To sit…or not to sit: Developing functional sitting skills in babies

Today I am excited to welcome pediatric physical therapist Wendi McKenna, DPT, PCS, C/NDT! Wendi is here to talk to us about how to help our babies become independent, functional, confident sitters. (Spoiler Alert: It’s not by putting them in a Bumbo seat.)

. . . . .


A celebrated developmental milestone is when a 6-month-old baby (give or take a few weeks) can sit up independently. But what does that mean? The reference books say independent sitting is when a baby is placed in sitting on the floor and can remain there without help from caregivers, other supportive props or gear, or the use of their own hands for balance. But is this independent sit functional for baby and why does it matter?

Any time a new skill emerges, there is a period of chaos where trial and error is the name of the game. Babies persistently work to lift their heads during tummy time; they persevere through many failed attempts to finally roll over; and they wear the signs of trial and error all over when starting solid foods. All the hard work they put into mastering each new skill serves as a foundation for tackling the next developmental milestone on the horizon. Babies’ inherently strong level of motivation helps them to continue on this arduous journey, constantly facing new challenges and overcoming them on a daily basis. The subsequent development that occurs during the first year of life is nothing short of a miracle.

So why, after months of floor time/tummy time practice when our babies finally gain functional mobility skills, does our society promote placing them in sitting: a position they have no idea how to get to or, more importantly, how to safely get out of?

Watching a 6 month old on the floor is wonderful. All of the floor time (especially tummy time) they received starting from birth built the foundation for the function we see at 6 months. After all that practice, they get it…they’ve practiced a lot and it’s a place they are comfortable. They can roll from point A to point B; they explore every inch of their body; they access toys out of reach by pivoting around or inch-worming; and they bring that toy back to play while lying on the floor on tummy, back or side!

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The best part is, as long as they are in a safe space, they really can’t get hurt because they are already on the floor. There is no falling. Babies rely on parents for many things, but they are also incredibly self-reliant when given the opportunity. Though they love playing with you (and there should be a lot of that), they can and should practice independent exploration and play in positions that allow them to move and be functional…on the floor! This easy practice builds a strong foundation in sensory and motor development for all milestones and skills yet to come.

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This takes us back to functional sitting. When babies are independent AND functional sitters, they have the ability to get into sitting by themselves and the knowledge of how their body works in space to help them safely get out of it. Functional sitting is mobile sitting with controlled weight shifts left, right, forward and backward, and on all the diagonals in between. These weight shifts allow for transitions down to the floor, across onto hands and knees, or up to kneeling. Weight shifts also allow for long, stretched-out reaching to grasp a toy with a controlled return to sit for play.

Below is a four-photo sequence depicting independent weight shifts and transition into sitting…functional sitting!

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Functional sitting comes after the trials and errors trying to get to sitting independently; every failed attempt and subsequent problem solving tactic exposes babies to ALL the moves necessary to later control or stop a fall when they lose their balance in sitting. Functional sitters are immediately safer and more confident sitters than babies placed in sitting by a caregiver because babies who are placed in sitting have not yet practiced those moves that will help them maintain balance or control falls. Placed sitters often fall without trying to slow it, and even forcefully extend backwards because they haven’t learned how counterproductive (and dangerous) that is. Emotionally, functional sitters know where they are and how they got there, reducing anxiety and increasing their sense independent accomplishment (true self-confidence). And, it’s never too early to provide opportunities for your baby to build self-confidence…from the ground up!

Though I’m advocating for more time on the floor (tummy, back, side) until baby is a functional sitter, there is a time and place for sitting baby upright. When your baby can sit upright without the need for propping by baby gear or with their own hands, it is safe to have supervised independent sit time on the floor. You can also support your baby in sitting on your lap, engaging in fun play and movement games. And who doesn’t love a game of “timber” on the bed?!?!? All of this is good fun and safe. But when placing your baby down, rather than setting up padding 360 degrees around your independent (but not yet functional) sitter, consider placing him on the floor where he is safe, mobile without anxiety or risk for injury, and free to move, explore, play and learn.

At the top of this post is a video of Kellan getting up into sitting for the 2nd time. (I missed the first time by 30 seconds). He is 7 months, 3 weeks and though he sat independently when placed at the typical 6-month mark (yes, we tested him), we chose to keep him on the floor on tummy, back or side whenever we placed him down. This confident, proud and functional sitter is our reward: a baby who, once in sitting, automatically had the confidence to move around, risk falls, actually lose his balance and fall with control and then go right on playing happily.

Sitting Summary + Tips:

*        The independent transition to sit typically takes place between 7 and 8 months rather than the 6-month mark for placed independent sitting.

*        When not wearing or carrying your baby, provide floor time on tummy, side or back rather than placing them in sitting. Let them find their way independently…you can always coach them with your words as they move (a great play and bonding experience).

*        If you must sit your baby, please avoid using plastic containers/props and gear that are specifically designed to sit pre-sitters upright/vertical before they are ready (there are popular products out there that do this). A four month baby is not ready to be sitting upright with gear, but can be upright on a caregiver’s lap where dynamic and responsive support is provided to maintain proper alignment.

Now that you’ve done all this reading…Here’s to Moving, Playing and Growing!

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LPP_1005Wendi McKenna is a pediatric doctor of physical therapy and owner/founder of Strides Physical Therapy, Inc. After 13 years of practice and ever-increasing referrals for preventable diagnoses associated with flat head (plagiocephaly), torticollis and general developmental delay, Wendi created a prevention-based baby wellness program with colleague, Rachel Griffin, called Move Play Grow. Her hope is to empower parents with knowledge about their babies’ sensory and motor development to give parents more confidence as they make decisions, work, and play with their babies every day. Happy tummy time is a primary goal with all classes taught, which even after one class any baby can achieve.

