My Baby Can’t Sit

Hi Janet,

Just wanted to share a little story with you: I have a 7 month old son. Since I discovered RIE through your website he has never been in a Bumbo, Jolly Jumper, ‘seated activity centre’, or any other such device which would place him in a position he couldn’t get into himself, or which would restrict his freedom.

A few days ago I was with some new friends who both have babies similar in age to my son. They plonked their babies down in seated positions, and I lay my boy down on his back. The first thought that ran through my head was ‘those babies are younger and can sit so steadily, and my baby cannot do that at all’. I felt a twinge of inadequacy.

But then as we watched the babies, my boy flipped onto his tummy and proceeded to circle around the floor, grabbing any toys that caught his fancy, exploring and discovering. The other two babies just sat there playing with the toys their mothers handed them. The striking thing was that they didn’t even reach for new toys. Maybe they had learned already that if they tried to reach something they would just fall over. Or perhaps the thought of reaching for something they wanted hadn’t even occurred to them, since their mothers always handed them toys. the world at her feet

It’s interesting how you can read a point of view and understand conceptually the merits behind it, but it isn’t until you see it in practice that you truly understand it at a deep level. That day my son’s freedom and engagement provided a stark contrast to the alternative and made me so thankful that I discovered your site. Thank you!

Once again, so grateful for your wisdom and articles.

Rebecca

 ***

 

For more about the benefits of natural motor development, please read Sitting Babies Up – The Downside Set Me Free, my other posts on motor development, and my book:

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting.

 

(Thanks so much to Elizabeth Pineda for sharing these gorgeous photos!)

 

39 Comments

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

  1. I love this! And I totally understand. One of the things that I loved about this approach was that when my children all did eventually teach themselves to sit they literally never, not even once, fell over from a sitting position. They were so aware of their own bodies in space and so in control of their own movements- and had developed such a strong core that they never lost their balance.

    1. Exactly what I see in all the children whose parents embrace this approach, Gypsy. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I have a question about sitting: What about feeding time? It is recommended to start feeding solids at six months, and many families choose to start even earlier. Babies ought to be upright for eating solids, but most RIE babies are not sitting at six months. What to do?

    1. You got me thinking there for a minute… I discovered RIE after my kids were that age, but I think I fed with one hand while my other arm supported them on my lap (both of us facing more or less same direction). I found it easier to feed like that, the spoon was in a more natural position than trying to point it at something in front of me 😉 and I could see what they were doing with their mouths to swallow.

    2. avatar Christina says:

      Hello. My wee girl is 8 months, she does not sit up by herself, she does however love solids,
      she sits on my lap facing sideways, I tuck one of her arms behind my back and put my arm around her back to support her, it does not take her long to eat, she loves food! and I think its ok for 5-10 minutes to sit like that, babies also need cuddles etc and all that so they have to do some sitting, I refuse to put her into a highchair/bumbo/ activity centre seat . She can be in a highchair once she can get into sitting position by herself. once she has finished eating I put her on the floor to play while we finish the rest of our meal time.

    3. We used the Baby Led Weaning Method, which explains that kids are ready to eat solid food when they can sit – sitting and the readiness of the gut to digest food develop together, and it’s not the same timeline for all kids. This makes a lot of sense when you really think about it.

    4. I’m an infant/toddler teacher who teaches in the RIE way…for feeding we tend to hold babies on our laps. That way they can relax into the adult that is holding them, rather than try to use muscles that aren’t strong enough to support them

        1. Hi Janet,
          We have been feeding my baby (8 months) on our lap since we started solids 2 months ago but he pushes himself forward, we don’t sit him up, should I discourage it?

  3. I’ve had exactly the same experience. We’ve been to baby groups where all the other babies sit still whilst my 7 month old son whizzes around on his belly going for any toy that takes his fancy. His freedom of movement is so exciting to watch!

  4. this is great!!! i am curious, those who did this (not propping your baby to sit)- at what age did they teach themselves? my baby is almost 9 months old and I have been following this approach and not propping him in anything. he is not sitting yet and I have to admit I am getting those ‘left behind’ twinges when babies at 6 months are sitting! just wondering when babies naturally start to sit (within a wide spectrum i am sure!!).

    1. Hi Allison,

      It may be just how your baby is developing, but you may want to talk to your doctor about your 9 month old not sitting up. It could be your baby is too busy rolling around and doing other things to be too concerned about sitting, but I’d investigate it at this point. It could be completely normal and fine for your kid, but if there is something going on, it is always better to know earlier rather than later.

      Good Luck!

      1. avatar Christina says:

        hello, both of my older two did not sit at 9 months old (not by themselves). they took till about 10 months to get in sitting position by themselves, as in from lying on floor and using their own strength to get up and sit, not meaning being plonked on the floor. babies are all different

        1. Yes, I agree that each baby has an unique inner timetable. Some babies don’t sit until they are 12 months or so. The parent’s only responsibility is to provide plenty of time each day for free movement on the floor. And enjoy what our child is doing rather than wanting something more or different!

