Did you know that learning to sit up actually happens in several stages? The last stage, called ‘functional sitting,’ involves independently moving in and out of a seated position. To get there, your baby must first learn to sit and balance without support as they reach in different directions.
“Recognizing which stage of sitting your baby is in allows you to give them ‘just right’ play activities to help them progress,” says Rachel Coley, pediatric occupational therapist.
Coley recommends limiting the use of baby seats to no more than 15 to 30 minutes a day. Upright baby seats prevent your baby from placing their hands on the floor for balance and inhibit wobbling, an important part of learning to sit without support ❤️
The 5 stages of sitting and how to support them
Note: Be sure to spend no more than a few minutes a day on these exercises in the early stages of learning to sit. Time on their back, belly, and sides is the primary way your baby builds muscles for sitting up. These age bands are meant as a general guide; every baby progresses at their own pace.
1. Sitting with support (3 to 5 months)
At first, your baby will need significant support when sitting. Place them in your lap or on the floor in front of you with your hands firmly on their ribcage.
As your baby becomes more stable, you can gradually offer less support: place your hands slightly lower on their trunk and hold them a little less tightly. Offer them a variety of toys to grasp, mouth, and play with in this supported seated position.
2. Prop sitting (4 to 6 months)
When your baby uses their hands to balance, they are ‘prop sitting.’ Offer them toys to look at rather than grasp at first, since they need both of their hands for support.
Once they start to lift one hand while seated, using their other hand to stay balanced, give them simple grasping toys. Try to choose items that can be used with one hand, like the Rainbow Spinner or Magic Tissue Box. You can also wrap a nursing pillow around their front, which encourages a more upright position with arm support.
3. Wobbly sitting (5 to 7 months)
Wobbling is the primary way your baby figures out how to balance without using their hands. You’ll need to spot them during this stage, as they haven’t yet developed protective instincts to counter a fall. For safer wobbling, you can sit behind them with your legs in a V, using your arms and legs as a boundary.
Try the following to support this stage, always remaining at arm’s reach:
- Wrap a nursing pillow around your baby’s hips and back to offer low, gentle support—and a soft spot to tumble when they tip over ❤️
- Put them in an empty laundry basket with throw pillows on all sides.
- Offer playthings to your baby below their chest level to keep their center of gravity low.
4. Independent sitting (6 to 8 months)
Once your baby can sit upright entirely on their own, it’s time for new challenges.
Place toys all around your baby and within their reach. This encourages them to turn their head, twist their torso, and reach in different directions while maintaining their balance. Supervising your baby closely, try suspending toys above them–from The Play Gym or a doorknob–so they need to reach up and grab them. You can also place toys on the floor at a diagonal, just barely out of reach. This encourages your baby to reach with one arm: returning to an upright position is a significant core strengthening activity.
5. Functional sitting (7 to 11 months)
Functional sitting means your baby can transition on their own from their tummy or crawling position to sitting–and back down again. Offer toys, books, and other playthings spread out around the room to encourage their exploration and to keep practicing those transitions.
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