’m expecting my first grandchild after raising 4 of my own. I was overwhelmed while shopping with my daughter , there are so many items for new babies. I am also a pediatric re nurse and we have many babies coming in with constipation. I love the freedom of movement philosophy and will pass it on to my grandchild and my patients in the emergency room.its also a relief knowing we do not need all these products, pat g

  20. I believe that the tummy-down position is actually a very natural position for babies.

    When a baby is born he is put tummy down on his mother’s chest and starts breastfeeding on his own. He has the neck strength to do so. This is the biological position for the baby to breastfeed. Gravity helps the baby relax the head down and allow for the nipple of the mother to go as deep in his mouth as it should to achieve an optimal latch. Moreover, it is the natural position for skin to skin bonding with the parent.

    Therefore, I personally wouldn’t consider tummy-down position a forced position for a baby. If a baby was put in this biological position every time it was breastfed, if the baby spent adequate time skin to skin with the parent, that would be more than sufficient to help develop his back and neck muscles.

    Considering the fact that nowadays babies spent a whole lot more time in car seats, strollers, reclined bouncy seats, the fact that a lot of babies feed on formula which cannot be done on the biological position (breastfed babies are also fed in all other positions BUT the biological), I do believe tummy time is really helpful, not to say necessary, especially when done for as long as baby likes (by that I mean that the minute the baby shows discomfort, tiredness, and before he starts crying, we should change that position).

    I have seen babies that at six months of age are far far less mobile than others, and at all cases those babies had never been put tummy down.

    I also think that since babies are put on their back because of the FACT that WE place them with our own hands, it is basically a choice of the parent at that very moment. Using our hands, we could simply put them on their tummies as well. This is a natural position too. But parents are scared to do so because they confuse tummy time with sleeping time and they neglect the fact that back-down position guidelines are given only for sleeping time.
    I do definitely agree with allowing the baby to move freely as she likes, I do strongly believe babies should be put on the floor and allowed to explore the range of their movements and feel free to move anyway they want in a safe way. I do strongly agree about the uselessness of all those bouncy-seats-jumpers-walkers-pillows-God-knows-what-else-they’ll-come-up-with stuff. I also agree that we should not create this habit of dependence. We should not keep both baby’s hands and help (force???) him to walk (apart from the dependency habit being created, the baby skips a lot of developmental stages), we should not force a baby to sit before her time.

    I do also believe that strollers should be ditched (or at least be used for a limited time) when baby starts walking (I live in Greece and high tech strollers with a coffee cup holder are a must in this country!) but that is another story

    Thank you for your time and beautiful articles in general

    1. The level of comfort, freedom and autonomy babies feel in the tummy vs. the back position is night and day. Try it yourself on the floor and see the difference. Imagine you must strain to lift your head off the floor and you do not yet have the shoulder/arm strength to push your upper body up with your hands… Why would we wish to paralyze babies this way? Why have them associate this uncomfortable, confining position with “play” and “life”? Each to his own, but that makes no sense to me.

      1. I believe the point is missed once again.
        As I mentioned, it is only natural for babies to be put in tummy-down-position on their mother’s chest the minute they are born. They have enough strength to lift their head and latch on. I am sure you have watched videos – or even experienced it yourself – of babies crawling on their mother’s chest lifting their head and latching on. That alone should tell us something.

        Babies might not enjoy tummy time for various reasons. Maybe we forced the baby into changing positions while he was enjoying something else. Maybe the baby was hungry or needed to look at mummy at that very moment. Observation is the key.

        All babies NOT enjoying tummy time would be more of a generalization or a personal belief simply because we have watched some babies feeling discomfort in this position.

        There are babies that very much enjoy tummy-down-position from early days. Why decide that this is an uncomfortable position for them?

        There are also babies that cry themselves out the minute you put them on their back. Every. Single. Time. Should we assume that all babies feel discomfort on their back and that we should always hold all babies in our arms?

        And why do I need to project myself to that situation? I am a completely different adult body, having experienced and got used to completely different situations. I have gone through all those stages and gained all control of my body. Ofcourse, imagining that I suddenly lose all my strength is very very annoying indeed. But for the baby is not the fact of suddenly losing all his strength but little by little building on that little strength he already has.
        The way you describe for me to imagine that I have no strength, I’d say in not realistic. You make it sound like babies are somewhat paralyzed in the neck and shoulders. Again, babies are born with sufficient strength in their neck and shoulders to lift their head and latch on. You might think that this is very little strength, but it is some strength whether we like it or not. And this is where from the baby could start building on. And by never putting the baby in that position we probably simply deprive it from building on that original strength he has the minute he is born.
        Moreover, it sounds to me like it is assumed that parents force their babies on tummy-down position all day long, not allowing them to enjoy playing on their back. We talk for fragments of time, minutes or even seconds in some cases, each time. We talk about balance.