Wendi has an amazingly supportive and loving husband, and three crazy wonderful children, ages 7, 5 (girls) and 8 months (little man)! When not treating patients or teaching classes, she is always with her family, enjoying all the little moments, joy and laughter that life brings.

Want more handy tips and tricks to help the kids in your life? Then subscribe to Mama OT by clicking "Subscribe!" on the homepage so you can receive new posts via email. And be sure to keep up with all of Mama OT's tips and info shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

Mama OTIn addition to being mama to two sweet little boys and wife to a crazy awesome husband, Christie is a Registered & Licensed Occupational Therapist (OTR/L). She holds a B.A. in Psychology with a Minor in Education from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA...Go Bruins!), and an M.A. in Occupational Therapy from the University of Southern California (USC OT). She has experience working as a pediatric OT in early intervention (birth to 3), clinic-based, and school-based settings. Her mission with is to encourage, educate, and empower those who care for children. Christie loves that she gets to PLAY when she goes to work, is hopelessly addicted to Kettle Corn, and is known for being able to turn virtually anything into a therapeutic tool or activity, from empty food containers to laundry and everything in between. Learn more about Christie and what inspired her to become an OT.

Occupational therapy (OT) is a holistic profession that helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities, also known as “occupations”. Some OTs help people diagnosed with disability, injury, or disease. Others help prevent disability, injury, or disease. Because of occupational therapy, people of all ages are able to say, "I can!" no matter what their struggle. Isn't that amazing?!

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Please provide appropriate supervision to the child in your care when completing any activities from this site. You as the grown-up will need to decide what types of products/activities on this list will be safe for your child. If you’re not sure, check with your child’s occupational therapist or pediatrician. Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when implementing any ideas or activities from this site, particularly if there is any risk of injury (e.g., falling, crashing), choking (e.g., small parts), drowning (e.g., water play), or allergic/adverse reaction (e.g., materials/ingredients). The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site. 
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52 thoughts on “To sit…or not to sit: Developing functional sitting skills in babies

  1. thank you for this post, my daughter turned 6 months on the 18th and does not sit. I have tried a few times and she falls back right away, only occasionally leaning forward using her hands for support for mere seconds before falling back. Based on your article, should I not bother with attempting assisted sitting with her (i have propped up pillows and supported at hips) and just do tummy and other floor time, she will progress when she is ready?

  2. Hi Tara. Thank you for taking the time to comment. The short answer is “yes.” You do not need to practice sitting in order for her to progress to independent sitting. Floor time/tummy time is the best place for her to continue to develop the foundation components of movement that makes sitting possible. That said, she should be very functional, independent, confident and competent on the floor with pushing herself up, pivoting around, rolling in both directions, reaching for toys, scooting short distances etc. If she is not moving around a lot on the floor, then we can have a different conversation. Remember, though, she can still be in sitting to enjoy a more upright position, but the best place right now is on your leg or lap where you can provide her the dynamic support she needs. It sounds like she needs too many artificial props around her in floor-sitting for it to be really fun for her. Her main goal is to interact with the people and world around her. If she is spending too much mental capacity trying to keep her balance (sometimes unsuccessfully), she doesn’t have enough reserve to really take in her surroundings and learn. Hope that helps! ~Wendi

    • Hi Wendi,

      Thank you for this information. She does push herself up, pivot, roll in both directions and reach for toys. She has not started scooting on her belly. She does on her back, pelvic thrust and kick her legs to get around, she crawls on her back, I don’t let her do that often though, I usually will return her to her belly. My pediatrician said he has never seen that before and once a baby learns to get around they will focus on that and not always attempt to learn a new way to move so to encourage her to scoot I put her on her belly and place toys a little farther away from her reach.

      Thank you again for your information about sitting, I do sit her in my lap often so we will do more of that so she isn’t always in a supine/prone position.

      • I have seen a few babies do the back crawl thing. Just as you are doing, try and limit that pattern. It utilizes too much extension whereas crawling is a more balanced use of flexion with extension. Babies (and all of us) use the path of least resistance to move. For some reason, she found the back crawl to be easier…probably because she really feels comfortable with extension (does she have a history of spitting up?). Try and work on flexion activities such as reaching for her feet and toes, playing with them, placing them in her mouth, rattles on ankles or using her legs to kick at dangling things while on her back (keeping legs in air rather than slamming down to the floor). When she’s on her back, try and have all the interesting things to get and look at (including you) be in the direction of her feet, not above her head.
        When on her tummy, have her try play with things that are placed to the side, so that she has to shift her weight to one side of her body to free up the other side to play. She will actually be closer to a sidelying position. See other information below in reference to my comment following another reader’s question that was submitted a couple days ago.
        Hope this helps!

    • Hello,

      Thanks for this post… very helpful! What do you recommend for a 5 month old with a flat spot. I do as much tummy time as possible but I do use the bumbo when I need my hands free and it’s not safe to wear baby (i.e. cooking dinner) to avoid other baby gear that puts pressure on the head.

  3. Wendi,

    My daughter is almost 9 months old and has been sitting (when placed) independently since she was 5 months old. She army crawls, mostly in a circle, to get around some, but mostly prefers to sit up and play. She does not push up on her knees and rock at this point, but she will transition from sitting to her belly, occasionally. She does roll both ways, but I don’t feel like she takes advantage of this skill while she is playing. I am concerned that she should be crawling at this point, and that she may skip crawling entirely and go straight to walking. She also pulls herself up to standing when she sees something within reach to do so. Should I be concerned and what can I do to encourage her to crawl, besides continue to place her on her belly? Thanks.

  4. Hi Jennica,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed question! The great news is, it sounds like your daughter has some strong foundation skills on the floor, and given the opportunity to spend more time there, she will progress nicely. The difficult part is that sitting and standing already exist in her repertoire, and comparatively, the floor is a more limited venue. So her tummy time might be short-lived and frustrating for her. IF she tolerates tummy time, my first recommendation would be to place her down on her tummy as much as possible rather than in sitting. And if she is in sitting, try to keep her away from surfaces that she can pull up on. She should have to work to get there…:-).

