Life with baby is filled with firsts—first bath, first yawn, first smile, first word. For new parents, it’s common to wonder, “when do babies sit up?” What could be more exciting than watching baby finally sitting up on his own with those chubby legs sticking out, ready to make new discoveries? Baby sitting up independently is a major achievement since it gives her a fresh perspective on the world and sets the stage for crawling, pulling up and walking. Before you know it, baby will be on the go! But first, when do babies start sitting up? Well, just like with other developmental milestones, the average age for baby to sit up on her own can vary. Here’s what you need to know about baby sitting up and how you can help baby hone this fun gross motor skill.
When do babies sit up?
The average age for baby to sit up is around 4 months—he’ll start trying to lift his head to look around. “I’ve always made sure parents realize this means begin to sit, as in babies can be propped up in a seated position, and will likely use their arms for balance and to keep from tipping over—but if there’s a slight breeze or someone touches them, they might well tip over,” says Laura Jana, MD, author of Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality. If you’re wondering at what age do babies sit up independently, younger babies—those around 6 months old—can sit up alone, but typically not nearly as long as 8- or 9-month-old babies can.
You can get a sense of how close baby is to hitting this milestone by watching for one key thing: when he starts to hold his head upright on his own. Don’t forget—baby’s head is heavy and large in proportion to his little body, so it requires strong head and neck muscles. “Once baby has mastered holding his head up straight—not wobbly—and looking around, then sitting up is going to be next,” says Jean Moorjani, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida.
How Do Babies Learn To Sit Up?
To sit up, baby must first have mastered holding her head up and rolling over—especially from back to front, which takes more coordination and torso strength. In addition, baby will draw on her own experience when it comes time for to sit on her own. Sitting upright on your lap or encircled by a Boppy pillow will encourage baby to feel more comfortable in a seated position.
At first, baby’s balance won’t be developed and when sitting up independently she will likely wobble and need some extra help. Baby may not stay upright for very long before getting tired, and many babies aren’t very good at doing other things while sitting, such as leaning, reaching or grabbing for things. That’s why around the average age for baby to sit up, she’ll often use a “tripod” position where she has her arms on the floor in front for balance. “As babies master balance and build up the necessary muscle strength and endurance, they will become confident sitters, usually by 9 months,” Jana says.
How to Teach Baby to Sit Up
There are lots of methods that you can try if you’re wondering how to teach baby to sit up. Try out one or more of these things to help baby sit up and help baby tackle this latest milestone.
Practice tummy time
One of the best ways of teaching baby to sit up is with tummy time. Set a soft blanket or tummy time mat down on a firm, flat surface, and place baby belly-down on top of it. Start small with about five minutes a day and then aim for around 20 to 30 minutes a day by the time baby is 3 or 4 months old. Moorjani suggests placing a few of baby’s favorite toys just out of his reach so he’s motivated to raise his head and reach his arms out to grab them. “This will help build those core muscles that are needed for holding his head up and sitting up,” Moorjani says.
Give baby a helping hand
Once baby is able to lift her head, if she’s lying on her back, try gently holding both of her hands and pulling her into a sitting position. “Babies like that—it’s fun for them,” Moorjani says. It also helps them get a feel for the motion that’s needed to go from lying down to sitting up. Just keep a close eye as you practice teaching baby to sit up—use caution to avoid baby toppling over and getting hurt.
Prop baby up
“Propping babies in a supported seating position can help start to strengthen muscles,” Jana says. A Boppy or breastfeeding support pillow makes a great bolster—or try sitting on the floor with baby between your legs. “At the same time it’s really important not to prop babies up for too long if they’re not developmentally ready, as it can be tiring and make baby cranky.” Similarly, avoid propping babies up in car seats or strollers because it doesn’t give them a chance to move, wiggle, reach and roll the way they can on a mat on the floor.
Consider using sitting up toys
Yep, there are toys designed to encourage baby sitting up. Jana recommends stationary play centers, such as ExerSaucers, because they provide 3- and 4-month-olds the support they need to start playing upright. Plus, there’s usually plenty to keep them engaged from lights and sounds to pull toys. Or you can try a multi-stage booster seat (like the Mamas and Papas Baby Bud), which helps prop infants upright for playtime and mealtime. And lastly, to keep baby interested in staying upright, you may also want to try playing with interactive activity balls or cubes or colorful stacking toys.
What If Baby Doesn’t Sit Up?
It’s perfectly natural for babies to reach developmental milestones in their own time. We’ve consulted the experts to tell us when do babies start sitting up. “Don’t get too worried if another baby is doing something before your baby,” Moorjani says. If, however, baby doesn’t have good head control by 7 months, hasn’t mastered sitting unsupported by 9 months, or if something just seems off, bring it up with your pediatrician. It may be nothing, but if there’s a developmental delay, you’ll want to catch it early so it can be addressed right away.
Baby’s Sitting Up: Now What?
Once baby has learned to sit up unsupported, it’s time to childproof your home because—guess what?—crawling is next on the list, typically between 6 and 10 months, followed by pulling up to stand. That means in a very short time, anything within reach of baby’s curious hands is going to be grabbed, pulled, yanked—and also possibly put in baby’s mouth (just something to keep in mind). Both crawling and pulling to a stand require torso strength and coordination, so those skills progress organically once baby is a confident sitter.
Experts: Jean Moorjani, MD FAAP, a pediatrician at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida; Laura Jana, MD, an Omaha, Nebraska-based pediatrician and author of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality