Sitting Babies Up – The Downside

Conventional wisdom might call it blog suicide to suggest negatives about a practice that probably 90% of parents do with their babies (n.b. – a very unscientific survey). Is it really worth the grief to get into it?

After struggling with this for a while now, my passion for natural gross motor development won out.  So, I sincerely hope that you’ll read the following with an open mind (or stop now).

My husband and I sat our first baby up without a second thought, propping her on the couch at just a few weeks old to take pictures of her in her fabulous new baby wardrobe. Looking back at the photos, this was not a flattering position.  She looks slumped and frozen — neither comfy nor happy. In one particularly undignified photo she’s dressed in a garish orange court-jester-inspired jumpsuit and matching hat, a gift from a witty friend. It’s clear from the scowl on our newborn’s face, she didn’t see the humor.

By the time our baby was 4 months old, I was attending RIE Classes where I was inspired to provide her abundant time to move freely and allow her to roll from back to tummy, pivot, scoot and eventually discover sitting all on her own. I’ll never forget her sitting for the very first time after rocking on her knees, then rolling back to her side and almost getting there for several days. She had been playing on the floor in our minuscule hotel room in Paris, and suddenly there she was, sitting in front of an armoire, surprised to find a reflection of herself in the mirror.

The splendor of “baby-owned” accomplishments like these is one of the reasons I recommend giving infants the opportunity to learn to sit on their own and not propping or positioning them.  Here are some others…

1. Natural Gross Motor Development

Many of the ideas Magda Gerber taught were based on the research and clinical work of renowned Hungarian pediatrician Emmi Pikler (1902-1984), who was Magda’s friend and mentor. One of Dr. Pikler’s revolutionary contributions to infant care was the outcome of her keen interest in the physiology of motor development that was not restricted, aided or taught.  Through her many years of research, observation and experience, Pikler concluded that when infant development is allowed to occur naturally, without interference, there are not only physical benefits such as grace and ease of movement, but psychological and cognitive benefits as well…

“The learning process will play a major role in the whole later life of the human being. Through this kind of development, the infant learns his ability to do something independently, through patient and persistent effort. While learning during motor development to turn on his belly, to roll, to creep, sit, stand, and walk, he is not only learning those movements, but also *how to learn*.  He learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction that is derived from his success, the result of his patience and persistence.” – Dr. Emmi Pikler, Peaceful Babies – Contented Mothers

2. Restricting movement

Sitting babies up prematurely prevents them from rolling, twisting, scooting, or doing much of anything else. When an infant is placed in this position before she is able to attain it independently, she usually cannot get out of it without falling, which does not encourage a sense of security or physical confidence.

The babies I’ve observed playing this way look as if they’re pinned to the floor, immobile from the waist down. While other infants are moving their limbs freely on their backs, rolling from back to tummy and beginning to pivot, scoot or army crawl, the seated babies can only bend at the trunk to reach objects of interest. If a toy rolls out of reach, the seated babies must depend on an adult to get it back.  Of course, infants are brilliantly adaptive. I’ve seen babies routinely placed in this position learn to swivel around in a circle and eventually mobilize themselves by scooting on their bottoms.

3. Habits

Babies like to continue doing what they know (and the habits we create for them can easily become their “needs”). When we sit babies up, they usually begin to expect and want that. Conversely, if you don’t sit a baby up, she won’t desire the position. If parents want to backtrack and try to break the sitting habit, there will probably be an adjustment period and some complaints from the baby, who has to be encouraged in small doses to get comfortable on her back. This is a position from which her motor development can progress naturally.

“Giving infants, even if they have developmental delays, the freedom to move in accordance with their innate impulses may seem radical, but it is essential to their becoming persons with uncompromised self esteem.”                                                                                                         –Ruth Anne Hammond, Respecting Babies

4. Delaying, skipping motor milestones

When parents write to me concerned about their infants not reaching milestones like rolling or crawling, it usually turns out that they’ve been restricting movement in devices like infant seats, jumpers and saucers, or sitting the baby up. Babies can’t be expected to develop motor skills without the time and freedom to do so. If they are stuck sitting, infants sometimes even skip the other important milestones (rolling, scooting and crawling).

“I believe in giving your baby a safe space in which to play and letting her move freely and develop on her own without assisting her. Refrain from propping her up to sit or helping her roll over. She has an innate desire to move through these developmental sequences and has inborn knowledge of how to do it in a way that is “right” for her. She does this at her own pace and she gets pleasure from doing it.” –Magda Gerber

5. Independent play

Sitting babies up is a major roadblock to independent play. Since premature sitting is a dependent, static position, babies aren’t inclined to enjoy staying this way for very long (and this is assuming they don’t fall over).

6. Flexibility, posture, form

Body scientist and Feldenkrais Practitioner Irene Gutteridge (guest writer of “The Case Against Tummy Time” and producer of the famous Baby Liv videos), offers her perspective:

“Consider how hard it is for most adults to sit on the floor with their pelvis fully under them. More people are realizing how hard this is as sitting meditation becomes more “en vogue”, just as yoga made people realize how short their hamstrings are. But, if you give a kid the chance to find their own way to sitting it means they have properly engineered their bodies in the best way possible “for them” through their own discovery and movement, and of course learning how to form curves in their spine and hips, how to find the flexibility in their ankle and knee joints. When given the chance to do it on their own, it is a gradual organic process and the “form” follows the functionality.”

7. Loss of transitional postures

There is the ‘reclining on one’s side’ position that usually leads to sitting, which I fondly call “The Male Centerfold”. There are many other postures that occur between the biggies like rolling, scooting and sitting. Some are variations unique to the particular child, and if we believe in the wisdom of the body (as I do), they each have a valuable developmental purpose. I remind parents to take pictures, because most of these are charming and short-lived.

“Loving parents, eager to help, may hinder their baby’s growth by aiding her to move in ways unnatural for her. I encourage you to sit back and simply observe your baby as she moves through each stage of physical development. In this way you will be able to relax and enjoy your baby, and she will be supported by your attentiveness and interest.” -Gerber

8. What’s the rush?

Babies build self-confidence when they are trusted, accepted and appreciated for what they can (and choose to) do. They’ll achieve it all in due time.

“Time and time again I have asked parents, “How old were you when you learned to sit?” So far, nobody could remember. What is the benefit of early sitting? Why are so many people hooked on concepts such as “sooner is better”? Since our life span is getting longer – why not slow down? Why are concepts such as readiness and motivation hardly mentioned?”-Gerber

I share advice in this podcast for undoing the sitting habit: How To Stop Sitting Your Baby Up (It’s Not Too Late)

 

Recommended resources:

Books

Unfolding of Infants’ Natural Gross Motor Development by the Pikler Institute

Your Self-Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson and Dear Parent – Caring For Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber

My compilation, Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting (now available in Spanish!)

Videos/DVD

Milla Finds Her Own Way, a Pikler-inspired DVD by Maureen Perry, NZ Infant And Toddler Consortium

See How They Move, featuring Magda Gerber, by Resources for Infant Educarers

Articles:

No Tummy Time Necessary” by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

Set Me Free”, “Don’t Stand Me Up”, “Messing With Mother Nature” and “9 Reasons Not To Walk Babies” (on this blog)

 

 

(Photo by chris jd on Flickr)

 

160 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Very interesting article, and in alot of ways I completely agree. Further to ‘sitting your baby up’, I’m interested in your thoughts on baby carriers – specifically ones that provide optimal hip support for babies such as woven wraps, ring slings, ERGObaby carriers, etc. What are your thoughts on babywearing in the early months and beyond?

    1. Thanks, Courtney. I believe that babies need to be touched and held attentively and also time free to move. It’s easy for babies to let us know they need holding, but they can’t let us know they want freedom until later in the first year, so I believe that it’s up to us to provide that time.

      Whatever we do with babies creates habits, which can be easily confused with “needs”. I’m not a believer in the “external womb” for 9 months as Dr. Sears and others suggest. I have found that babies are ready to actively participate in life and interact with their world from day one. I see babies as capable and competent initiators of movement and play. If we bind them to us all day they miss a lot, in my opinion, and we do, too.

      Carriers are a wonderful way to travel with babies, but I don’t believe that babies need to be “worn” (and I admit that I don’t like the term “babywearing”). I realize that this isn’t a popular opinion, but thanks for asking!

      1. Very interesting article and I would love to see more info/research on this. The idea that the Bumbo-type seats aren’t needed or necessarily helpful for babies has always resonated with me!

