When Do Babies Sit Up?
Wondering when your little munchkin is ready to sit up on their own? Learn more about this important milestone and how it improves physical development.
The Importance of Sitting Up
Sitting up lets babies be more independent and explore their environment in new ways, says Sheryl Pitner, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It also bridges the path to other major milestones, such as starting solids, crawling, standing, and walking. Keep reading to learn more about when babies start sitting up, with tips for helping your little one reach the milestone.
How Sitting Up Helps Development
Your baby's gross motor skills come into play while they’re learning to sit up. In order to accomplish the task, they need to have strong muscles in the neck, shoulders, stomach, back, and hips, says Jean Moorjani, M.D., a pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. As your baby becomes efficient at using their hands to interact with their environment while sitting up, fine motor skill development will also kick in.
What’s more, "sitting up with minimal support means the baby has the proper muscle control needed to transition from a liquid diet of breast milk or formula to solid foods," says Dr. Moorjani. A baby can't move to solid foods unless they’re able to sit upright and hold up their head and neck, which helps avoid choking.
When Do Babies Start Sitting Up?
Typically, babies learn to sit up between 4 and 7 months, Dr. Pitner says. But don't try to rush it. According to pediatrician Kurt Heyrman, M.D., your baby should have some specific large motor skills before attempting this milestone—like the ability to hold their neck up and maintain some balance.
Getting Ready to Sit: Tummy Time
Your baby needs good head control to sit up, and the best practice is tummy time. At first, your baby might not like being on their stomach, but it's very important to keep trying. You might ease into it by placing them on your chest with their tummy down and face looking at you.
While your little one is on their stomach, talk to them, interact with them, and place some toys just out of their reach so they have a reason to look around, Dr. Pitner says. As they spend more time on their tummy, they’ll build pint-size muscles, get stronger, and be able to push themselves further off the floor—until one day they’ll be sitting upright on their own! That said, Dr. Heyrman cautions: "Make sure they’re getting tummy time only when they’re awake and when you are in the room to supervise them."
Getting Ready to Sit: Muscle Development
In general, babies' muscles strengthen from head to toe, so after their neck muscles gain strength, their upper back and lower back will come next. You'll know those muscles are getting stronger when your baby begins lifting their head off the floor to look horizontally. To encourage these large motor skills, change your child's position often. For example, shift them from back to tummy and from crib to floor.
Getting Ready to Sit: Balance
Babies must learn balance before sitting alone. Although having strong trunk muscles helps, they’ll also need some specific brainpower. To help with this, place them in corners of chairs or couches so they can feel what it's like to sit. If you want to work together, sit on the floor with your legs crossed and let them sit between your calf and hamstring, where they’ll be safely supported.
How to Help Baby Sit Up
To help your baby sit up, try holding onto their arms when they’re on their back and gently pulling them up to a sitting position. They’ll enjoy the back-and-forth motion, so add some fun sound effects to make it even more exciting.
What’s more, when you notice they’re holding their head steadier—and they’re able to push themselves up into higher positions—help them sit up with assistance for five to ten minutes a few times per day. Place them on your lap so that her head and back lean against your chest, sit them in a baby support seat (following all safety precautions), or use pillows to prop them up.
Dr. Heyrman suggests another way to learn: enticement. Babies love looking at themselves in mirrors, so place one just a little too high for them to see into; this will encourage them to sit up.
Sitting On Their Own
As your baby grows stronger, they’ll be able to sit for a few seconds when you place them in a sitting position. They’ll be wobbly at first, and they won't last longer than a second or two—but despite the tumbling and toppling, they’re learning. Practice makes perfect, so be patient (and make sure you're never further than an arm's length away to catch them). "By 6 months," Dr. Heyrman says, "most babies should be able to sit for a second or two by themselves."
The Tripod Position
When a baby is learning to sit up, they’ll often put out one or both arms to help stabilize the torso, essentially turning the arms into a kickstand to hold up their body weight. This is called the tripod sitting position. Remember that your baby is still developing balance while sitting, and they can also become distracted by their surroundings, so supervision is key!
As your baby’s muscle strength improves, they’ll be able to sit slightly longer, but they’ll still probably fall when they get excited and kick their legs. They’ll develop more control once they begin to sit in the tripod position, Dr. Pitner says. After your kiddo gets better at sitting up, they’ll begin to pivot into different positions and learn to rock forward and backwards to get on their hands and knees. Another milestone comes next: crawling!
Safety for Sitting Babies
Once your baby can sit alone, you'll need to make some adjustments to their room. By 6 months, they’ll grab for everything in sight, so check the crib's surroundings and put dangerous items out of reach. For example, you'll want to remove mobiles and other dangling items. Also make sure they won't fall off of chairs, couches, and other pieces of furniture.
Products to Help Baby Sit Up
Do your research if you’re planning to use products to help Baby sit up (such as Boppy pillows and Bumbo seats). Some baby support seats limit their natural movements, so they should only be used for small increments at a time. Additionally, your baby should always be supervised—and on the floor—while sitting in them.
When to Visit the Doctor
Don't worry if your baby isn't sitting up by the 6-month mark. Every baby develops differently and there's a wide range of "normal" when it comes to meeting milestones, Dr. Moorjani says. With a little more time and patience, your baby will likely start sitting up. But if they still aren’t sitting up for at least a few minutes by time they’re 9 months, mention it to your pediatrician.