        While we live in a society where babies are confined on their back in strollers, car seats, cots, etc etc where movement is so very confined and limited, discouraging parents from placing their babies on their tummy, on the grounds that it is not natural and is very limiting for their movement, I personally believe is not right.
        Observation is the key as I said. We never force a baby to lie on her tummy – or any other position or situation if you ask me – for longer periods than she enjoys, may that be 10″ 30″, 1′, 5′, 20′. It may be no tummy-time at all if baby doesn’t want.
        Every baby is different. Let us respect that.

  21. I didn’t know anything about this aspect of RIE until I read this article. I’ve only been reading articles here and there but I had my son in 2014 and my daughter six months ago. My son used all of the bouncers and walkers and such. My daughter – I just started laying her on the floor on a blanket at one month. Mostly because we had just moved and all of the equipment was in the garage. We toddler proofed the house before we moved in and so I felt safe having her on the floor of our new one story home. She is six months now and learned to roll over at one month, push up on her hands at three months and get her knees under her at five months. At six months she is now army crawling around the house and pushing up on one arm to half sit/half lean in a sitting position. Her eight month old cousin with all of the gizmos is pulling to a standing position but not crawling or moving around in her own yet. Not sure if it means much but my daughter seems to be moving about on her own two full months and counting before her cousin.

  22. how would you deal with a colic baby that pain screams when ever they are placed on their back for floor time

  23. Hey Janet! I’ve read a bunch if your articles and listen to your podcasts and I love them! Once we are home from vacation I’ll definitely get your book, so I’m sorry if these questions are answered in your book.

    We will be introducing solids at about 6 months and I don’t know how we could do that safely without having baby Sofia in a sitting position. My thoughts were to hold her in my lap but that would definitely be an upright position and dependant on parent placement. But laying down would definitely be unsafe with any kind of solid food! Especially since so want to have more baby-led foods where she can feed herself (with supervision of course).

    My second question is baby pens that are cat proof – do they exist? I have heard you give suggestions for dogs but there isn’t a gate, fence, or barrier I’ve met that my pants can’t go under, over or through other than a closed door. I definitely do not feed safe enough even in a yes room to leave a closed door between us because I wouldnt be able to hear her.

    When supervised I just let the cats come around but if I’m going to have a minute where she is alone I close the cats into the basement (don’t worry they have their “cat room” down there and love it haha) but its exhausting to herd the cats into the basement and shut the door then repeat the process of sitting next to her and observing before I can do something so simple as pee or make some tea. I don’t feel safe leaving them out, even if they’re well trained and have never swiped at anyone they’re still animals, very curious about the baby and Sofia loves their fluffy tails.

    I’m sorry I’m so long-winded. I guess if I were to shorten my questions they would be:

    Eating safety while sitting up without propping up and cat-proof barriers

  24. Gerber has some good insights but appears to have forgotten basic child development and evolutionary development. When observing societies with less technological development the first thing that strikes you is not how much time infants spend moving freely, but how little! Safe places to put an infant down are at a premium, so infants spend the bulk of their day carried or strapped to their mother or other caregivers as they go about their daily tasks. A look at our closest nonhuman relatives reveals the same pattern of infants spending most of their day in the dreaded upright position, except that primate infants retain the grip reflex that humans have only a vestigal remnant of, and are confined only by their own instincts to cling. At an internally defined developmental time primate babies let go of their mothers when they feel safe and begin exploring. Likewise, premodernity human babies begin to fuss and indicate it is time to get down and explore when they are ready. Well into the Middle Ages babies were bundled and carried, or hung on a peg nearby their mothers. Letting young infants roam freely is a modern luxury only permitted by safe, heated buildings in an environment generally free of predators and human aggression and where their primary caregivers have much more time free of other tasks to permit it. Despite how safe the modern developed world is, infants retain the instinct that being left alone on the ground is dangerous. In normal children this instinct is soon overcome by the instinct to explore and they only want up when they become bored, lonely or feel threatened. Babies with an inborn anxious temperament, or other problems like pain, will retain the instinct longer. You cannot forcibly alter a child’s temperament. Ideally they will be held more frequently and for longer, or go in a snuggly, but as they gain weight this becomes increasingly tiring and there are some things that just aren’t realistic to do with a baby strapped to you. Contraptions often give such children a simulated feeling of safety that they need for longer. Before you judge a parent’s use of them consider whether you are truly in a better position to know their child’s needs better than they do. For the record I used almost every contraption in existence during my children’s early years, particularly with my anxious and irritable younger, and they both hit every gross and fine motor milestone ahead of schedule…..because they were genetically programmed to reach them then.

    Also from a child development perspective, children learn to roll from front to back long before they master back to front. Clearly placing them only on their backs would delay their development of this skill until after they roll back to front! A child needs to experience a variety of positions, and should never spend extended periods confined in any single position. Back only is fine for newborns but as they grow they do need some tummy time. My older son wiggled around the room slowly (but with little intentional control at first) and could grasp the bottom shelf of the coffee table if he managed to get over to it and pull himself up enough to yank out magazines before 3 months, even before he could roll over. Without some early tummy time he would have been deprived of the joys of crumpling and shredding magazines…and yes, after the first accidental accomplishment he worked hard to get back to the table for more shiny crinkly fun. Without tummy time I’d never have known what he was capable of.