    I don’t know what your daughter looks like on the floor, but from your description, it sounds like she does not bear weight on her hands with straight/extended elbows very much…that she is most likely spending time on her forearms. She may also lack the control to truly weight shift into and control a sidelying position, an important foundation skill that allows one side of the body to be the stable weight bearing side against the floor and the other side to be the moving, reaching, interacting side in space. These two skills are essential for transitions up to sit and for crawling on hands and knees.

    Disclaimer, I think all babies should crawl…for many reasons, and I will be blogging about that shortly. That said, in order to help teach her transitions to and holding/moving in hands and knees position to get her ready for crawling she needs to first learn to control her body weight on extended arms with hands in contact with the floor…not just her forearms. A few ways to accomplish this are:

    1. When baby is on her tummy, manually lift her upper chest slightly off the floor and bring her weight backwards a little bit (your direction of the lift should be up and back toward feet on a diagonal…not just straight up). You should expect arms to reach down to the ground and hands to make contact with floor, and for hips and knees to flex/bend so she is on hands and knees. If her knees are wider than her hips or slip out to the side, then you kneel behind her and sandwich her little pelvis between your legs to keep her in line (gentle squeeze for support). If she kicks her legs out behind her, you will probably need to try #2. You can then lessen your support as she takes more control. You can do this in front of a toy that she wants to reach for, you can add some rhythmic rocking to a song you are singing, or you can simply use this as an opportunity to teach her to get into sitting…Once on hands and knees, baby can shift weight back further and to one side or the other, move pelvis over a leg that is planted into the floor and get into sitting. She will typically use a hand on the ground for support and an extra push. If this does not make sense, then you perform the transition tummy to sitting on yourself so you know what is needed.

    2. When baby is on tummy, shift her weight to one side so she is fully weight bearing on one side and the other is free. She should be able to keep her head off the ground. Help her to flex the free (upper/non-weight bearing) leg up toward her tummy so that hip and knee are bent and her upper thigh is close to or almost touching her tummy. Then help her shift her weight back onto that flexed leg. This should help her to hoist her pelvis up, freeing the other leg to come up and requiring that she push up on her arms in order to be in line with her hips and pelvis. Again, you can provide some support under her chest if she can’t come up.

    3. When baby is sitting, you sit behind her and straddle her so you are making contact on one side of her body with your thigh. Entice her with a toy, your voice, a sibling, another parent, etc to try and reach over your leg. As she reaches, roll your leg with her movement and allow her to rotate up into a hands and knees position, her hands on one side of your leg and knees on the other. Your leg acts as a bolster to keep her tummy off the ground, so that she will be supported on hands and knees. She can then rock back and forth, reach for things, etc. Again, the goal is to get her comfortable bearing weight on her hands with arms extended while also on her knees.

    There are many ways to help a baby learn to be on their hands and knees, but I hope these ideas are good to get you started. Try them out and keep this conversation going. I think it might help a lot of people!

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  6. Hello! Thank you for the fabulously informative article! My daughter is just about 3 months old and is far from a “container” baby; she is constantly held or worn in carriers and spends time playing on the floor quite often. She tolerates tummy time for about 5 minutes at a time but we do this many times a day. She has great head control. My question is this…over the past 2 weeks she has shown a preference for sitting up, assisted. We hold her in our laps or up on the floor sitting and she seems to love looking around like this. Is it detrimental to her becoming an independent sitter to hold her like this? Also, our high chair has an infant insert which would enable her to sit up in the chair. Should we avoid using the high chair to sit her upright for short periods during the day (at the table with us while we eat, for example)?

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Great questions and I’m so glad to hear about all the floor time she is getting. The easy answer is, the more time your daughter has on the floor, experimenting with her own independent movements, the more she will develop those essential foundation skills for mobility on the floor, transitions, and the tools for more upright postures. That said, ALL babies love to be upright; that is what drives them to work to get up. And that magical 3 month milestone is when their cognition kicks up another level: “The floor is still tough for me to move around on, and I know how to “tell” mom and dad that I like to be up.” They know the difference because of all the time you are carrying them around. There is so much more to see, point out, touch and feel, etc.
      However, their muscle/postural control system is not developed enough to support them there independently. Some experts go as far to say babies shouldn’t be supported upright at all until they can get there independently, however, I take a softer and more realistic approach.
      If your daughter is sitting up with you, please make sure you have your hands or forearms around her trunk, supporting her spine. Do not just prop her bottom down and lay her back on you. This way you can respond to her movements, changing your support of her as you need to.
      As for the high chair, I would delay putting her in it until she can sit independently (this goes for a stroller too), even with the infant insert, because she most likely will not be properly aligned and even the slightest movement will tilt her in the wrong way because she doesn’t have the postural control to correct her body back to midline.

      Socially, however, being at the table with you is very important. You have a few options. You can wear her while you eat (which is awkward at best); hold her upright on your lap one hand/arm wrapped around her spine to support it; have a few more picnic lunches and dinners on the floor with her until she can be at the table (this is fun); or….(and ONLY if you have a safe enough table/counter top with sufficient width/breadth and sturdiness and you promise to be in arms length away from her at ALL times) you can put her play mat on table surface and have her be your centerpiece in tummy time, facing you. We did this often with our 3rd baby and they were always the most fun dinners.
      I hope this helped! Let me know how it works out for you.
      Warmly, Wendi

  7. Thanks for the helpful response! We will avoid the high chair for now. We did try a stroller 2 times before I realized it’s much easier to wear my daughter (and I love having her close to me!) I was worried about always placing her on the playmat as I didn’t want her laying on her back too much and getting a flat spot on her head but I’m realizing that when she is on her playmat, she is in constant motion and moves her head and body all over. Thanks again for the advice, my husband and I love holding her on our laps when we are not wearing her so we will make sure she is supported by our arms as you mentioned. We are still doing tummy time, despite her protests, in multiple short periods. She rolled from tummy to back yesterday for the first time, very exciting! Thanks again!