        I am a big supporter of baby”wearing” (yeah, I don’t love the term either). I do like the idea for a newborn or small baby of womb-like comfort (closeness, heartbeat, motion). As the baby grows older I find baby”wearing” is much less of a “womb” experience, but a way of being included in conversation and activity. My 4 month old loves to watch me mix muffin batter, hang laundry, and play games with my toddler. He probably spends 1-3 hours a day awake in a carrier (sometimes more if we’re traveling, shopping, etc.), and sometimes he spends some asleep time too.

        He also spends a good amount of time on the floor and is getting very close to crawling. Hopefully this doesn’t come across as defensive or argumentative, I’m just trying to say that there are lots of hours in the day and what you’re saying in your article about letting baby explore, can be compatible with babywearing.

      2. First, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here in particular that we (or rather modern Western culture) relies far to heavily on “devices” which ultimately inhibit development.

        But I have to disagree with what you’ve said here in regards to babywearing. I’m admittedly a fan of Attachment Parenting and believe in “9 in; 9 out,” the “fourth trimester,” and so on. You say “babies are ready to actively participate in life and interact with their world from day one” – and I agree! But in my opinion, babywearing allows that to happen. My babies were never “bound” when being worn – they began to move to look around pretty much from birth. With a quality carrier, babies can easily move and interact with their environment and their caregiver. And from being worn, they learn a lot about how bodies move – even as newborns, I could feel my babies adjusting their bodies and using their muscles as they moved with me.

        I’m also a believer in unrestricted floor time for babies – we didn’t prop our kids up, didn’t use things like the bumbo, and never did intentional tummy time. But they were worn for several hours a day as young babies and for at least some time as they grew older. Both of my kids have been on the early side of motor milestones and I think being worn helped in their physical, emotional, and mental development.

        I’d also argue that being held – being touched by a loving caregiver – is a “need” and not a “habit.” Being worn close does not prevent a baby from interacting with her environment in the way that other “devices” might.

        And one other thing…I think even newborns are quite able to let us know when they do not want to be worn!

        1. Meredith, thanks for sharing your point of view. I totally agree about infants needing touch and holding (and I believe I mentioned that, above). I think babies definitely need us to connect with them by holding them mindfully and attentively. I don’t believe babies need to spend the majority of their day next to us, watching what we do while our attention is elsewhere. I realize that this is where Magda Gerber’s approach differs from Sears’ and Attachment Parenting. I see babies as quite capable of following their own interests through free movement and self-directed play, making creative choices. I like to give them as much time to do that as possible. I like giving babies more time to initiate and less time to follow. BUT, I realize that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I certainly don’t criticize parents for doing what works for them and their babies, so I truly hope you’ll all feel free to take or leave this point of view. There are many good ways to raise children!

      3. this is all very interesting, as i believe in “baby-led” approaches to nursing, solid foods, etc. but what about those babies that are not happy to lie on the floor alone? none of mine have been happy to be lying alone for more than a few minutes in those early months, my guess being because they are used to being confined in the womb, and carrying them somewhat restricts their uncoordinated movements naturally since they are cuddled against our bodies, not to mention they feel safe and warm and are with their mother who they are familiar with. i do think “babywearing” is very beneficial – my babies would have cried all the time without it! – but well before nine months they do enjoy being down on the floor trying to move around.

        also, how about all those flat-headed babies? it is precisely because they are placed flat on their backs so much that they develop this unnatural flat spot. i don’t agree with doing “tummy time” from day one either – they tend to hate it under about 4 months and carrying them upright has encouraged similar results – they use their arms to push against me and gain neck coordination by lifting their head away from the adult as ready.

        just got me thinking…

        1. Erin, I agree. In the first two or three months especially, infants can’t be expected to spend many minutes “playing” and I believe that they should be left alone only for short brief periods (like a toilet or shower run). This time on the back is something that begins in very small doses, based on the reaction of the particular child. I always suggest that the parent spend lots of time with the baby, observing and enjoying her while she is on her back in a safe place, ready to respond immediately to her needs. We learn so much about our children when observe their choices (like what they choose to gaze at for extended periods) and this is a wonderful beginning to enjoying your child play (while keeping play “hers”). This isn’t about not ever carrying babies! It’s about being open to them needing time free to move as well.

          Regarding plagiocephaly, babies placed on their backs on a firm surface will roll their heads from side to side (unless they have birth-related neck issues) and will naturally round them out.

          1. thanks for your response. i have been thinking more about it and wondering what humans have done for thousands of years, in pre-industrialized societies, such as hunter-gatherers. surely they didn’t lay their babies on the ground regularly, or they would have been injured by wild animals and such. i wonder at what point mothers in these traditional societies began laying their children down – or if they went straight to sitting position? it seems natural for parents to hold babies in their laps in a type of sitting position when the adults themselves are seated.

            My kids have begun crawling by lunging/rocking forward out of the sitting position and onto hands and knees. Now my third baby, about to be seven months, is starting to stretch forward like this. My oldest crawled right at 7 months and my second began at 8.5 months. I have seen the bottom-scooting and yeah, that doesn’t seem normal and I think crawling is an important step not to skip over. But my current baby has been the least reluctant to roll around on the floor… she gets her arm pinned and gets frustrated, but she just doesn’t try to roll over very much. I carry her a lot, like I did with my second baby.

            1. Erin, the arm-pinning commonly happens when babies begin to roll. It’s natural, and with frequent self-initiated opportunities to practice, the child figures this problem out quickly. One of the surprising and inspiring things about babies is that they will naturally seek these challenges and don’t mind a bit of discomfort while they problem-solve. Parents are inclined to jump the gun and discourage this natural desire to face challenges. I couldn’t even begin to count the times I’ve seen a baby struggling (like in the arm-pinning position) and then after the parent “rescues” the child, the baby gets right back into that position to try to figure it out again, complaining again while she does so. When we talk to babies first, acknowledge their feelings before picking them up, “miracles” often happen.

              Regarding primitive societies, yes, they lived in a quite different environment than we do. I realize that many model their parenting on tribal practices and I wholeheartedly believe that parents seeking guidance need to find what resonates with them. For me, the inspiration came from Gerber and Pikler. Their ideas have worked brilliantly for me and my family and have made parenting an exciting, joyful experience. So, that’s what I share about here on this blog.

      4. Thanks for your response – I realize it was awhile ago now. Carrying your baby in a wrap 😉 to me does not limit them from participating in life. From personal experience, when my son is carried what normally happens is I talk to him about what I’m doing and he watches as I stir, hang, wash, etc. As he’s gotten older I allow him to help, taste, touch, etc if it’s appropriate. It has never been a 24 hr a day thing, no way could I have coped with that! However it did allow me to exercise and get fresh air by carrying him in a wrap 😉 for daily walks. I certainly believe that floor time is good, but the skin to skin touch, and the interaction with the caregiver is just as valuable. A balance is key. I do know parent’s who wear their babies without much thought so as to get them out of the way and keep them happy. I also know parent’s who put their babies in a play pen full of toys to keep them happy with limited interaction. There are extreme’s on both sides. When the term “babywearing” comes up, it’s not a blanket term to describe the “external womb”. What I am talking about is a nurturing and valuable experience where the child and carer make a meaningful connection. What could be wrong with that? In terms of needs, sometimes it is unavoidable that a mother’s needs clashes with the needs of her child. Babywearing for me, bridges that gap.

      5. Great article. Are infants spines developed enough to carry the weight of their bodies sitting up? If so they would sit on their own, like deer stand after birth cause they are developed. As a proud dad and grampa, I agree with your article and am passing it on to my daughters.

  2. Bravo, bravo, bravo… I’m printing this out for my teen parents, and the other teachers I work with!

  3. great article and thank you for going forward with what might be an unpopular opinion. it is not unpopular with me. we don’t own any of the ‘contraptions’ and i think it is a huge disservice to the child when they are placed in one after another with no natural posture. my baby loves his freedom and his independent play. i will be passing this along…

  4. Hey Janet, thanks for your thoughtful post. I work with toddlers but learn so much from reading your blog. As you already mentioned, I’ve found that some of the children I work with already have certain habits that are hard to break and perhaps less of an understanding about their own bodies in space and their physical limitations. Because I am responsible for keeping them safe, I am wary about letting them take certain physical risks because I’m not sure if they know when to stop themselves and our playground is not ideal for them (there are some structures that have very high drops). How would you suggest supporting children with underdeveloped physical awareness? I don’t want to tell them “You can’t” but I also don’t want them to seriously injure themselves.