    Many of our modern contraptions are designed to give infants the feeling of being held upright without requiring anyone to constantly carry them. As such they are clearly second best as the infant is deprived of the emotional and social stimulation and comfort of human contact but they are not going to impede natural physical development unless overused. The main objection to them is that many children now go from one to another incessantly; from crib to bouncy seat to saucer to stroller\carseat back to crib and continue in this pattern long after premodern infants would signal their desire to explore. It is far easier to miss a baby’s signals, or ignore a baby outright until they cry, when they are strapped to an inanimate object across a room. And it is tempting to place a child in a contraption they are not ready for, either for convenience or in a misguided attempt to hurry their development along. We live in a society with a longstanding obsession with forcing infants to develop as quickly as possible. We brag about how quickly our children reach milestones, and we strive to obtain early independence at all costs, mostly for the convenience of adults around them. As well-intentioned as this advice is, it will undoubtedly be sucked into the vortex of our obsession. Parents will now fret over the amount and type of floor time and whether they are getting enough, developing fast enough and becoming independent enough…and will undoubtedly critique and judge each other’s adherence to the new directives based on the success or failure of an infant to develop accordingly. As will professionals.

    When my younger son suffered from early and severe constipation, beginning as soon as he was introduced to soft jar foods, doctors blamed us and sent us to a dietician to correct our “poor diet”. We were vegetarians who ate all the fibre on the diet sheets and more. The dietician kept mindlessly repeating “He needs more fibre” like a mantra. Neither the doctor nor the dietician could wrap their heads around a medical problem that was not created by the parents. As a result my son spent months in pain, and prolapsed his rectum multiple times, while we jumped through the hoop of following a special diet he had already been on his entire life. Only then did he get the proper medical care he needed. Don’t presume to know why your friend’s child is constipated or how much time he spends in contraptions based on visits which comprise only a tiny fraction of his time. Most parents enjoy the added convenience of placing a baby in a contraption that keeps them safe and occupied while entertaining guests. You can infer very little from short observations when you are a guest who is disrupting the normal daily routine of the house and distracting the parent in question.

  25. Hi Janet. Thank you so much for your insight. We have a four month old boy (today is 11/29/19) and we only place him in an electric swing for naps during the day. We only place him on there once he is asleep because if we place him in the bassinet, he wakes up instantly or only sleeps for 15-20 minutes. Should we stop doing this? He’s able to sleep all night in the bassinet, but maybe we need to accustom him to sleep in the bassinet for naps too? I’d greatly appreciate your advice, thank you!

  26. Hello Janet, thank you for this article. 🙂

    My LO is 6 months and today all the sudden she started to really make a fuss about being on her back or tummy. (She hasn’t been a fan of tummy time except for her self directed ones on parents chest ets) I have started helping her seated thinking she had to but with this article I am reconsidering that.

    I don’t want to make it a habit to hold her all the time but the way she cries & cries on her back on play pen is unreal as well.. I wonder if this is just a mood/phase or what. I don’t use any other tools based on another websites I follow so she is not dependant on any other devices.

    Reading this artice to the end, it left me wondering how in heck am I supposed to hold space for the baby on her back for this long? Any pointers in how to interact on back in variety of ways? TIA!!!

  27. Dear Janet,
    Hello from Sweden!
    Thanks so much for all that you do! I’m a huge fan of your approach to parenting, and the natural gross motor development aspect makes a lot of sense to me. I have one comment, and one question:
    1: Flat head syndrome… I don’t see how tummy time would help much with this anyway, considering the very small proportion of time an infant will put up with being in this position, compared to the time they spend sleeping on their backs. I imagine that in the infancy of our species, babies slept in more varied positions, with constant ease of access to mum’s breast (‘breast sleeping’).
    With my 2 month old, I try to deal with this by having her nap once or twice a day in a carrier. When she’s awake she’s either feeding in my arms, or on her back. The back of her head is a tiny bit flat, but I’m sure it will sort itself out once she’s more mobile. She seems very content on her back for now, I love watching her look around.
    2: My question: How would you suggest starting solid foods with a baby who cannot yet get to a seated position on her own? Here in Sweden we’re advised to start solid foods at around 6 months. I imagine you might suggest waiting with solids until they can sit? I doubt I’ll be able to withstand ‘peer pressure’, or my own impatience, when the time comes!

    Best regards, and thanks again!


    1. I’ve just scrolled through the comments again, and seen that you’ve answered this same question from another reader already. I’ll try holding my daughter in my lap when she seems up for trying some purées etc. Donning my finest apron. Looking forward to it!

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