  8. I love this article! I have read it multiple times as it really does sum up a lot of my beliefs about physical development (not that I have any education or training in this area). But, I really do think that we are instinctively built to acquire certain skills provided we’re given the opportunity.

    The educator in me knows that all children develop at their own pace, but the mama in me is starting to get more anxious than usual. My daughter is just 8 months and doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to functional sitting. She spends most of her time on the floor, and like Tara’s little one, she rolls in both directions, pivots, and even pulls herself forward sometimes–especially, if she can grab onto something. She can manage a sitting position if sat up, but will eventually let herself fall back. She is obsessed with feet, mine, her dad’s, her own, etc. She will pull off her shoes and socks, and suck on her toes whenever she gets the chance. You asked Tara if her LO had a history of spitting up? She still spits up all the time when I sit her on my lap or on the floor, even sometimes when I’m holding her. She almost always pushes herself away and arches her back. We always assumed it was just because she wants to look at EVERYTHING! Could her diapers have anything to do with this as well? We do cloth and they are bulkier than disposables. More naked tummy time maybe? That’s a lot of questions, but I’m starting to feel lost.

    • Hello Auria,
      So sorry it has taken so long to respond to your thoughtful question. I hope your daughter is doing well!
      My first thought, not knowing your baby is that her spitting up/reflux may be a contributing factor in why she is limiting her mobility. She sounds like she prefers extension to flexion, which will impede development of control moving side to side and with rotation. Only after extension and flexion are balanced can baby really exhibit true lateral motion; and then rotation. They go through the sequence of front/back; side/side and rotation in each position (floor, sitting, standing), so baby might rotate on the floor but be just working on forward/backward in sitting.
      There is a big difference in the emotionality of pushing away/backwards and looking backwards. The first is an attempt to get away from something…typically discomfort or the feeling of something coming up the esophagus from the stomach; the second is based on basic curiosity and is often a game babies play. The first is a sign that not all is right; the second is a normal behavior.
      I used cloth diapers for a long time and stopped because they are so bulky and actually impair a lot of movement. Definitely engage in lots of naked tummy time/floor time.
      The one thing you should watch for is how easily your daughter can control movement side to side. She should be able to lay on her side with her head up without rolling all way to back or tummy. If this is challenging for her, there are lots of ways you can assist and teach her, but what I would recommend depends on the baby…and I don’t know enough about her.
      Let me know how it’s going now. If you are still concerned, we can set up an internet consultation

      • Thank-you so much for taking the time to respond, Wendi.

        Most of what I’ve observed of my daughter lying on her side, her head is usually down. She will lift it in transition to tummy/back, but I can’t remember specifically if she can lie on her side with her head up. I tried to see if she would do it, but if I try to lift her head while she is lying on her side, she immediately transitions to a roll. (She is currently at the end of a viral infection which resulted in some swelling in her ear and I’m not sure if this is a factor at the moment.)

        If I put her in a sitting position, she will lean forward, and rotate, but she is hesitant to lean to her side. She will reach out her arm at a toy next to her, but she will not lean over to touch it.

        We have a doctor’s appointment in a week and I’ve already noted gross motor and reflux as something to bring up. Thank-you for all your support and advice. I’m going to keep my eyes open for the side lying and head thing, and I’m sure I’ll be in touch again soon!


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  10. Hi Wendi,
    Great article!
    My son is 8 months old and he resists sitting, even when assisted. Since his birth, he always hated tummy time and when placed on his tummy, would immediately roll over to his back and prefers to be held. Now, he does however like to stand up, turn and jump with assistance. When we make him sit on our lap, he arches his back and tries to stand up. We started feeding him on high chair for the past two weeks. He seemed to like it initially but now, for the past three days, resists to be seated in it. He tries to arch his back and get out of it by pushing himself up. He does that with car seat too, sometimes. One thing he enjoys while on the floor is to put his feet into his mouth.

    He has mild reflux like symptoms (seems very similar to silent reflux from what I’ve read on internet), which has greatly reduced after we introduced solids since his 7th month. He doesn’t spit up, except occasionally but burps a lot.

    I’ve been concerned and trying to research a lot on this and fortunately stumbled upon your article. Please let me know if I should be worried and how I can encourage him to sit and meet his developmental milestones.

    Thank you.

  11. Very informative article! I have a question though…. my little one is just a few days shy of 5 months now. One side of her head has a flat spot…. not horrible but significant enough that we have asked pedi about it. He told us to do as much as we can to keep her off her head and back (except of course for sleeping) We put her on a mat on the floor for tummy time as much as possible throughout the day. Luckily she does very well, and often tolerates it for more than 30 mins at a time! She rolls more now, so when she goes to her back I keep putting her back on ber tummy. She can’t stay on either side for even a few seconds. I am so worried about her flat spot getting worse, so we got a fisher price “sit me up floor seat”. This seems like a more natural position than a bumbo, and it allows her to be off head, as she can’t be on her tummy or carried by me all day long! I put her in this when she’s tired of tummy time or I can’t hold her.
    Is using this seat really that bad for her sitting development? What should we do?

    • If you are worried about the flat spot on your daughters head, and are only considering a positioning program at this time, the best thing to start would probably be a Tortle beanie hat by Dr. Jane. This is a beanie hat that has a built in bolster. You place the bolster over the flat spot and it prevents baby from laying on the flat spot. This can be used any time that baby is awake.
      I would not advise limiting your babies exploration just to stay off a flat spot. Sitting up is fine with immediate supervision and support for interactive play as long as she is properly supported in good alignment. However, any container will limit baby’s overall movement, her exploration potential, and her practice with learning the foundations of more coordinated movements. Please contact me if you have more questions about any of this. I would be happy to help.