    1. Hi Vanessa! I really appreciate your care and concern… This is a tough one. I have dealt with it even in my classes when children climb to the top of the little wooden step climber we have, stand and try to step down without any sense of balance at all because they’ve been helped down stairs at home. They step off into the air. This seldom happens (because we teach natural motor development), but when it does, it’s utterly unnerving and worrisome to see how little awareness the child has. I try to be there in time — not to catch the child, but to soften the child’s fall so that he has a better sense of what he is doing. And that’s what I recommend doing, if at all possible. Be there, maybe remind the child, “You are at the edge”, and allow the child to fall, but not get hurt. Have your hands there cushioning her fall. I would also find a tactful way to share with the parents about this. Safety is a serious matter.

    2. Can you set up some play areas that would provide smaller challenges? “Teacher Tom” is a preschool blog that deals with a lot of things most preschools would consider dangerous… I seriously doubt every child there had a perfect non-interventionalist (probably not a word) babyhood, but they all seem to figure it out without too much damage?

  5. Great post! This makes wonderful sense to me and I don’t think you are going to get any backlash. I think moms naturally don’t love the idea of putting their child in a seat, bouncer, etc, but their not sure what to do. Babywearing is one alternative, but you are giving them permission to put their babies on the floor. Many moms will appreciate that!

    I also think many early interventionists will be on board with you and agree that it’s most important that developmental skills happen sequentially, so they can build on one another, and less important when those skills happen specifically. There is a wide-range of what is “typical” and even children having significant difficulties do best when they are helped through the developmental sequence. The brain seems to need that sequence. It’s just how it’s wired!

  6. avatar Rachel Obrokta says:

    Thanks for the article…with baby#2 on the way, I really enjoyed reading this and see things I want to do differently this time around. I have so many of the “propped up to sit” pictures, and when I look at them now, I just see a very uncomfortable baby!

  7. I love the idea of this and plan to implement this with my next baby, but how do you deal with family members that prop babies in the sitting position? I’m already the weirdo in the family, so I tend to just let small things like this go. I’m assuming the small amount of sitting done with extended family would not be enjoyable to the baby if he/she wasn’t used to it, right? So fussing would probably curb the behavior of others to do this.

    1. Hi Kate! Unfortunately, you might have to accept “weirdo” status if you adopt some of these ideas, but remember, a lot of the people we end up respecting most were once thought of as “weirdos”. 🙂 As you say, you can and probably should let the small things go, because it is the daily diet you give your baby that will have impact. Unlike parent induced “tummy time”, babies do tend to like the sitting upright position, which makes it harder for parents not to sit babies up, especially once it’s become habit. This is one of those situations in which we have to make what we believe the best decision for our baby, not just form our opinions based on their momentary reactions.

      1. I always think it so odd to see such a strong reaction to “tummy time” both from you and your commenters. Maybe I don’t have the terminiology right. I always slept my kids on their tummy and put them on the floor on the their tummy and they slithered and played with toys and then rolled over and then crawled and never complained. It never occured to me to do anythiing else. Rolling over always meant rolling from front to back first. Rolling from back to front was considered harder and happened later. I don’t think my kids were an anomaly. I know everyone did did things this way and because I was from a big family and was the most popular babysitter in the neighborhood full of large families – I learned early on and later parented the same way.

  8. Hi Janet. I really enjoy your website and the RIE approach and have been challenged to approach my 7-month-old’s physical development much different than I did for my 3 and a half year old (he is just now rolling from back to tummy and enjoying tummy time at his own pace). That said, both of my kids have suffered from pretty severe reflux and it can be uncomfortable for them to lay on their backs on the floor. My son does get long stretches of uninterrupted play on his back and he loves kicking and exploring and rolling around, but there are times when he is clearly uncomfortable and I do sit on the floor and put him upright (in a sitting position) between my legs and he’s much happier. Any positioning suggestions for babies with GERD?

    1. I think what you’re doing sounds just fine, giving him the play time for as long as he can handle it. Generally, I would say to provide the free playtime and then when the baby complains, first acknowledge and see if talking him through will help. If the discomfort continues and you’re pretty sure that it’s the reflux, definitely hold him more upright, but maybe at a bit of an angle rather than straight up.

  9. avatar Luciana Miquelini says:

    Oh! Thank you SO MUCH for this article!
    This is everything I believe!
    But all I have about this subject came from Anthroposophical books and, unfortunately, many people just don’t accept it because it’s from Steiner‘s researches.
    Thank you so much!

  10. I sat my son up occasionally, and I’m fairly certain it didn’t impact his development. I can see why though, reading this post. It was evident that he was never comfortable sitting on his own when I would sit him down, he really wouldn’t play, he just sort of froze there. Also, since for a long time he was very unstable in that position, I would have to hover because when he fell there was no awareness of falling, just- CRASH! Even when he got stronger and had better balance he would fall without warning when he was bored with being there, and it never went well because he still didn’t have that awareness. As a consequence I just didn’t put him in that position very often. He learned to sit up on his own at about 7.5 months, a few days after starting to crawl.

  11. Very interesting!
    I have a niece who was sat on the sofa way too often and for prolonged periods in her infancy. She began rocking herself, banging her head on the back of the sofa. She is now six years old and this is how she self soothes; rocking/banging against the sofa/chair. I wondered early if the rocking was brought about by her limited mobility. She wanted to be moving, had energy to expel and this was the only way to do that while in the sitting position. She was over a year when she began to crawl and about 15 months when she began walking.
    Just curious if the rocking and early sitting are related.

    1. Maria, I think it’s very likely that the two are related and your theory: “She wanted to be moving, had energy to expel and this was the only way to do that while in the sitting position” sounds spot on to me.

  12. Interesting article, I hasn’t thought about it much, though I rarely used any of those devices, good food for thought. I just wanted to comment on one of your comments:

    “It’s easy for babies to let us know they need holding, but they can’t let us know they want freedom until later in the first year”

    I have recently observed quite the opposite with my sister’s baby. He’s now 8 months old, but from quite early on (even in first month) he often fussed and complained when held and didn’t want to be (and it wasn’t hunger or diaper etc) he’d often calm and quiet as soon as he was placed down! My son is not like this at all, so it was/is surprising to experience. Apparently my sister was just like this as a baby too 🙂 just wanted to share that.

    1. Cool, Monica. I haven’t heard of that happening very often. Usually, the young infant accepts being in a carrier or held all the time, expects/wants it to continue, doesn’t know what he’s missing.

      1. My son absolutely hated carriers or being confined when he was awake! So I know it happens. My son was fussy all the time until we started doing RIE. He much preferred being down on the ground to being “worn”. Now that you’ve mentioned that phrase, by the way, I do find it objectionable. A child is not to be “worn”, however affectionately one would say it– a child is not a thing to be strapped to you. Regardless, my son hated it anyway. Ha!

        1. Every child is different. Some children like tummy time and some don’t. Some are soothed being in a carrier, some are not. It is no different than adults. Some are naturally lazy, some are over-ly active. I agree that doing what is best for the child, rather than what they FEEL like is part of parenting. It is why we don’t just give them cookies or candy. That is what they would prefer, once given a taste for them. There are exceptions to every classification we can make of what children are like. My first child could not tolerate being rocked to sleep. He has sensory issues and it was too much stimulation for him. Baby#2 and Baby#3 loved rocking and would sleep on me only for the first few months. It is all about meeting the NEEDS of the child, not just giving the wants of the child, and tailoring your plans to what works for the individual.

          1. Carol, thank you, I couldn’t agree more that every child is different and that our job is to understand the needs of the child. But one of the enlightening things I learned from Magda Gerber is that our choices have a great influence on the perceived “needs” of our babies. For example, had you not chosen to rock your babies, none of them would have “needed” this. That was your decision, and it created a habit or “need” for two of your three babies. There are a variety of things that each baby can love and desire doing, but we choose what is offered. And, except when something is uncomfortable (as premature tummy time is for most babies, or being carried too much can be when one is fully mobile), babies will wish to continue interacting with us and with their environment in the ways we have chosen for them. This is what they know and usually come to love.

      2. My ds2, who is 12wks, is just like this! When he’s fussing, crying, etc and he’s refusing breast and has clean diaper, if I lay him down, 9x out of 10 he’ll begin kicking, batting and wiggling happily! This is totally different from ds1, who insisted on being held almost ALL.THE.TIME! Of course I’m following his cues. The article is great and it actually made me laugh out loud. The reason being that I have a baby picture of my self, when I was about a month old, wearing a NewYears Eve tiara, not only sat up in a rocking chair, but ip assume because its armless, i have a scarf (which blends with my outfit, so is almost undetectable at first glance) tied around me and the chair to prop me up and give the appearance of sitting! It’s the oddest looking picture I’ve ever seen! I, too had that deer in the headlights,frozen look. Even as a child, looking at the picture always made me uncomfortable and I’ve never done the sitting pose with my sons! My husband did it once, to our eldest and I freaked out. My reaction seemed in retrospect very over the top, but it was visceral. I now wonder if this is why?? Anyway, just a thought!

