One of the first developmental milestones that new parents look forward to is the day their baby learns to sit up. Most babies will learn to sit by themselves somewhere between 6 and 8 months, however, it can happen as early as 4 months or as late as 10 months with no cause for alarm. As soon as your baby can support and control her head and has mastered rolling from back to belly, she can start learning to sit. There is no way to insure that your little Buddha will develop at the same pace as other babies, but if you are becoming concerned, and want to help encourage her to learn to sit, here are a few things to try.
The muscles in your baby's back, sides, belly and thighs are essential support for a sitting baby. These muscles are easy to strengthen as well. To work all the muscles together, you could hold your baby in a sitting position on a medium sized exercise ball, and slowly roll the ball a couple inches forward, backward, then side to side. As the surface your baby is sitting on angles downward, your baby will automatically lean "uphill". The muscles are flexed, and the concept of self-correcting for balance is reinforced. Though you can also work each of your baby's core muscle groups separately, it is a good idea to strengthen them with balance-reinforcing activities.
2. Go through the motions.Now the process of maintaining a sitting position is only half the puzzle your baby has to figure out. Getting there is the difficult part. One of the best and easiest ways for a baby to get into the sitting position is to first raise himself up on his hands and knees, then to walk his hands backward, while letting one leg collapse into a sitting position, then the second one. To teach the technique, you need to walk your baby through the process about 5 or 6 times in a row a couple of times a day. This will help create muscle memory which will give your baby a clear process to follow when they are ready to try it on their own. Start with your baby on his tummy, then help him prop himself up with his arms. Next, push your baby's legs under him one at a time, keeping one hand under his stomach to lend support in case he collapses. Then, take hold of both of your baby's arms, moving your hand from under the tummy to hold one, and physically walk them back toward your baby's knees. Be careful not to let your baby lunge forward during this process, try to keep the balance of weight over your baby's knees. Try to naturally guide your baby to collapse his legs into a sitting position by leaning to one side and then then the other while walking your baby's arms more slowly back toward his knees. Once he is in a sitting position, let him enjoy the position for a minute or two, then lay him back onto his stomach, and begin again.
3. Be the "Bumbo".Although a Bumbo or Bumbo type seat is great for certain things, I highly discourage parents from leaving their baby's in them for very long. It is not because there is anything wrong with the Bumbo, it is because those seats do their jobs too well. Your baby is completely supported on all sides, and does not have to work at all to keep her balance. As a result, muscle development can be slowed, and balance-correcting skills can fall behind. I think the best sitting support system there is, is you. You can sit on the floor with your baby in a sitting position between your legs. Offer maximal safety in the form of blankets and pillows and minimal support, only correcting your baby's balance a moment before she topples over.
4. Toy with motivation.As your baby's interest in toys develops you can capitalize on his burning desire to grasp his favorite toy. If you dangle it just outside of his reach, he will be highly motivated to figure out a way to get at it. For example, if your baby is able to get into the "crawl" position, on his hands and knees, try dangling his favorite toy an inch or so above his forehead. In order to see it better he will be motivated to back up. Then if he wants to grasp it he will have to figure out how to take the weight off of his hands while maintaining his height. This technique can be used at every stage of development, from rolling over to standing, and even walking. Try to be conscious of not frustrating your baby though. If he begins to fuss quite a bit it's a good idea to allow him to get the toy and play with it for a while before resuming the exercise.
5. Solo act.After your baby has gotten the basics of balance down, whenever you have a few minutes when your baby is happy and content, prop her up with a few pillows, maybe a "Boppy" pillow and a few others, give her a toy. Then let her be on the floor by herself until she needs your help. The Independence promotes self-reliance and self discovery. Without your hand to catch her and sit her back up when she falls to the side she will have a more personal experience with the physics involved in keeping herself upright. I do not recommend that you remove yourself too far from your little wibble-wobbler, just move a few feet away so you can observe, but not intervene unless she gets herself in an uncomfortable position. If she falls to the side, if she is in a safe position, do not sit her back up for a few seconds. These moments just after slumping too far to the side are the ones where most of the learning happens.
Over time your baby will eventually sit, even if you don't use any of these techniques. These are just ideas to help you encourage your baby's development to stay on schedule. I have seen quite a few babies learn to sit early, and most of them were babies that I worked with, and who I used these techniques with, but they don't always help. Every baby has their own natural schedule for development, and sometimes it is quite resistant to our attempts to speed it up. Some babies even learn to walk before they learn to sit up without help. If you have found these tips to be helpful please forward them to any new or expecting parents you might know. Happy parenting!
There is a NEW post from NAOMI up today (9/5/14)! Check it out HERE.