      • Hi Wendi, thank you so much for your response! I will look into the tortle beanie hat. I’m surprised this was not mentioned to us by the plagiocephaly doctor we recently saw. Thanks again for your help!

  12. Hi
    I just wanted to say thank you for an excellent article. I studied OT but worked in adults and remember learning that the milestones for baby development was rolling, sitting , crawling. When I had my first baby it just didn’t make sense to me from a developmental point of view to have to prop him up to play with all the support needed. so all my kids played on their tummies until they learnt to crawl at 6 months and sit independently at 9 months. I had a lot of comments from the ‘older’ generation about how I was depriving them of important playtime by not promoting sitting. Thanks explaining this so clearly.

  13. I’m so glad I found this site!! My daughter just turned four months old and loves to sit up and stand (both assisted by me or my husband). She does have a bumbo, but her legs are too chunky for it… I couldn’t justify returning it because I figured I would use it for future babies of their legs weren’t as chunky. But I guess I should just return it!:)
    Anyways, she does a good amount of tummy time and can do a little bit of scooching (depending on how much energy she has), but prefers laying on her back to swat at toys and put her dangly toys in her mouth.
    Should I not let her sit and stand assisted anymore? I am a new mom and am a bit overwhelmed with what to do/not do for my daughter’s best interest and development.

  14. Thankyou for your article. I think it makes sense. Our wee girl had complications at birth and has never done anything by the text book. Ive been trying to give her maximum floor time shes been rolling for months could roll off tummy at 4wks…. but they stopped us giving her tummy time and tried to get her to conform. She could move forward at that stage but they said she shouldn’t be able to so dont let her have tummy time Having worked in ec I was carefuloy watching her development. Months later i threw the theory of no tummy time out the window and the silly labels and went back to doing what I thought was right as she appeared to be going backwards and wasnt a happy girl. Her dad never crawled he rolled then walked she following dads ways in life in so many ways but after tummy time and patience shes taken huge steps forward in development. Shes crawling her own way at mo but so close to getting it together. She hasnt sat herself up yet but getting so near to it. Shes tested my patience as shes nearly 1 but she had her first month in hospital bed and hours traveling to appointments, she had reactions to meds which upset her tummy so she went months without floortime. Im loving watching her progres. She also has amazing coordination with musical instruments it runs in dads family. Laying on your back playing with drumsticks or shakers, tamborines or bells is her passion she would roll everywhere with one she would lay at stereo crying for her music……. have had to convince her to let go of the instruments to crawl and clap. She will now give things a go. Hopefully she will make it up to sitting soon as shes so close but will keep being patient encouraging her to strengthen those muscles regardless of what many say and even if I have to justify it to well meaning people who don’t understand why we discourage sitting her up! Im glad ive followed my gutt instict and gone back to basics just wish we had sooner. And yes we do have regular assessment on her progress

  15. And yes we have had many parents say get her a jolly jumper, get her and exersaucer get her a bumbo set……. we haven’t got any! She will figure it out herself.

  16. Hi Wendi

    My son will be 6 months old by May18th. he is rolling over in both directions and remains on his tummy for 1hour continuously. he is doing mini push-ups also. i feel that his head is little wobbly when i hold him. is this normal?

    Also i am practicing him to sit on my lap with my legs folded.

    another way which i am trying him to sit up is sitting on the floor and stretching my legs straight and apart.I place him in between my legs. when i try this he is moving forward and backward. Is this the correct way i am using to make him sit up?

    Please advice.

  17. Hi Wendi,
    My sister sent me your page as my 7 month old is displaying a head tilt that is believed to be caused from inconsistent tummy time. She suffered from severe reflux and was extremely uncomfortable on her stomach (often throwing up each time). Though she did get time, at least 5-10 minutes a day, on her stomach she would shriek the entire time.
    Advice from an OT suggests her head tilt is from this inconsistency and building her core and trunk muscles should be the trick to straighten everything out. She is sitting up for just minutes on her own right now and has no issues with coordination on both sides or fully turning her head from side to side–in fact she often does this when stimulated.
    We sit with her in between our legs as she faces forward and strategically place toys to her left to help her turn to that side. (we also do various things listed above on this page) She does use a bouncy and has fantastic muscle use and control of her legs.
    Do you happen to have any other suggestions as to what we can try to help her build her trunk muscles and focus on straightening her neck? –I should note she can keep her head straight–it’s not a constant tilt…but she does it constantly throughout the day. Does that make any sense?!

  18. Great article. What about door bouncers? My daughters played in one since 4 months. Just for a few minutes usually while I cook. She has a bumbo seat but I won’t be using that anymore. Have I done damage by putting her in the seat and bouncer? Thank you.

    • Hi Kait. Thanks for the question. I’m glad that Christie sent you the pink oatmeal article to read.
      The first thing that I want to share, is that you didn’t do anything wrong, nor did you cause any lasting harm to your baby by using a bouncer or seat. I’m sure she absolutely loved being there.
      Babies love to be upright. Thank goodness, because they have to work very hard in their first year of life in order to get there. If they didn’t have such strong motivation, none of them would achieve these important milestones. If we provide them with external support, they will take it and learn how to use it. This learning, however, does not necessarily provide the right foundation skills for the next motor milestone. By contrast, if we allow them to explore movement on the floor, they will develop a firm foundation of how their body works in parts related to each other and as a whole against gravity. They will learn through trial and error all of the nuances of coordinated movement to stabilize/balance, reach and grasp, manipulate objects, and get from point A to point B (by rolling, cruising, crawling, walking, jumping, running, climbing, etc.) to explore more. Putting baby in a container of any sort limits these opportunities for independent and self-initiated movement and exploration.