      3. I have found that my daughter tells me what she wants too– sometimes that she wants to be carried (at times this is the only way she’s willing to nurse and nap) and also quite often, when she’s in the carrier, that she wants to be put down. We never propped her up as a young baby, but we did start sitting her up in the boppy at around 4 months, where she would play very happily (twisting around and reaching for things, definitely not frozen). Now she’s 5 1/2 months and loves sitting (completely on her own now), loves being on her back, likes being on her tummy (and is very much working on crawling and twisting), and loves being held. I think there’s a middle ground possible where we pay attention to the cues of our children instead of imposing an all-or-nothing orthodoxy.

        1. “I think there’s a middle ground possible where we pay attention to the cues of our children instead of imposing an all-or-nothing orthodoxy.” I couldn’t agree more, Maya.

      4. Yeah, my baby also let me know when he didn’t want to be held and/or worn. This was quite confusing to me as I was very AP/babywearing-minded and my son didn’t seem to want to be worn or held all that much. But AP also says to follow the baby’s lead so that’s what I did. I didn’t strictly follow RIE principles either – I admit I did sit him up because he seemed to want it.

        My son is really the one who showed me how much sense RIE makes. When I first heard about it I didn’t see what the big deal was with helping a baby sit or stand. But now I see firsthand the value of letting him figure out gross motor skills for himself.

        Now my philosophy is a baby should ideally either be having floor time OR being carried/worn, depending on his mood. Devices are unnecessary except for car seats.

        1. avatar Genevieve Chu says:

          What about sitting upright in our laps? Is that also considered propping and not necessarily something we should do in the RIE approach?

  13. Janet, you know I love your blog! But I have to say that I think you should be cautious when advising parents of children with developmental delays.

    I say this as a dedicated RIE parent and a parent of a son with a disability. My son has congenital esotropia– a problem with his vision– and it has interfered with his gross motor development. He has no depth perception or his vision is blurred. He cannot rely on his eyes.

    It was very hard for me to start doing physical therapy with him, but so necessary, and I really struggled to continue to use RIE parenting strategies with him as we practiced the motions of crawling and climbing over and over again. Sometimes I had to put him in positions that he did not want– sometimes he needed to be guided, physically, through correct postures (interestingly, all the ones you speak of– I physically had to put him in transitional postures, specifically and daily, and “walk him through” the motions) and I am glad we did it, because he is a much happier little boy now that he can crawl and climb. I do not think he would have ever crawled without intervention. And I think he would very frustrated and clumsy by this point (14MOs).

    I approached physical therapy with him in a way I would hope Gerber would appreciate. I explained why we were doing what we were doing, and stayed focused on how it felt for him, sportscasting. “I see you are frustrated right now. Keep trying! I know you can do it!” Once I realized the extent of the issue with his vision, I also explained that when I saw him struggling, often scared of the next– always harder– exercise. “Oh, it is difficult to see with your eyes, but you can feel! Feel your legs and hands! They feel strong and good when you move them. It is ok to be scared!” I have no idea if he understood this, but I hope he did.

    The physical therapist was amazed at how quickly he learned. Interesting to combine traditional therapy with RIE. My son’s accomplishments were his OWN and he knew that. The smile when he mastered a particularly gruelling new skill (like climbing cushion “stairs”) told me that.

    I often thought, during that period of intensive work, when we were both struggling together, of RIE and how I could continue to parent the way I wanted to, as non-interventionist as I could, while giving my son just enough push and the skills he needed.

    I think I did it. His gross motor delay has disappeared for the most part. And, typically, children with this disorder never crawl and become clumsy toddlers– he has done neither. And the good news is that he is far ahead in many areas. The physical therapist recently exclaimed, “I’ve never seen a baby play like that!” I said, “Oh, like what?” And she said, “With that sort of focus. I could watch him for hours.” Yep, that’s what I do. And that’s why he plays like that.

    I try to explain to others how I parent and they do not understand. When my son is visiting family, and I stop them from rushing in to “rescue him” from a situation he’s created, it must feel counter-intuitive to them. But, even though he is limited by his condition, I trust him. When he is frustrated, I let him be frustated and he takes much pleasure in successfully maneuvering difficult situations– even more difficult because he cannot see clearly!

    I waited until he was almost 9 months old and still not sitting or crawling to work with him, at about the same time that he was diagnosed. Now he has built on the skills I taught him. He has no depth perception due to his vision (this will change once he has surgery) and for a little guy who has no depth perception, he is very body aware and able… people often have no idea there is anything wrong with him, but I know that he can’t actually see– he either sees flatly out of one eye or his vision is blurred. It would be like being very drunk all the time.

    I try to think of physical and occupational therapy as giving him the body he would’ve crafted by sight. Or saving his body for him when his eyes are corrected.

    Fascinating really. And hard. Sometimes heart-breaking.

    I get where you are going with “Don’t prop the baby up” and how that limits movement and is not good for baby– I followed that pretty rigorously until he was diagnosed. But it could be misinterpreted to not intervene early when gross motor milestones are missed and it is so VERY important that these early milestones aren’t missed. And that if there is something wrong, that it is assessed. Had he not suddenly stalled in his development (and it was a sudden stall), I would never had taken him to the right doctor to get him assessed because his condition did not present typically.

    We are fortunate, at least where I live, to have free, early childhood intervention for children with developmental delays, and I was grateful to learn how to help my son overcome his gross motor delay.

    Perhaps you should write a post about this, specifically? Or have a quest author come who specializes in this field, because I would love to read more. After surgery, there will be more physical and occupational therapy in front of us as my son learns to use his eyes together and his brain works to consolidate the new information– I would love to read more about this.

    As a parent of a child with a disability, I have often wondered where we would fit in at a RIE class. I am glad you posted this, even though I am not sure I agree with what you have posted. I would love to hear your thoughts on what I have written.

    1. Sophia, you are inspiring…and I don’t think you could have handled your son’s situation any better! Magda Gerber was certainly not against physical therapy and you would fit extremely well in any RIE class. I’m sorry that you got these impressions. Magda Gerber’s point (referred to in Ruth Anne Hammond’s quotation) was that all children need to experience self-determination and mastery as much as possible, along with feeling free to move. I think it’s wonderful idea to get someone who specializes in this field to write something… I’m going to contact my associate Carol Pinto.

      1. Thank you! I would love to read a guest post! That would be wonderful!!!

        I think RIE gave my son something special and has made his disability that much less limiting, because of it’s focus on self determination and mastery. This focus does not have to disappear. And you are right, and so is Gerber, that every child deserves physical and emotional autonomy in development. How to correctly and sensitively apply necessary (and sometimes frustrating/scary for him) physical therapy or occupational therapies AND maintain absolute respect for the child’s individuality feels to be at cross-purposes sometimes. He was a very miserable boy when I was moving him through transitional postures, because he had never been forced to do anything against his will and sometimes it was against his will, especially when we learning transitional postures that just did not feel “natural” to him. Left to his own devices he would’ve stayed on his tummy, close to the ground, until he walked, probably quite late. The crawling stage was so necessary for his hip and hand developement.

        I suppose it is rather like giving medicine or cleaning out a stuffed nose. Sometimes you just need to do things for your child.

        I think my understanding of RIE has evolved at a deeper level because of this.

        Thanks again.

  14. avatar Jehefinner says:

    I didnt really sit my girls up much, they lay or reclined on cushions until they had neck/shoulder strength and control. However, I carried them in a ring sling from birth, and this allowed them to develop neck/shoulder/upper body strength and control at their own pace. They actually spent very little time laid on the floor etc, and we’re almost exclusively in a sling or on a lap/in-arms. They sat up and rolled and walked at the “normal” times, with minor variations.

    I think it’s time we stopped trying to “teach” babies to develop, and just cared for them the way evolution designed them to cared for, allowing them to develop in their own time, when they are ready.

  15. Very good read, thank you.

    I do think you completely miss the point of babywearing. Have you been to Africa? Have you studied African babies? They are in fact, ‘advanced’ in their development compared to babies who are in strollers all the time. These babies are worn every single day from birth until they are able to move by themselves (around 6 months) I completely disagree with your point that an infant “accepts” being carried. My child (and every baby I know), made it very clear when they wanted to have their own space and I respected that.

