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How To: Know When Your Infant is Ready to Sit Up

How To: Know When Your Infant is Ready to Sit Up


A question was recently posed to me by a mother, regarding the positioning of her child. While in daycare, her 3-month-old was seated upright in a Bumbo seat with toys placed on a tray in front of her. While many parents told her that it was ok to do so in order to prepare the infant for sitting upright, the OT (Occupational Therapist) in me said otherwise. This now leads me to the age-old question: When should parents begin to prop up their baby into a seated position? 

My response was/is: 

An OT is primarily concerned with the positioning of the child to help him/her improve all domains of development and meet milestones. At the infant stage, appropriate positioning will increase socialization skills and awareness of the environment by simultaneously developing strength (providing the ability to maintain positions for extended periods of time). Skipping the important steps/milestones may actually delay your child’s development! 

Does your child have: 

  1. Head/Neck Control
  2. Extension (straightening) of the Spine

Head/Neck Control: At 3 months of age, most babies do not have consistent head/neck control, as bobbing is frequently seen. To foster this skill, caregivers should gradually reduce the amount of support provided while holding the baby. For example, instead of supporting the head/neck with the whole hand- try using only fingers. 

Extension of the Spine: Until a baby has developed very strong spinal muscles, they should not be placed in Bumbo seats or upright on Boppy pillows for too long. If there is curvature of the spine (and you can seen the vertebrae sticking out) or the baby is leaning to the side, the baby is not ready to sit by him/herself.  

Developmentally Appropriate Practice:
Tummy time with toys placed in front of the child would be more appropriate at this stage to increase head/neck development, strengthen the extensor (straightening) muscles of the spine, increase grip/fine motor skills and continue to increase awareness of the environment that surrounds him/her. Placing the toys in front and around the baby will foster rotation and mobility, which will help the child learn to roll over and eventually crawl. Additionally, your child will receive more proprioceptive sensory input, which teaches about his/her body in space. 

In her blog, Janet Lansbury writes that sitting babies in restrictive seats (exersaucer, infant seats, and jumpers) for extended periods of time will potentially cause your child to skip important milestones such as rolling and crawling! The belief of MANY parents is that these items are helpful for parenting (providing opportunities to shower and such).  As with much of the equipment for babies, they should be used in moderation. 

But that being said- it is not an age thing so much as developmental. If your child has great head/neck control, the spine is extended when sitting up (while you hold her), and the baby can maintain an upright posture- go for it! 
(PS- The baby appears to be hunched and leaning in the picture below… Refer back to the above picture for a more developmentally appropriate position.)

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Faizan Ali