      If your baby is used to being in a container and upright, be compassionate and understanding, but also consistent about providing more floortime play. You can get a great floortime mat that you can put at your feet no matter where you are in the house. Baby-wearing is also a nice option if baby does not tolerate the floor for long periods of time. Although they are not free to move on their own when worn, they are feeling and responding to human movement, and they are close to you for the ever important bonding!
      So, the short answer, is the floor is the best place for baby to learn and explore. Trying tummy down position first is ideal. But also understand that you may be changing her routine, so be sensitive when you start transitioning her. In no time, you will have a happy baby exploring her world. Just don’t forget to baby proof! Please let me know if you have any other questions. Warmly,

      Wendi McKenna, DPT

  19. My baby will be 9 months next week and has been an independent sitter since 5 months. We did very little tummy time with her when she was younger because she would scream and spit up quite a bit when we put her on her tummy. She was happiest on her back or when I supported her sitting. She also spat up much less. My daughter is now able to tolerate being on her tummy while playing and will often go to her tummy since she’s realized it’s easier to see and reach her toys than on her back.

    During the time my baby was learning to sit up and was sitting for a minute or two at a time, I was on the floor with her supporting her at the hips to allow her to move around and practice shifting her weight. By the time she no longer needed my support to sit up, she was able to shift her weight to play and to prevent herself from falling. For the past month, she has been getting into the crawling position from sitting up and then back into the sitting position, and she can get from her tummy to the crawling position but hasn’t figured out how to make it to the sitting position if she wasn’t sitting to begin with. When she wants to sit up, I help her go through the steps from her tummy to the crawling position and then sitting. Anytime I lay her on her back, she immediately tries to sit up by lifting her head and shoulders off the floor. Today she got into the sitting position for the first time after a nap. She used the bars on her crib to pull herself up to sit. She has been trying to sit straight up from lying on her back since she was about 3 months old. Is this something I need to be concerned about? I have never seen or heard of another baby doing this.

    Also, I have noticed that when my daughter goes from sitting to the crawling position and back to sitting, she often ends up in the “W” position. When she does, I help her balance to bring her legs back around to her front. She hates being in the W position but has a hard time getting out of it on her own. Once I hold her under an armpit and help her get one leg around, she brings the second leg around easily.

    My daughter is not yet very mobile but twists, spins, lunges, and rolls to get where she wants to go. If she’s sitting up, she’ll bounce on her bottom to try to move, and if she’s on her back, she’ll push her butt in the air and push off her feet. She tries to crawl but gets frustrated that she can’t get anywhere by rocking on her hands and knees and will give up and go to her other methods. She seems to not know to move one limb at a time. How can I help her with this?

    • Dear Crystal,
      Thank you for your very detailed comment! You really know your baby and have picked up on some amazing nuances. From everything you have stated, it sounds to me your baby does not know how to control or does not necessarily like shifting her weight from one side to the other. She likes the sagittal plane of motion (forward/backward) and is stuck there. Though she twists, spins, lunges and rolls, I bet she is doing so primarily using flexion and extension as well a momentum to get from point A to B rather than controlled movement from side to side, followed by true controlled rotation.
      Often this can be a consequence of lower muscle tone, which can lead to a lesser level of sensory input and therefore less knowledge about her body in space. This can contribute to less experimentation with movement and less overall practice and learning through self-initiated trial and error. However, it is difficult for me to tell unless I see her/hold and feel her.
      It can also be a direct consequence of a history of reflux (which you mentioned she did spit up when younger). Babies learn how to control spitting up. If “locking down” and limiting movement is part of that control, they stick with what they know and often can have some anxiety about experiencing something new. This can last much longer than the actual reflux. But, again, it is difficult for me to know unless we speak further.

      By 9 months she should be able to get up into sitting by herself, especially because she has the other transitions. However, the transitions she does have may be more “passive” in movement quality. She may purposely avoid those movements that really challenge her posture and balance and require a greater degree of muscle activity and coordination.

      Helping her to experience lateral weight shifts, controlling movements (slowing everything down) and getting her core working so that the upper and lower body and right and left sides can work in coordination will be essential. Rolling side to side slowly when changing, helping her slowly transition up and down from sitting to lying down and back up again on changing table, encouraging reaching for toys when on hands and knees so that one hand is off the ground without collapsing, playing “row row row your boat” on your lap moving side to side and having her hold those tricky sideways positions are some examples of things you can do during the day to help her get used to lateral weight shifts.

      Please contact me if you have any other questions.

  20. Thank you so much! My seven month old is in the transitional stages (between photos 2 & 3) of becoming a functional sitter but because he just falls over when I place sit him, our doctor is freaking out about his development and trying to scare me by telling me he’s delayed (because he couldn’t independent sit at six months old). I have kids with autism and ADHD, I know what delays look like but people kept telling me to “trust the doctor”. So glad I found this. We are getting referred to a developmental pediatrician for it and I really can’t figure out the need as he’s right where he should be (as I knew he was)… This gives me some things to discuss at that visit so this can be put to bed. 🙂

  21. A great read with some very interesting things to try with our youngest.

    From the moment he was born, our youngest always head great head/neck control. He could lift his head up and hold it steady when he was only a few days old. He would also push off with his legs whenever you were holding him.

    He was quick to roll over in both directions but since then seems to have made progress quite slowly. He is 13 months old at the moment and does not sit up yet. He does a commando crawl which gets him wherever he needs to go. He does this by mainly using 1 arm and one knee though. He did not previously display a preference for one side and always moved his head well when sleeping.

    He will rock on hands and knees for quite some time but then lower his tummy to the floor to move forward.

    Over the past few days he has finally started to pull himself up from being flat on his tummy to a sitting kneeling position. He used to just pull himself up high with his arms but keep his hips/pelvis and legs on the floor. He now pulls his knees under him occasionally.

    He can sit fine with very little assistance in my lap. We have tested him on the floor if we put him in a sitting position and he balances great and even recovers quickly when he almost topples to the side. He doesn’t last long though because within minutes he will try to push off with his legs, stretch out and fall backwards.

