Sitting up without assistance is an early developmental milestone for babies. Most learn to do it by 9 months, but the time it takes to develop the necessary skills can differ.
Below, learn what strategies a parent or caregiver can employ to help their baby learn to sit up. We also explore the developmental timeline and when to consult a doctor.
Sitting up is not the first developmental milestone for a baby. First, the baby needs to gain upper body strength and the ability to hold their head up without support.
Before learning to sit up without help, a baby will reach the following milestones:
- 2 months: A baby can hold their head up for short periods and look around.
- 4 months: They can hold their head steady without support.
- 6 months: They can sit up with some assistance.
A baby may begin sitting up with some help by 4–6 months of age, and at 6 months, they may not need assistance. By 9 months, a baby should be able to get into a sitting position without any support.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that every baby develops at a different rate. Some babies develop this particular skill earlier or later than average.
Below are some ways to help encourage a baby to develop the skills and strength necessary to sit upright.
Encourage tummy time
This is supervised playtime with the baby on their belly, and it encourages the baby to lift their head to look around. In the process, they develop neck and upper body strength — two important factors for learning to sit without support.
Tummy time can begin from the first weeks of life, for a few minutes each day. A baby may not enjoy it much at first, however. Over time, they tend to have more fun, and play sessions can last longer.
Practice assisted sitting
Once a baby can hold their head steady, at about 4 months, a parent or caregiver might try sitting the baby on their lap.
Then, try slowly rocking back and forth, encouraging the baby to keep their upper body aligned with their lower body.
The baby may still have an occasional head wobble, so hold the baby close and be ready to provide any necessary head support.
Practice sitting on the floor
Sit on the floor with the baby between the legs, and provide support as they learn to sit up.
Having this support helps the baby develop the muscle control and coordination needed to sit and stay upright.
A hand on the back
When the baby is around 7–9 months old, try sitting them on the floor and holding their back up straight while reading to them.
This helps improve their muscle control and coordination.
Pillows for practice
After helping a baby into a sitting position, try placing pillows around them for support. It is important to stay with the baby and help them up if they fall face-first into a pillow.
Learning to sit upright is a gradual process. Before a baby can sit, they need to be able to hold their head up without support.
Next, they can practice sitting with help from a parent or caregiver — and possibly a pillow or two. As the baby’s strength grows, they may begin sitting in a tripod position, using one hand to prop themselves up.
After enough practice and tripod sitting, a baby will start to sit up on their own, though they may occasionally tip over and need a hand.
At around 6 months of age, a baby starts to roll over and may be able to support themselves on their legs while being held.
At around 9 months of age, a baby will be able to stand while holding onto furniture or a hand. They should also be beginning to crawl and pull themselves up on furniture at about this time.
At around 1 year of age, a baby should be starting to take some steps while holding onto furniture or a hand and learning to stand unassisted.
All babies develop at different rates, and the figures above are estimates for guidance.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it is not necessarily a cause for concern if a baby cannot sit up without help by 6 months of age, but it is a good idea to consult the child’s healthcare provider.
The AAP also recommend speaking with the doctor if the baby is floppy or stiff when being placed in a sitting position.
The doctor will do a physical assessment to check for any causes of a developmental delay.
Anyone who is concerned that their baby may have a developmental delay should contact a doctor.
Doctors also assess development during routine examinations.
If a healthcare provider notices a developmental delay, they may recommend, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other ways to help the baby reach they developmental milestones.
A baby typically begins sitting with assistance at 4–6 months and can sit without help by 9 months.
It is worth keeping in mind that these are estimates and that every baby develops at a different rate.
Parents and caregivers can provide physical support for their babies as they build the strength and skills needed to sit upright.
Anyone concerned about their baby’s development should speak with their pediatrician. If a baby cannot sit upright by 6 months, it may be a good idea to let the doctor know.