learning to sit

Sitting is harder than it looks, and your baby will need quite a lot of help to do this.

There are several stages as your baby’s develops the muscles and the control that is needed.  At each stage there are simple ways you can help, and also some things to look out for in case your baby needs a bit more help.

Click on the stage you want to know more about, or just scroll down:

from about 0 to 3 months.

At first, babies have quite weak neck and trunk muscles so they need to be fully supported to sit by you or by equipment

But sitting is a good position for your baby when they are fully awake and settled.  It is a great position for chatting face to face and for exploring the world around them by looking and reaching.

You can support your baby’s posture with V cushions, with your hands, or with a car seat or bouncy cradle.

Even better, sit with your back resting against a sofa or similar, with bent knees and feet flat on the floor.  Lie your baby on your thighs facing you – sit ups are fun from this position and you can also talk while face to face.

Until your baby has good head control and trunk control, though, only use a seat for short periods, as it can restrict breathing.  Try not to have your baby in a car seat for more than 30 minutes if possible.  If you need to do a long journey, take breaks for movement, and regularly check the head is not leaning forward – adjust the tilt if necessary.

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from about 4-6 months

You will notice gradually that your baby needs less support as he or she develops better control and stronger muscles.  You can try positioning them more upright with the V cushion supporting further down the back, allowing your baby to hold the head up unsupported.

Here are some things you can try to help strengthen muscles, work on balance and feeling safe and feeling in touch with each other:

  • sit ups!  Start with your baby lying on his/her back – support around the shoulders and gradually bring up into a sitting position.  If your baby’s head falls back every time you do this, don’t continue – the muscles are not strong enough for this exercise yet!
  • You can combine sit ups with peek-a-boo and other games.  Repeat through the day to strengthen muscles.
  • Knee rides.  Sit on a supportive surface with your baby on your knee facing you.  Use a nursery rhyme to bounce your baby up and down and side to side.  Alternatively you can dance around the room to a song or nursery rhyme.  Ensure your child is well supported – and you can try lowering your hand position as they become more confident

Precaution at this stage:  this is a good time to remove cot bumpers as your baby may use them to pull himself up and fall out of the cot.

When to be concerned

If you are worried about your baby’s sitting at this stage, then there are some possible warning signs that more help may be needed.  Talk to your health visitor if your baby:

  • sits with a rounded back
  • has poor head control and is unable to lift the head
  • has difficulty bringing the arms forward to reach out
  • arches his or her back and stiffens legs when pulled to sit
  • holds arms back and has stiff legs in a supported stand

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from 7-9 months

You will have seen your baby gradually able to control muscles to be able to hold his or her head and sit more independently.  There is still some work to do before this will be strong enough to support standing and walking.

If your child does not have good head control at this age, and remains floppy, go back to the earlier sit ups and practice.  Mention this to your health visitor if there is still no progress.  Don’t try the ideas below until head and arms are no longer wobbly.

  • more sit-ups!  now you can move your hold to the hands and pull your baby into a sitting position.  If he or she has a good grip, try it with fingers alone
  • learning to sit.  Place your baby in a sitting position with his or her hands on the floor or on the legs for support.  Help them keep balance in this position – for a short time only to start with!  And don’t have too many toys nearby as your baby may reach for them and topple over.
  • sitting and reaching.  once your baby can balance on his or her own in sitting (with close supervision from you!), place some toys in front or to the sides to encourage him to reach out and grasp them.  Precautions: Your baby may fall whilst learning this new skill – be ready to catch them and have cushions around for safety.

Why are these worth doing?  Sit-ups encourage eye contact and also help your baby learn how to anticipate an event.  They also strengthen muscles in the neck, arms and body.  With all these games your baby is learning to sit independently and developing better balance.  And you can talk face to face.

When to be concerned

There are some signs at this stage that your baby may need further help – talk to your health visitor if your baby:

  • uses one hand predominantly
  • has a round back when sitting and is unable to straighten the back
  • has poor use of arms in sitting
  • has difficulty crawling
  • uses only one side of the body to move
  • cannot take weight through legs
  • does not transfer toys from one hand to another

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from 10-12 months

Your baby’s muscles and control skills are developing rapidly.  Once your baby can sit unsupported, try these ideas to develop further:

  • encourage your baby to reach out to pick up a toy without losing his or her balance.  Place toys behind your baby to encourage them to twist round – try this to both sides
  • lie your baby down on the floor and encourage him or her to sit up on their own – your baby may do this by rolling over onto the side and pushing up, or rolling into a crawl position and then sitting back

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