    He arches his back a lot and throw his head back often. He has been doing this for many months. Whenever he is tired, angry or upset he will do this. When in his high chair he will do this while pushing off hard with his legs.

    Does the tension in his back prevent him from crawling and sitting? He had plenty of tummy time as a small baby and always enjoyed it. He is on the floor almost always when he is awake. He gets held and walked around plenty. I don’t carry him in a sling much (I did his older sister) as he can get so frustrated and be arching his back. Because he does not fit into the pram anymore, we do have him in a pushchair from time to time. He also sits in his high chair (with a board for his feet) and does fine. He does not slouch and holds himself upright, he twists and turns and has no trouble returning to his upright starting position.

    Should I be worried about the odd order in which he is developing his skills? I should add that he seems a very happy and content baby. Or possibly lazy! His sister seemed much more driven to learn all these skills and by this age she was running around the house!

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  22. Hi,

    My son is a twin and 8 months old now, since birth he has had trouble holding up his head, and now has a small tilt to the right side mainly. He is able to turn his head in all directions, but just leans a little bit to the right. He has acid reflux still and likes to arch his back. In the last 2-3 weeks he has finally started moving a lot, like turning from front to back, and back to front, whereas before he just preferred to lay on the floor, not really moving. He does plenty of tummy time, and since reading your article, he’s been getting even more tummy time. My question is that just in the last month or two he has been refusing to be put into a sitting position, he will arch his back the second you put him in that position, and we have to manually bend his hips. he just prefers to be flat or standing. He’s not crawling yet, and not really pushing up with his hands, and definitely not sitting. I am waiting on PT to start for my little guy, and hoping that will solve his issues. Any suggestions on exercises we can do on the floor or anywhere?

  23. Hey, my son is almost 6 months old now and since birth has reached all of his milestones very quickly! The only one seems to be sitting up! He Rolla over extremely well, he absolutely loves tummy time, and he is scooting on his belly to his toys. Most of his awake time is spent on his belly! The only time he isn’t on his belly is when he is being changed, is asleep, or the rare times he is fussy and wants to bounce in our laps. He likes to sit in our laps with us holding him and we will hold his hands and he will pull himself up so he can eat our fingers, but he never tries to sit up on his own. We have tried to sit him up and it hasn’t worked at all. My MIL put him in a bumbo chair, but I was uncomfortable with it because I felt he was too young so we stopped it. Now we have a Summer Infant Superseat, and he likes to play in it sometimes. Most of the time though I will have the section with the toys on the floor and have him play in it.

    So, a couple of questions, is that seat as bad as the bumbo? It’s not as deep and without the foam turns into a booster. The second thing, is he not sitting up because we aren’t showing him to sit up often enough or is it just going to be a while longer before he sits up if we place him that way?

    • Hi, it sounds like he is right on track, and it’s great to hear he loves to play on the floor. All of that rolling, scooting, and pushing up will actually help strengthen the muscles to support the development of independent and functional sitting. There are different perspectives on how appropriate it is to place babies in “containers” that prop them up or help them maintain positions they cannot yet assume on their own (such as the Bumbo you mentioned and others like the Summer Infant Superseat). For those therapists who take a moderate approach, the recommendation typically includes trying to limit use of such seats to 15 minutes or less at a time (like to take shower, put together a quick meal, etc.), about once a day if possible. It is ultimately up to you to decide whether you want to offer a seat like that to your baby as an option during the day. Often babies who are mobile and curious do not necessarily want to be contained in a seat, so you may find that he won’t want it too much anyway. My personal input is that, if he is happy exploring on the floor and is making progress in his gross motor development, there’s no reason to put him in a seat and restrict his ability to move and explore! One thing you can do as your baby becomes even more mobile is to create a “yes” space in the area(s) where he plays — this is a space (sometimes gated off or blocked off by pillows or baby gates) where everything within that space is okay for him to explore and interact with. It can be a small space of 3-4 feet, or it can be an entire room. It just depends on your living space and your baby. This provides him the opportunity to independently and safely move and explore while also “containing” him so you can have a little more freedom to fold laundry, etc. without having to be right by his side. I explain more about creating a “yes” space in this post:

      One other link you may find helpful is my Developmental Milestones page, which outlines the ages at which a variety of gross motor milestones occur, what baby steps build up to those milestones, and links to articles and activities related to each milestone to give you more information and ideas. It can be found here:

      Thanks for commenting, happy playing!

      • Thank you! He doesn’t sit in the chair more than 20 minutes because he can’t sit still. We will be making a “yes” space for him soon with a baby play pen because of a puppy, so I hope that will be enough. We will just keep doing what we are doing!

  24. Good morning,
    My son is almost 7 months old. He sat unassisted from about 5.5 months. However, he HATES tummy time. He does have reflux but it does not cause him pain. He is, however, sensitive to spitting up. It doesn’t hurt him, he just doesn’t like it so much, especially when it happens 5-6 times after every meal. Sitting up has helped his reflux, but he still hates tummy time. He can roll tummy to back but not back to side or tummy. I’ve practiced rolling, but he is very resistant, stiffens up, and tries to arch back onto his back. He’s getting to the point where he wants to move, but doesn’t know how. In a sitting position he reaches for toys, but if he knows he can’t get them he’s just content and gives up. How can I help him with rolling and being a functional sitter? On the floor he doesn’t do much. He plays with toys overhead, we do a lot of tummy time but he generally just rolls back over. We’ve done an exercise ball, different surfaces, playing with musical toys, literally everything. He just doesn’t like it. The doctor isn’t too concerned because he is sitting and just skipped rolling, and might skip crawling, but I want to help him. Do you have any advice?