    1. Thank you, Kristin.
      I haven’t been to Africa, but I think you’ve missed my point… I’m not interested in what might ‘advance’ babies. I’m interested in learning about them, learning who they are. Babies “move by themselves” way before 6 months of age if they are allowed to…in very intriguing, individual ways. I’m interested in allowing babies free movement and free expression from day one. I believe that babies are capable of initiating unique activities all on their own. I don’t believe in keeping babies confined in carriers or in strollers (or anything else) for extended periods. Why would you assume it’s either/or? Yes, after 6 months of age some babies will be able to signal a need for independence, but before then, parents choose to spend the majority of the day wearing the baby or allowing for independent play. The young infant will accept either one.

      1. I am not saying that this “advances” babies, I am saying that they are “advanced” when measured against Western babies who have a different first year of life. Babywearing is not about advancing babies. And you are correct, babies do move by themselves way before 6 months of age, they are also able to communicate whether they want to be worn or not way before 6 months of age. I think you are assuming that babywearers don’t ever put their babies down, that is incorrect. We just prefer to wear them rather than putting them in a stroller or some other baby device. My son spent a large amount of time on the floor on a blanket exploring when we were at home or visiting.

  16. I love this article! I think the best approach is to follow our babies’ natural cues and encourage them to achieve the most of what they are physiologically capable of doing, not pushing them beyond those limits!

    I’ve always had an issue with “Tummy time” for this reason. To watch little babies struggle to deal with being on their bellies when they obviously lack the musculature to do so has always been a bit alarming to me. The anxiety their parents also seem to feel over how well they are doing at this activity is disturbing. I can assure you, your baby will develop head control, learn to sit, and walk and run and do cartwheels without “tummy time”. What’s the point of rushing it? What’s the advantage of a child gaining these capabilities a few weeks ahead of their peers? I can only think of disadvantages.

    Thanks for this post!

  17. Janet I LOVE your blog and frequently share your articles with others! As a Child Development Specialist, I love Magda Gerber’s insights on children and I’m so grateful that I have that knowledge as I raise my baby boy that is now 11 months.

    My husband is a Brain Injury Specialist and he fully supports Magda and recommends to his clients that infants should only be placed into positions that they can get into by themselves. In addition to the 8 reasons you listed as to why this practice is important, my husband says that this practice is CRITICAL for proper brain development. He recently wrote an article on this subject which I put on my blog. Check out “Parenting Practices that Hinder Brain Development” – http://reachtaller.blogspot.com/2012/03/secret-to-avoiding-childhood.html.

    1. Sally, WOW! Thank you so much for introducing yourself and sharing this link. I’ve become a subscriber to your blog and will share this on Facebook immediately. I have been thrilled to find that an increasing number of doctors and scientists are studying and corroborating the Pikler/Gerber approach.

      1. It’s amazing how scientifically-accurate Magda’s knowledge was, even with the limited scientific knowledge available in her day.

        Thanks for the positive feedback and posting our article.

  18. Interesting! I’ve never used a Bumbo for just this reason. I don’t think it’s good for babies bodies to be put into that position before they have the muscles for it. I don’t see a problem with letting my baby sit on her own in the floor with some toys though. I just make sure they are surrounded by soft things in case they fall. All 4 of my kids have been very good about using their voice to let me know if they didn’t like something….like sitting or being in a carrier, and I then adjust what we are doing.

  19. My baby didn’t want to sit on her own until about 7 months, and her confidence with sitting occurred only a few weeks before she was able to move herself into a sitting posture, so I totally believe this. We didn’t use bumbos, although we did use a bouncy chair for my shower every day. She had a lot of floor time, and was carried a lot. However, she preferred standing up on our laps much more than sitting – how do you feel about babies who are happiest being held standing? (She was quite colicky as an infant, fyi).

    1. PS – Janet, do you have any blog posts about older infants? My 10 month old is crawling and pulling to standing, and I don’t want to rush her to walk before she is ready. We do baby-led weaning here, so I think baby-led movement makes a lot of sense…just curious!

      1. Hi again, Mary! Yes, baby-led movement does make total sense, doesn’t it? Someone on Facebook said they were surprised that this wasn’t more widely encouraged and I wonder that, too. Hopefully, we can start some positive changes in this direction. Yes, I’ve written posts about natural motor development for older children. Here’s one: http://dev.janetlansbury.com/2009/12/dont-stand-me-up/ and another that’s more focused on walking: http://dev.janetlansbury.com/2011/03/9-reasons-not-to-walk-babies/

    2. Mary, holding babies up to stand is something they love because we do it. In other words, if this wasn’t introduced, it would never desired by the child. So, this is one of those things that parents who believe in the wisdom of the body and the value of natural motor development would stop doing. If you decide to stop, I would definitely acknowledge to your baby (when she requests standing), “I know you want me to hold you up. We used to hold you up, but we don’t think that’s safe for you anymore.” Children adjust quickly when we acknowledge their feelings about us doing something different and project confidence in what we do.

      1. Now if I can just get my husband to stop holding on to her all the time! She’s had a few bad falls at the beginning when she was learning to stand and cruise furniture (e.g. pulling up on things that aren’t really strong enough to support her weight – empty laundry baskets, for example).

        She’s been standing on her own for about a month and a half now so she’s quite confident. I try to explain that she’s better at sitting down by herself now and she knows how to fall properly, but he can’t help himself! She’s also begun to push furniture around to get places, so we’ve had a couple of spills from that too (e.g. footstool moving more quickly than usual). It’s very tricky to balance NOT helping her and preventing injury.

        Having said all that, I just watched her close a door BEFORE trying to pull herself up on the door – a week ago she would have tried to pull up on the door first when it was wide open — so she is very clearly learning. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

  20. avatar Tara Maue says:

    I agree for the most part, since my kids who I allowed to learn these things mostly on their own developed in what I would consider a normal way. My first son we interferred a lot in the process and this may be why his gross motor was lagging. I do have one thought though that I don’t think you addressed, unless I missed it. How do you feel about holding you baby in an upright position on you lap or while you are standing holding them. I can’t imagine only holding them in a laying down position until they are able to sit on their own. I know my kids would be very grumpy if they didn’t get to sit to look around, and really only wanted to lay back when sleepy. This thought is why I don’t entirely agree with some of what you are saying, even though I agree with your main idea that we shouldn’t be pushing our babies but should be letting them develope naturally. I also don’t think that propping a baby for a couple minutes is going to do damage. Propping a baby all the time likely will. On the occasions where I have sat my baby more upright (though I think you might consider it to be at an incline), I did not get a bad looking baby face like you described. Someone loaned me a bumbo, sits them up right, and I have stuck him in there a handful of times for about a minute each and he was all smiles while he looked all around. Overall, I don’t think it is good for them, but I don’t believe doing it occasionally will cause damage.

    1. Hi Tara, I didn’t mean to imply that propping a baby causes “damage”, just that it wasn’t ideal, from my experience. I did respond earlier to your “upright in the lap” question, but you also bring up an interesting point regarding the upright view vs. the view from the supine position. I remember asking about this in one of the first RIE Classes I attended. It seemed to me that my baby wouldn’t be able to see as well while lying down. The facilitator asked me to try lying down and looking around and I realized…the view was different, but no “less” than from a seated position. Having said that, babies prefer what they are used to. When they are used to the upright view, it might take them a little time to appreciate the “horizontal” view and if they are used to sitting up on our laps, they like that very much.

      1. Tara, sorry, I got confused…I actually answered a question about sitting babies in our laps on Facebook, not here!

        Here’s what was asked: “I often find that I sit babies when I hold them on my lap. Is there a difference between that and propping them or sitting them on the floor?”

        I responded: Great question. I believe it’s different (although the ideal according to Pikler and Gerber is not to place them in vertical positions at all until they are able to sit on their own). If 90% of parents sit babies up on the floor, I’m guessing that 99.9% of us sit them on our laps! I definitely did this with my first baby and wasn’t about to stop after taking RIE classes, because she was very used to that. In fact, she wouldn’t allow me to hold her horizontally unless she was nursing. With my second two children, I did it the “RIE” way and it worked wonderfully. They never missed being upright.

  21. avatar Tara Maue says:

    Okay, I see, if a baby is never sat up on your lap, they would never know different, makes sense. But couldn’t someone say that if a baby is never laid down then they would not know any different. How do we know that laying flat on back is a good default position. I know when I lay my babies on their backs, they get that startle reflex which leads me to believe that this may not be ideal. I don’t think the ideal position would be one they would have to get used to. Also, when babies are born and placed tummy to tummy with the mother, their relexes allow them to work their way up mother to nurse, which is another reflex that provides clues. When we carry babies, it seems that the natural way is either in a laying down position or in an upright position, where their grip reflex allows them to hold on, similar to monkeys. Can you share your thoughts on whether you think flat on back, away from the mother is really the ideal position or whether it might be something else. Thanks for discussing. I am really trying to get my brain around what biologically the newborn is designed to do. I know this is veering off a bit from your message of not positioning baby in a seated position unsupported and your reasons why, which I agree with, but I would appreciate your thoughts on what I am trying to figure out. Thanks!

