If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve now mastered that middle-of-the-night diaper change with stealth. You’ve likely determined just how much caffeine intake it requires to get through your day and settled into what will now be your new “normal”. Congratulations if you’ve made it through the Fourth Trimester! The fact that you’re here, reading this, tells me you are doing an amazing job taking care of your little love. They are so lucky to have you!
I am going to guess that by this point, tummy time has begun to get a little monotonous—both for you and for your babe. You observe your baby and know that they are craving MORE. If you find yourself in this position, it’s likely time to begin practicing sitting. Throughout the first three months of life, playtime on their tummy, back, or side is the single most important thing you can do to promote motor development, but there becomes a time when your baby is ready to begin trying something new. When your little one is able to prop themselves on their elbows on their tummy and lift their head up to look at you standing in front of them, they are ready!
The best way to begin practicing this exciting new skill is to sit behind your babe with a toy or loved one in front of them to attract their attention upward. Place them in a seated position with their hands propping them up. Most likely when you begin this, they will be folded forward like a taco, their hands will be in fists, and they will wobble and bobble that little head. That’s OK! Many parents see this and fear they are doing harm to their child, but just like tummy time began flat as a pancake, it requires time, practice, and strengthening to begin to sit more upright. Keep your hands on their waist and observe how they move—preventing them from falling in these early stages (Later on, some careful allowance of toppling over in a safe place teaches them a lot about how to prevent future falls). I recommend practicing this skill once per waketime, with priority always given to time on their tummy on the floor. The more time they spend on their tummy, the stronger their arms become for pressing themselves upward, the better they get at learning how to move their body in response to gravity, and the more capable they are of sitting independently. This creates a nice cycle of learning and growing where tummy time helps sitting and sitting practice begins to help tummy time.
There are other ways to promote sitting independence too! Try playing with your sweet one in a sitting position on your lap facing you, with your hands just under their armpits. They will love seeing their favorite person and “talking” to you. Over time, moving your hands lower and lower on their tummy helps them to build core strength essential to sitting upright independently. You can also try carrying them in a seated position facing away from you, with their back against your chest, using one hand under their legs and one across their chest to help stabilize them. Working on pulling to sit from lying down also encourages core, head, and neck, strength necessary for sitting by themselves. Once your sweet babe is able to sit propping themselves up with their arms for about a minute, you can also try out The Upseat—my favorite baby item for holding baby in a seated position. The Upseat has been designed to promote optimal spinal alignment in sitting, unlike many other devices that hold your baby in a rounded-back posture. The Upseat also comes up higher on your baby’s back, providing more support while they are still learning to sit. The larger space for your babe’s legs also allows more freedom of movement in the seated position.
So get excited—this is just another step in promoting purposeful play with your babe that will lead to even bigger motor milestones. Cherish these moments because soon your baby will be on the move and instead of getting a workout from carrying them all day, you’ll be getting some cardio running around to move breakables out of their reach and blocking them from eating every stray crumb on your floor :) And as always, remember that once they are sitting, you should still always place them on their tummy FIRST for play. Happy sitting, y’all!
Kailee Noland is a Pediatric Physical Therapist, Mama of 2, and self-proclaimed baby & toddler enthusiast. Kailee graduated with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Missouri and now practices in Kansas City at a clinic and school for children with special needs.