I realize by writing this, I'm going completely going against the grain on what most pediatricians say and what most parents do... But, my belief in natural gross motor development is too strong. (And Dr. Emmi Pikler's research is too compelling.) So, please read the following with an open mind!
RIE® practitioners have hundreds upon thousands of hours of experience observing infants without intervening in their natural movement. As a result, we commence every Certified Parent-Infant Guidance™ Course with one rule: please start the class by placing your babies on their backs. Why?
Our core belief is that positioning a young baby on his stomach severely limits his range of motion; his neck is immobilized and he can only see what’s directly in front of him. However, on his back he is in the position of the “greatest competency:” he can move his head from side to side, up and down, and has the free expression of his arms and legs. From his back, a baby can view an entire room and watch who is moving in and out of the space. Most importantly, he can access his hand and thumb to sooth and calm himself.
On his back, an infant will begin the process of rolling over on his own time. Baby Daniel (below), just shy of three months, is attempting to move onto his stomach. What an effort he’s making! You can tell he wants to move. Yet every failed attempt like this one motivates Daniel to try again and problem solve. First, however, he must conquer certain prerequisite gross motor skills. For example, babies will practice rolling towards one side, perfect that motion and then master it before attempting to roll onto the other side.
Over time, infants prefer to be on their stomach in order to start pulling up. This is the natural developmental stage for so-called tummy time. From there, they will start to "combat crawl" or cross-lateral crawl before being able to crawl on their hands and knees. Infants ALWAYS follow this sequence if left to move on their own with adult intervention. As Magda Gerber would say, "everything they're doing is the perfect exercise preparing them for the next milestone." In other words, adults shouldn't interfere with babies' process of finding their balance in between major milestone markers, like rolling onto the stomach.
So, for all those parents and fellow nannies out there that can’t bear to watch infants struggle with tummy time, I’d like to give you permission to lie back (so to speak) and trust that your baby will roll onto his stomach when he is ready.