    1. hmm, good thoughts, I am interested in this as well!

      1. Tara, no worries, your questions are “on topic”… When babies are born, there’s no question that they must get used to a brand new environment. So, the issue becomes, what do we believe babies should learn about themselves and their world? We all agree that babies need responsive care, touch, attention. But here’s where the Gerber RIE approach differs from AP and other “ancestral” approaches… Gerber taught us that babies are born dependent, but need to be perceived as capable, and the little bit of autonomy they can have should be encouraged. One of the things all healthy babies are capable of is gross motor development, in accordance with their inborn timetables. Why not give babies this opportunity and encourage autonomy and choice? Why not allow babies opportunities for creativity? Babies need parents and time to fully experience “self”.

        We aren’t monkeys.

        Gerber also believed that babies are extremely aware, present, mindful (which research is now bearing out all over the place). Gerber placed high value on honest, direct, empathetic connections with babies. In other words, just like us, babies want the attention of their loved ones more than anything else. Loving connections with babies need to go way beyond the physical. Gerber believed in providing babies attentive holding and uninterrupted periods of freedom to move on their own.

        The back position is the default because babies are most free to move in this position. Try it yourself. Try your side, tummy and back and see which one makes you feel the most free and competent. Then, imagine that you don’t have the strength to push yourself off of the floor on your tummy or side…

        1. I don’t quite understand why this should be an either/or problem. A baby held upright or sitting on his parents lap at certain times still will have ample time to play and discover on his back. He will experience a certain type of freedom of movement on his back — freely wiggling and flaling his ams and legs — and another kind on his tummy — lifting his head, which he can’t on his back, doing the reflexive newborn crawl, and rolling from his tummy months before he can roll the other way around. On the back he experiences easy but ineffective movement, on the tummy he experiences strenuous and exhausting but effective movement. Why should any of these positions and types of movement should be exclusive of each other?

  22. avatar Elanne Kresser says:

    Bravo!!! I’ve been surprised at how common it is to “sit” babies. My little gal just did it by herself today! It was so sweet. She kind of discovered herself there and then started to cry. I think she was a little disoriented. She must have felt so far off the floor. Then she plopped back to her safe space of lying. Now she has been practicing it all afternoon!

    I think a lot of other moms have considered me a little weird because I haven’t been sitting her up. But then they comment that she is so mobile as she rolls, pushes onto her knees, does the “male centerfold” pose, balances on her side etc. I try to explain that she wouldn’t be doing those things if I sat her, but I’m never as eloquent about it as you just were!

    1. Elanne, thanks for making me laugh really loud in Starbucks (about the “male centerfold” pose)!

      The crying makes sense and, as I always tell parents, sensitivity is really good. That means she’s especially aware, which bodes well for her intelligence and ability to learn throughout her life. You are absolutely right that she wouldn’t be doing this wonderful variety of things if you sat her up.

  23. We didn’t sit baby up except when interfering, clueless, know alls of the older generation were around hassling us to do so, then we made a token effort whilst they were looking, eventually I just said no.

  24. Hi, Janet.

    I discovered your blog (and this post) by accident but I’m very intrigued and I plan on exploring some more.

    I am a first-time mom and my daughter just turned 6 months old. We were advised to give her lots of tummy time from the beginning. Well, she hated it, but we persevered as much as we could but intervened whenever she started to cry, which was often.

    About two months ago, we put her in the sitting-up position with support, and we’ve been doing that ever since. Now, she can sit independently for a long period of time. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that what we were doing was a naughty thing. She can sit up, which we thought was a good thing, but she isn’t rolling yet. Her pediatrician seemed to think that she might be a little delayed in her physical milestones because she was born on the heaver side (8 lb/8 oz) and at 6 months has grown tremendously (18 lb/13 oz). But now I’m wondering if our sitting her up prematurely has lead to a delay in other physical milestones.

    What do you recommend that we do at this point? Our pediatrician doesn’t seem particularly concerned…

    Many thanks.

    1. Hi New Mom! I would do all you can to gently encourage your baby to spend time on her back, even if it means laying down next to her and just hanging out. Acknowledge that it’s different. Acknowledge the strangeness. Don’t coax her, just try to relax and trust… And please let me know how this goes.

  25. I’ve never even heard of RIE at all before reading your article. It all sounds very nice but what about concerns about babies heads flattening out? Sorry if this is one of those “ignorant” questions but I’ve known babies to develop flat heads from just being left alone on their backs.

    1. The flat-headedness doesn’t occur when babies spend only minimal time in car seats and have lots of free movement time on a firm surface. For more, please read Lisa Sunbury’s article No Tummy Time Necessary, linked to in the “recommended resources” above.

  26. Thanks for a fantastic article Janet. My children are 2 and 12 weeks and I have only just started reading about RIE since finding you through Teacher Tom (yay for Facebook – never thought it could be such an important tool!). Both of my children have been and are carried a lot. My first wanted to be held moat of the time but when we wasn’t, he was left unhindered. He hated the car and I recognised right away that it was the unnatural position so we barely used it. We NEVER did tummy time and at first thought we were just being bad parents but it just felt so wrong and unnatural. The combination of being carried and being free to move unhindered by car seat, stroller or artificial seating aid has led him to be a very body confident 2 year old with fantastic balance. We never have to worry abouthim in the playground – we always hang back untill he indicates that he needs a bit of help. Now that I understand a bit more, we’re even more confident to do this second time around. My daughter is much much happier being put down then my son ever was at this age (partly I belief to very early cranial sacral therapy after the birth to help relieve some muscle tention which was bothering her). She is very good at indication when she wants to be held and when she wants freedom. I think a balance between the two is so important and learning your particular babies needs are key. Thanks again for sharing all your knowledge, I look forward to reading more.

  27. Interesting. My twins sat later than their peers, and I said at the time it was because I didn’t have enough laps to sit with them sat on my lap as most parents do, so they didn’t get early sitting practice. Instead I left them lying on blankets on the floor. As a result, they also rolled earlier, crawled earlier (before 6 months) than their peers, and spent lots of time on their tums playing with things, simply because that was the only place I could leave them safely.

    That said, one in particular did spend long times in the sling as a young baby, because with bad reflux it was the only place he wouldn’t scream. But as the reflux got better the floor time built up slowly.

  28. avatar Two little ducks says:

    Interesting reading, made me feel guilty as my boys are sat up! Just wondering how to break bad habits. Tried not sitting them up for a change and they were understandably very unhappy. Have noticed they can be “lazy” happy to sit but can see how this restricts their play and movements. When they get bored etc they fall back. They can roll a little but hate being on tummies. They cry but I don’t rush over straight away and then try and help and encourage them to roll back. They both like to stand up and have strong legs, love bouncing up and down in you! They’re nearly 9 months old now. Any suggestions?

    1. How about having lying down time together? I would do all you can to help your babies get used to being on their backs. The “bouncing up and down on you” and the sitting make them completely dependent on you for entertainment, and this needn’t be so. You will all enjoy their play much more if their activities aren’t dependent on you. Sit back, relax, just enjoy “being” together. Don’t plop them down and move away or pick them up and carry them every time they express discomfort. Stay sitting or reclining nearby and acknowledge their complaints or just hold them for a while, quietly. Then their “choice” will become cuddling with mum or playing independently in your presence and with your appreciation. That is the way to encourage play and new, freer positions.

      1. And one more thing…please don’t feel guilty! No reason for that.

  29. Thank you, this was a very interesting and excellent article. I notice in most parents today this unnatural rush to have their baby do everything fast and first. I will never forget a beautiful line I read from someone who stated that to a child LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E…..there is nothing better then being present to and for your child always and allowing them to have your full attention as they develop at their own pace.

    1. “LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E.” So true, especially for young children. Thank you, Evita!

  30. I’m very familiar with RIE and AP and do a bit of both. My son hated tummy time so I would pick him when he would scream and sit him up to play on the floor. He started to sit at around six months. Before that for playtime he would stay on his back even though he could roll back and forth. He is now 10 months old and can not crawl. He tries, gets frustrated and ends up on his belly and screaming for me. He is very tall. He gets to his knees and rocks but he can’t move his feet out of the way to crawl. What do you suggest? He will be 11 months old in 10 days.

