We all enjoy time spent lying down and relaxing. But too much of it gets old fast -- even for babies! Sitting up allows babies to be more independent and to explore their environment in a new and exciting way, says Sheryl Pitner, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. In addition, mastering this newfound skill leads to a milestone that your baby is sure to find particularly interesting. "Sitting up with minimal support also means the baby has the proper muscle control needed to transition from a liquid diet of breast milk or formula to solid foods," says Jean Moorjani, M.D., a pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. A baby can't move to solid foods unless he's able to sit upright and hold up his head and neck, which helps avoid choking. Furthermore, sitting up bridges the path to other major milestones, such as crawling, standing, and walking.
Your baby's gross motor skills are the major players when it comes to sitting up. Babies need to have strong muscles in the neck, shoulders, stomach, back, and hips, Dr. Moorjani says. Then, as your baby becomes efficient at using her hands to touch, grab, explore, and interact with her environment while sitting up, fine motor skill development will kick in.
Typically, babies begin sitting up between 4 and 7 months, Dr. Pitner says. You can help your cutie learn this skill by holding on to her arms when she's on her back and gently pulling her up to a sitting position. She'll enjoy the back-and-forth motion, so add some fun sound effects to make it even more exciting. Your baby needs good head control to sit up and you can help by giving her tummy time. While she's on her stomach, talk to her, interact with her, and place yourself or some toys just out of her reach or above her so she's curious and has a reason to look up, Dr. Pitner says. When you notice she's holding her head steadier and is able to push herself up more often and into higher positions, start helping her sit up with assistance for five to ten minutes a few times a day. Place her on your lap so that her head and back lean against your chest, sit her in a Boppy seat on the floor, or use pillows to prop her up. As she spends more time on her tummy she'll build her pint-size muscles, get stronger, and be able to push herself further off the floor, until one day she'll be sitting upright on her own!
Once your baby does sit up, don't expect it to last too long. He'll do a lot of tipping over, which is why it's so important to make sure you're never farther than an arm's length away to catch him. First, your little sitter will be able to remain upright for only a second or two before he topples. As his muscle strength improves, he'll be able to sit slightly longer but will probably fall over again as soon as he gets excited and starts kicking his legs. Your baby will develop some control once he begins to tripod, or when he leans forward and supports himself with one or both of his arms, Dr. Pitner says. This position is normal and can be considered the in-between phase as your baby alternates between tipping over and being able to sit independently. After your kiddo has gotten better at sitting up, he'll begin to pivot to get into different positions and learn to rock forward and backwards to get on his hands and knees. Another milestone comes next: crawling!
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 she still isn't sitting up for at least a few minutes by time she's 9 months, mention it to your pediatrician.
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