  25. Thank you for this post! I have read through a lot of your posts and I have a question. My little one has reflux. He spits up a lot and nothing we do helps. Keeping him upright does a little bit so we normally hold him for about 15-30 min after eating. Also sitting upright seems to help because if he does spit up he swallows it. However, no matter when he is put on his tummy, he will spit up. He isn’t necessarily in pain, as he is off meds, but he was for awhile. Now, I think he just doesn’t like to spit up (I mean, who does? Throwing up doesn’t hurt us but it’s an awful feeling when stuff comes back up). So I think a lot of his actions on the floor on his back and tummy try to compensate for the spitting up- like he’s learned a defense against it. Not rolling back to tummy, only tolerates tummy time a little bit. If he doesn’t need meds but might not stop spitting up for another few more months (he is 7 months old) how can I help him reach motor milestones? The doctor isn’t concerned- thinks a lot of reflux babies skip rolling or crawling and go straight to walking. There’s nothing we can do about the spitting up, it seems, and until this gets better I don’t understand how to work with him. I’ve propped him up on a boppy, everything….but he is constantly spitting up or has learned that he doesn’t like it because of past pain/spitting up. Don’t know what to do.

  26. My daughter was 9 weeks premature. She is now 1 year old corrected and is an independent sitter but not a functioning sitter. It seems to be the only thing holding her back from learning to pull up, stand, walk. I don’t think she is incapable, but more like she doesn’t want to or doesn’t know she can. What can I do to help encourage and motivate her?

  27. Hello. Is being a functional sitter necessary before introducing solids? My 5.5 month old cannot sit unassisted yet and hates tummy time even though I have tried all the suggestions to make it less miserable for him. He loves to stand a lot. He would push himself up whenever he can.

    • No, it’s not. Functional sitting typical comes during the second half of the first year of life, while solids are introduced typically during 4-6 months. Baby does need to have adequate neck strength and proper seat and buckle support in the high chair before beginning solids for the best start. Out of curiosity, does your little one struggle with reflux at all?

  28. Hi Christie! I have loved reading all of your OT blogs and I’m still reading through all the great advice about helping in development!

    I have a question to see if you think I need to discuss this with Ped for a referral? My husband says I’m crazy and I go back and forth on if it’s really a “thing”. One of my twins has seemed tight since birth (although he has definitely loosened up and I’m continuing to do massages for this). The other twin was very floppy, but has improved a ton too…I had two opposite extremes!!! The one who is more tense doesn’t seem as flexible as a baby should be – I can get his toes to his mouth, but he grunts and has only recently started to laugh when I do it.

    Here’s the thing – while on his back, he rarely brings his legs up while reaching up for a toy (they either lay in the frog position or he will dig them into the ground and arch while reaching for a toy). You can see the wheels turning, like he wants to bring them to that tucked position, but the opposite happens and he smacks them onto the floor and his arms go straight out his sides – like the letter “T”. He rolls back to front (not front to back yet), sits unassisted for a minute or two if propped up, will put weight on his legs if I hold him, and will go into the tucked position (grab his feet if I help him) and will stay tucked for a few seconds before his legs slam back down to the ground and his arms go out to that “T” formation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him actively bring them up and play with them by himself. When on the bed, he will hold his feet for a longer period of time on a softer surface (again, if I help him activate his abs first by giving his bottom a little nudge up). I’m hoping this is a preemie thing (something to do with gravity and being out of the womb too soon)? They are 6 1/2 months (5 1/2 adjusted) – they were born at 35 weeks.

    My ped fully trusts my judgement and leaves treatments up to me a lot of the time…this is an area where I watch every move the babies make and think “is that normal”. Have you seen this before, common with preemies (I read it can take up to 12-18 months for their senses and muscles to normalize), or you think it is something I should make an appt for the Dr. to see if there’s a referral need?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated (I tend to trust OT and PT mama’s more in this field because you have seen a wide array of babies and know the “norms”).

    • Hi Jennifer, Thanks for your comment. First of all, your babies are lucky to have a mama like you who is watching out for them and doing what she can to help them grow and thrive! Secondly, you are correct in that having a level of muscle tension that makes bringing the feet and legs up into flexion and toward the mouth at 6 months of age is not super expected. However, that being said, it sounds like he is making progress with gross motor milestones and is mostly within the range of what is expected for his age, based on what you have shared. Typically, if you are seeking early intervention services through your state, the child needs to be demonstrating a pretty significant delay (in California, where I live, it needs to be a 33% delay in at least one area of development prior to age 2, or if it’s after age 2, at least a 50% delay in one area or 33% delay in 2 areas). Similarly, if you are going through your insurance, a pediatrician typically refers based on developmental need (such as delayed milestones).

      It sounds like you are keeping an eye on that tightness…here are some posts that may give you more ideas for general developmental play activities you can do with your little ones to help lay a nice foundation for rolling and crawling:

      And here is a set of 2 short baby activity books written by a fellow OT and blogger (Rachel from that outline a range of simple, powerful baby play activities to promote healthy infant development: (affiliate link)

      As always, do follow up with your pediatrician if you become really concerned or you notice any significant changes/decreases in your baby’s abilities. You are on the right track, good luck!

      • Thank you so much for your reply!!!!!!

        You stated, “Secondly, you are correct in that having a level of muscle tension that makes bringing the feet and legs up into flexion and toward the mouth at 6 months of age is not super expected.”

        So it’s not a definite thing that he should be doing by now? Just wanted to make sure I read that correctly and didn’t get it mixed up (I was under the impression that this is something he definitely should be doing by now).

        Thank you SO much for the helpful links…digging into those right now during their nap time! Again, thank you so much for your time and input!

      • Hi Jennifer, typically babies are expected to be able to easily bring their feet to their mouth around 5-6 months of age (on average). Happy reading!

      • Gotcha! Since he was a preemie (and tighter because of it), I’m going to give him some more time then before freaking out! Haha! Thank you so much!!!!!

So, whadya think?