    1. Fiona, does he scoot across the floor? Most children do that first. Crawling is complicated, but as long as you are giving your boy ample floor time, I’m sure he will learn to do this soon. The rocking usually happens for a while… Sounds like he just needs time.

  31. Thank you for this post, Janet. As a Montessorian, I held fast to the idea of not putting my son in positions he could not get into or out of himself whenever possible, despite pressure to do otherwise. He was a late sitter – 9 months! (We did prop him up for short times for meals since he had good trunk strength.) But he was an avid and active commando crawler and then traditional crawler and now walks beautifully! I say beautifully because his coordination and strength are amazing to watch and people often notice and comment. And when he did finally sit, he discovered it himself and could tip right in and out of it instead of being stuck to the floor, like other babies his age (and older!) seemed to be.

    Another interesting parenting practice is “walking” a child around by their hands. Another uncomfortable baby position that the child comes to expect. As a childcare provider I constantly advise against it. Let them experience the fruition of their own efforts! Thankfully, my husband is a physical therapist so I can enlist him for support from a medical angle. It really is best for a child to push up from the ground than hang from above to get the best muscle development. Have you written much on this?

    I am proud of myself for sticking with my son and proud of his self discoveries. It is really a miracle to observe! I am glad to know of this post to share with new mothers I come in contact with. Thank you.

    1. Sounds great, Valerie! I don’t think 9 months is “late” for learning to sit. Yes, I totally agree with you regarding holding babies up to stand and walk and have written posts about that. I linked to them in the “resources” at the end of my post: “9 Reasons Not To Walk Babies” and “Don’t Stand Me Up”

  32. The problem with experts is that all seem to value their opinion more than they value their own. Tummy time is an expert term. Baby wearing is an expert term. And now RIE principles. Parenting is one of the most natural experiences I have found I have found in my life. From conception to birth to holding my child’s hand on her first day of school waiting for the bus. There are many mentions of a child comes to expect what is offered not necessarily what is best ie sitting up versus lying down, being held etc.

    The best thing I ever did for my now four children is stop reading the experts. One child didn’t talk until she was two. One didn’t walk until 18 months old. One didnt crawl at all. Thumb sucking was ok for one. And my newest baby loves to be close to me when he is awake and sleeps well independently.

    I do agree with not forcing milestones for your child. But I caution parents to accept the idea that if it seems natural to you then do it. Comfort your babies when they cry. Hold them as much as you or she desires. It does make it easier for them to be placed down for natural development. Toys don’t need to make noise or flash bright lights. Dirt is good for our children. The pediatrician is your expert. She will tell you if she is concerned about your baby’s development because she sees so many variations. And like the child mentioned above with the visual disability mom and doctor figured it out together.

    I guess my point is that parenting is not one or the other. It requires acceptance that each child is unique but so is the parenting. Do what makes sense and what creates the most comfort. Propping an infant up does not look natural. Baby wearing can be if done correctly. And I prefer it over letting your child cry while you have to cook dinner for the rest of your family or grocery shop or even go to the big kids soccer games. It is not all or nothing. It is doing what feels right for both of you.

  33. Janet, I have seen you say many times that children do not develop flat spots on their heads when they spend minimal time in car seats and are given lots of free movement time. Unfortunately that has not been our experience with our little guy. He has spent minimal time in the car seat, hated the swing so we never used it, and only went in the bouncy seat for my shower time when no one else was around so I had to bring him in with me. He has had lots and lots of time on his back free to move any way he wishes. And yet he still developed a flat spot on the side of his head. I was really taken aback when I realized that had happened, and felt like such a bad mommy when our doctor asked if he had had lots of tummy time, implying that if he had he would not have developed the flat spot. What we discovered was that he had a bit of restriction in his neck movement, we think from his position in the womb or from the birth process. He has had chiropractic treatment from birth and now cranio-sacral treatment as well. His head is starting to round out again, thankfully. I guess my point is that despite making all the “right” choices, and believing that “baby-led” physical development really is the best thing for babies, we are still dealing with that issue. Others may be as well.

    1. Hi Heather! I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this issue with your boy. Yes, it’s true that some babies are born with torticollis and other physical issues that make it difficult for them to turn their heads from side to side. Those restrictions can cause flat spots whether the baby spends awake time on his tummy or not. I’m so glad you discovered this and had it treated. The majority of these flat spots disappear naturally.

  34. Hello Janet,

    All of what you mentioned about carrying babies in a carrier make sense, I didn’t know about this philosophy when my son was an infant and even though at times it felt like he loved it, just something didn’t quiet click for me to think that I had to carry him all day to do things and he did love playing on his own thankfully, (although I didn enjoy using them while on the go). But I do wonder, I don’t know if some babies truly need it more or do they ask for it because they get used to it but I try to picture myself with another newborn and a big part of me would want to do it “the RIE way” but I am not sure how it plays in when there is an older sibling or with no help around and a husband who gets deployed sometimes, I understand that is so much better to hold them attentevely but maybe there will be times when things just need to be done and baby truly needs to be held and not placed on the floor. I don’t know, just trying to figure out a situation that still does not exist but that is possible and would love your thoughts 🙂

    Also, I have been wondering about this and your post is very timely, I have been seeing all kinds of newborn photos recently, babies are placed in positions that they can not get themselves into or out of, mostly on their tummies while sleeping, some other times a little more awkward positions like placing their hands on their face with their elbows on the floor while on their tummy or some even in upright positions. Every time I see all of these I can’t help to wonder what is your input on this.

    Thank you for all the work you do Janet, you are an inspiration.

  35. *did enjoy using them on the go

  36. Thank you Janet. NO he doesn’t scoot across the floor he his not mobile at all other than doing rolly pollies.

    1. Fiona, I don’t see this as cause for alarm. I really believe this is about plenty of floor time, patience, and trust in your boy. Rather than worry about what he’s not doing, try to relax and enjoy what he does. Remember that children sense our feelings and pick up on our tension. Please check back with me in a week or two…

  37. I love this article and agree with you wholeheartedly. As a spec ed teacher, I see the struggles children can have with motor development. What do you think of kiddos whose little hands are kept in “scratch mittens” for the first few months?

    1. Thanks, Leslie! I think they’re missing a lot, don’t you?

  38. Hi , I just came across your website and have loved everything I have had a chance to read. My son is 9 mths old. I have realized that in trying to do the best for your children we sometimes cause more issues. I was aware of not using the bumbo and jumpers and walkers but did not realize that sitting up was also hampering development. I started sitting him up at around 6 1/2 mths as he his GER was getting really bad around the time we started solids and was told that sitting up would improve symptoms. I recently realized that he is getting to be more needy , wants to be either held all the time . On the bed which is a softer surface he rolls around , sits up on his own but will not do the same on the floor while playing. What do I do at this point that can help correct the problem . Thank you !

  39. Hi Janet,
    I am from NZ and stumbled onto your site through the FB group “the Dangers of Baby Training”
    I have read many of your blogs and articles and for the most part I agree with everything you say.
    A lot of my friends and other mothers around me say that I am “so hands off” and “what if he gets hurt?”
    My son is now 2, he rolled for the first time from front to back at 6 weeks (after a bath while I was drying him – obviously he would rather have been looking AT me lol), sat himself at 5.5months, crawled at 6.5months and walked at 11months. Everyone comments on his coordination and balance, both of which are exceptional, as well as his ability to analyse risk and his confidence when he does attempt something new.
    Although I have only recently discovered RIE, I think I followed most of the principles instinctively, never sitting him up etc but I DID offer tummy time from when he could hold his head up with reasonable ease. This led him to discover rolling and he progressed quickly from there.
    Funnily enough, he figured out how to sit before crawling….but when he first crawled he went from one side of the room to the other and was unstoppable from that day lol
    Anyway, just wanted to stop by and say thank you for this information, it is not only useful but also validates a lot of my “weird” parenting style!

    1. Susie, I like your style. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  40. avatar Kaydeebug says:

    Very interesting! I didn’t think I would agree, but after the first few sentences I changed my mind 🙂
    I have an 8 week old, so this was the perfect stage for me to read this article- before I develop any bad habits. And I’ll be sure to take pictures of those fun little struggles & developmental poses & learning moments along the way. I think it would make for a fun photo series, too

    1. Kaydeebug, you won’t be sorry you allowed your baby to show you his/her wonderful moves…and while you are both enjoying this, you’ll also be giving her a powerful lesson in trust and total belief in herself.

  41. Hi Janet,

    Love, love, love your article. I pinned it to pinterest. Hope you don’t mind!

    In reading some earlier posts I thought I would add my ten cents.

