New parents (and onlookers alike) are often enamored by their baby’s social skills. Everyone can appreciate a cute baby waving, pointing, and reaching for you – effectively communicating that they need attention ASAP. Around the time your baby is 6 months old, pediatricians will (or at least should) ask about these and other social-emotional markers. The secret to early social development and communication skills is actually not brain or mouth based – it’s about motor skills! A baby who sits is also a baby who plays and a playful baby is a safe and secure explorer – a recipe for social success!
As a new parent already tracking feedings, diapers, and naps (ha!), figuring out when, how, and where they should (or could?) sit the baby can be daunting.
In order to make this the easiest part of parenting, my answer is that it all depends on how comfortable the caregiver is. Knowing to brace the head/neck in event of a fall, or avoiding to bend the spine too much without proper muscle bracing by the baby, is important. With the right considerations and precautions (such as placing down a friendly pillow and avoiding raised surfaces by placing baby directly on the floor) sitting can be a fun and “busy” skill.
What happens if the caregiver doesn’t know these precautions? Some will learn quickly through trial and error – and come out victorious. Others may sit the baby, watch it collapse over and cry, and then never try again. Baby registries have turned these “nervous firsts” into profits and you leave the store or site with a shopping cart of “tools to sit baby”. Or as the pediatric physical therapy community calls them “baby containers.” Swings, loungers, exersaucers, and infant car seats being used as travel buddies are only some of the culprits.
Public Service Announcement: Carrying babies in car seats is not an easy or fun task. Back and wrist pain for those who are carrying and an unnecessary risk of suffocation for the baby being carried with a less opened airway. Switching from car seat to stroller while walking around also helps change baby’s perceptions and visual skills.
I’ve got more great news for you! Now that you’re comfortable with precautions for a newly sitting baby….there are also plenty of ways to encourage sitting without endangering your child in something as crampy and restrictive as a Bumbo seat. A Bumbo seat is a very popular bucket seat that essentially keeps your baby upright through poor hip/spine alignment. If you don’t know what that is – I love you! Heads up – check in with your nursery, baby sitter, or day care provider to make sure they are finding other ways to busy the baby without keeping them in a seat. The problem with “keeping” your baby in a comfortable chair is that the skill doesn’t quite transfer when it’s time for them to do it on their own. Sitting balance and better discovery of toys happens when the baby can use his/her hands freely while remaining in a sitting position – using important muscles of the trunk and balance systems in the eyes and ears.
Avoiding the seats and gimmicky equipment is easy if you’ve got alternatives! Here are 5 fun & easy ways to help your little one sit and be social – without the contraption.
- Sing Propped Sitting + Modifications: Sit baby with their tushy behind their shoulders. Weight bearing through arms/palms is also fun with one hand reaching out for a toy (keeping elbows straight is key). Raising up into sitting from having hands on the floor in front is fun to repeat while singing along to a favorite tune. If moving into sitting from the floor is too tricky, modifying it (such as placing arms onto a higher-than-the -floor pile of towels or books) is important to encourage success.
- Boat Pose + Bridge: With baby lying on their back, bend both knees to place feet down flat. Try a slow “push at the tush” to use your fingers to help lift the baby’s tushy into a lifted “bridge” pose. From lying on back, slowly bring their chin to their chest and help lift legs upward. Now encourage baby to touch knees or feet, bringing themselves into a “boat” pose. Probably never thought about the opportunity you’d have to sing “row, row, row your boat” as an adult, huh?
- Dance & Sing Pendulum Push Off: Have baby seated in front of you and help raise/hold arms up and at their shoulders/sides (like tree branches or airplane wings). Slowly help bring one palm to the floor at their side, back up to middle, and down to the other side. Can offer help around ribs and play with adding a diagonal “turn” to reach opposite hand to foot.
- Passive: Babies who aren’t sitting yet on their own, do not generally need to be placed in that position. Babies who love to be a part of the gossip and conversations, but aren’t sitting yet, may get frustrated if they’re being left out of the drama in a lying down position. A supported sitting place (like this guy leaning onto the corner of a couch) can be a game changer for social interaction and developmental benefits of avoiding a flat head shape and reducing spit up. Other recommended positions to try include using a Boppy pillow around the baby’s low back or sitting in a reclined high-chair.
- Baby in a Box: NOT SAFE FOR BABIES WHO PULL TO STAND. Seriously though, for those “free falling & face planting” new sitters, placing them in a laundry basket, storage cube, or cardboard box can provide the support needed at trunk’s side without compromising hip position. Just be sure not to forget the baby in there!
Safety is critical and sitting is a skill that requires full supervision for practicing. Proper use of cushioning and parental readiness to catch baby in event of a fall is important. Please speak with a pediatrician or pediatric physical therapist if you have any questions about safety or appropriateness of the activities before trying. Helping you find fun in the functional!