    I started tummy time with both of my babies right after delivery by laying them on my chest. They were both preemies with other medical issues but I intentionally laid them on my chest as soon and as often as possible. They didn’t know anything different so tummy time has never been a dislike.

    When well intended relatives try to “help” baby sit up or walk, I have found that it is helpful to find/google articles that support my viewpoint and post them on Facebook or leave them laying around when “helpful” relative is visiting.

    When kiddos don’t understand their place in space I have found it useful to go back and revisit those developmental milestones. Often times these kiddos don’t cross their midline well (crawling) or make odd twists in transitioning movements.

    Finally I have to give myself permission to let my baby cry.–not all the time–but sometimes. I can tell her hungry cry and dirty diaper cry is different from her I don’t want to be put down. I have to honor myself in that I am not a cutesy, cuddly, baby person. I love my baby and enjoy playing with her. But I am a better mom by telling her “you are fine to learn play with yourself”–which often starts with a crying fit but she gets over it–so that I can take care of my needs in order to be a better mom.

  42. Great article! Our Child Development Specialist had been pushing me to work with our son (who has Down syndrome) to help him learn to sit. We’re working along a normal development timeline, not really rushing things.

    I declined a bumbo and only did some of the activities she suggested. Mostly I held him however he was comfortable. Then one day I found him getting himself into a sitting position! He still can’t maintain it, but I can see he is learning and building strength to sit.

    I worry that bumbos are too new for us to know whether they may be detrimental. I feel like our children don’t need more time than we can offer them, so long as we’re willing to give them the time they need. (As opposed to using a bumbo because we don’t have time to help them learn to sit.)

    Sorry, I got a little rambly there.

    1. I totally support your instincts not to rush things and your belief in your boy’s competence. Allowing him to initiate and direct his development is extremely important. All young children know what they need to work on (better than we do)…and they need to be allowed to do what they can do themselves. Keep up the great work!

  43. Wow! I had to go through and look back at the pictures of my 1st child (#2 due 11/2) to check what I did! I pretty much only propped her up for some pictures. For the rest of her day she rotated from a blanket, her play mat, my arms, bouncy seat, and swing. I only put her in the exersaucer when I cooked dinner and wanted to vary her physical space options. I believe she had a very well rounded free movement development first year. My belief as her Mom is that no one “gimic” is going to prohibit her when used sparingly. Her day to day activities varied and she hit her milestones early or right on time.

    I plan to do the same as possible with number two and if she doesn’t hit her milestones according to the books, then that may mean she is a different child or I may need to partner with her Ped and change her activities.

    This article is useful for babies who spend all day in fixated un-movable contraptions — I am okay with a mix with the majority in unstructured play.

  44. While this is true from a developmental perspective, this is NOT always the best. Babies who suffer from GERD (reflux) benefit greatly from being propped up during and after meals. It is a tough choice – but when faced with alleviating pain and vomiting in your child and restricting their movement or keeping your child in pain and allowing them to learn to move freely – I dont think any mother will pick the pain option.

  45. Finally someone mentioned GERD in all those comments, thank you Susan. I have been propping my 4 month old up pretty much from day one, she has experienced awful pain and cannot tolerate lying down. She is now managed on medication but continues to vomit regularly. I try to lie her down at least once a day but she can’t tolerate it for long. I believe that babies will develop differently and to different timescales and I choose no pain for her than her learning to roll before sitting.

  46. Not sure if anyone mentioned it here already, but in my country (Czech Republic – the country in the middle of Europe) pediatricians and orthopedists discourage parents from sitting their babies up until they can get there themselves, which is supposed to be a sign that the baby’s body is prepared to carry the load without negative effect on his spine.

  47. Great article. Makes total sense and now I feel bad for trying to get LO to sit up before she is ready 🙁 I wasn’t able to access the comments on my mobile so sorry if this has already been addressed, but what about high chairs and car seats? Or strollers? We are starting to put DD (6.5 months) in a high chair when we eat dinner (she is just exploring some solids now once or twice a week). Is this bad too? What about sitting up in my lap to read a book? I took your advice on tummy time previously and my DD is doing all of it on her own now 😉 kinda annoyed with myself for bothering her natural state. It is so clear now that they don’t need help with so much. I have to say I let the idea of keeping up with the Joneses get to me 🙁
    Thanks for the blog (and hopefully response 😉

  48. Hi Janet,
    Im just wanting your thoughts. Am finding conflict in many different ways, as a parent and early childhood teacher I love the RIE/Pikler/Gerber philosophy ad hv been practicising it with my son. He’s almost 11 months old and is commando crawling, there’s been concern from others that he’s not sitting- I believe that he will do this after crawling, should I be worried that at the age he is, that he’s not crawling on all 4’s (he does a combination of rolling and crawling- depending on the situation).

    1. Hi Rachael! I know how hard it can be to ignore these comments from others about what your boy “should” be doing by now. Be patient, keep giving him plenty of floor time and he will be sitting and crawling on all 4’s soon. (And then everyone will focus on him not walking yet.) Enjoy your boy as you’ve been doing. Appreciate what he DOES. Give him the gift of allowing him to develop in HIS way and time. Self confidence and inner-directedness are far more important than what month your boy decides to work on this or that.

  49. Hi Janet–I just found your blog last week and have been haphazardly wandering around; I’ll definitely be investigating further as so much of what you suggest resonates deeply with me, and we’ve already starting trying to incorporate some of your suggestions. I don’t know if you’re still answering comments on this post, but I hope so!

    My daughter is 10.5 months old. We’ve been flying through parenthood a little bit blind, trying not to read too much unless clearly needed, so we’ve skipped a lot of bad advice/devices but also missed better approaches too.

    I’m going to own my actions and say that we absolutely helped her sit, even though she also got lots of floor time, including tummy time. Very early on, she pushed her legs down to try and stand when we were holding her while seated (when burping her, for instance), so we’ve been playing “tall baby” for a long time now. She’s just recently been wanting to stand more on her own and seems to be comtemplating cruising. I’d picked up some ideas about natural motor development somewhere, so we haven’t been pushing her in this next stage of standing or towards walking, but trying to let her explore it more on her own. Reading this post today, I see both that I didn’t give us enough credit for how much we were influencing her preferences and that we are very close to too little, too late!

    She loves to sit and she loves to stand, but she doesn’t locomote much (she sometimes sit-scoots or rotates around while seated) because she hasn’t figured out rolling over. It’s been bothering me that she can’t yet change levels on her own, so I’m reassured that my gut instinct was accurate despite everyone else’s assurances that she could skip rolling and crawling on the way to walking.

    I’m gutted, however, that we’ve set her up for a lot of disappointment if we go back to mostly laying on her back to play. You’ve answered similar comments above, but not exactly–how do we help her go back to square one? Do we completely stop sitting her up except at meals? No more standing at all? Is there some middle way that can help her regroup without quitting uprightness cold turkey?

    (I’ve got to get both a husband and a daytime caregiver whose other charge is crawling everywhere on board too…)

    It’s not relevant to this post, but we’ve had some success with compassionately listening to her cry (without realizing, we’ve been doing some of it already), especially at bedtime. (In fact, ironically, I gave the longer crying sessions credit for her expanded courage to explore standing on her own yesterday.) In that area at least, our instincts and support systems didn’t lead us as far astray!

    This blog is an amazing resource and is inspiring me to explore the other resources you recommend as well as to trust my instincts more confidently. Thank you!

  50. I just found your blog. Our first great grandchild arrived three months ago. I was so shocked to see him sitting up in a Bumbo(?) I sent the mother your blog.

    I had five children. I had a very thick comforter which I used to put on my living room carpet. All of my babies “grew up” on that comforter. Just as you say, they learned to move around, roll over, etc., very easily (and happily). That was their “playpen”.

    We had a visitor from Poland one day. My daughter (3rd) was about 3 months old when he came to visit and she was on the comforter. This man spoke Polish (which I did not speak) and I could see that he was very, very interested in what he was observing. He was asking my mother-in-law about the baby being on “her own”. He was amazed at what she was already doing. He told her that in Poland (late 1950’s), babies were swaddled until they were seven months old! They were kept “wrapped” so they’d be “cozy” and would not be subject to injury. He could not believe the how agile my daughter was and how “strong” she was. He said he was so amazed and was going to tell his relatives about it when he got home!!! (I am not sure this swaddling practice went on throughout Poland, but it was the practice of his village.

    I try to tell everyone to “put their baby down”.

    Our parents never had all of these baby seats, baby swings, gyms, bouncers, etc. The main piece of baby “furniture” back then was a rocking chair!

    Great informational blog.

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