    2. My guy was “behind” his friends for just about every milestone, but he was just on his own path. As long as your dr. doesn’t see anything physically wrong, some kids just are later. Mine was like yours – he sat on his own around 9 months or so. It seemed to happen quickly. Honestly, he stayed with my inlaws for a week, and they propped him in a laundry basket. About 2 weeks after that, he started to sit on his own. I think before that he just didn’t see the need to sit when he could scoot and get what he wanted. He also didn’t walk until almost 16 months. But again, he could crawl faster than most of his friends, and was really agile climing, etc. It is hard, but just keep telling people he is on his own path if you feel judged or feel left behind.

    3. avatar Christina says:

      hello, my baby is now 10 and a half months old and has just started sitting by herself this week. as in I put her on her back on the floor and she moves her self upright into sitting position, she looks so pleased that she has achieved this. I have not propped her up with pillows etc…. I also did wonder when she would sit but I knew that it really did not matter, she is always put on the floor for playtime and she can move herself how she chooses, and she gets all over the place, rolling, pulling forward like a crocodile. She is such a happy and content baby and she has been allowed to develop at her own pace. Though where I live (New Zealand) there is a health service called plunked for babies until 5 years and they promote and encourage sitting babies up, giving them tummy time and they always ask me why I don’t and I try and explain and they are really not interested and just tell me what they think I should do….. I am so glad I found this RIE philosophy, Wish I had with my first baby, I propped her up as I was told by the nurse to do so to strengthen her muscles etc. Am really happy I did not do this with baby two and three…. they both sat up by themselves after 10 months. your baby will get there in babies own time…

  5. avatar Christina says:

    I think I am the only one in the playgroups we go to that does not sit her up or prop my baby up into sitting position, or tummy time while she was younger, she does tummy time now, as she rolls to her tummy and she loves it, I don’t sit her up, I always lay her down and I was pointing out to my husband how she can roll, twist, pivot, and move how she wishes and get to anywhere she wants by rolling different directions, she has a real sense of achievement, we can se on her face how happy she is when she gets the toy she spotted across the lounge. She is very capable and able to choose what she is interested in and spends long amounts of time investigating what she is playing with, other babies who are ‘sitting’ are kind of dependant on someone to give them a toy, help them down onto floor (if they don’t flop forwards and slump down). I do get asked oh she isn’t sitting yet?” no, she is happy playing on the floor where she can move how she chooses, People are always so keen to hurry along and not enjoy what is happening right now. I love reading all the posts and other’s ideas, great website I discovered while my third baby was a new born, things are very different with number three, wish I had known more about this with baby number one and two. thanks you for all the readings.

    1. “People are always so keen to hurry along and not enjoy what is happening right now.” You nailed it, Christina! So please keep your wonderful attitude and relish this time…it will pass quickly. What lucky children you have!

  6. Thanks for sharing Rebecca! It’s lovely to hear RIE mums having similar experiences. My daughter is 10 months, and I found myself in a similar situation being surrounded by friends and other mums who propped their baby up to sit from before 6 months. I am so thankful that I didn’t use any propping devices that I used for my son (bumbo, bouncers, cushions..), this was all before i found the RIE approach! I look at pictures of him in these, and it feels like I have come a long way in my thinking and respect for my children. I have had friends comment on how active my daughter is though, and strong – she has a great sense of balance, and control in her movements, and has a huge amount of energy – she loves exploring and discovering. I can’t exactly remember when she first moved herself into a sitting position, but it wasn’t that long ago. It was wonderful to see her discovering it by herself.
    I ‘entertained’ my son a lot as I copied mums around me at the time, and thought it was what a good mum did! I am now really enjoying seeing the fruits from a very different approach and seeing them both really thrive. I am so thankful like you for the wisdom in the RIE approach and all Janet’s hugely valuable insights and articles. You are doing great, and are on a wonderful journey together.

  7. avatar Elanne Kresseer says:

    Hurray mama! I echo other sentiments about all the benefits of doing this. My girl was so mobile before she could crawl. She would roll all over the floor. She knew how to roll up to the cabinets, open them and get things out. I haven’t seen babies who’ve been propped into sitting do this. She also has incredible balance, coordination and steadiness that people often comment on and I know that it was because she has always been able to find her own way to do things and so has learned to trust herself deeply.

    For the mama asking about when our babies did it I want to say don’t worry about it and just do your best to be patient. I work as a Feldenkrais practitioner, which is all about understanding developmental movement and there is a big, big range for when children are ready for any of these milestones. You never know what is important for them to be exploring and why they have the timing they have. I know that it can be hard especially in a culture that rushes things. Your baby is totally fine to not be sitting at 9 months.

  8. hi Janet
    I came across your blog a few days ago and I think I’m falling in love with it!:)
    I have read some of your posts and they are all wonderful and inspiring.
    I have two kids, a 6 years old son and a 6 months old daughter and I really like RIE approaches and I’m going to try it as much as I can. I live in Iran, and obviously I have no access to RIE classes,and to be honest I had never heard of it beforehand and lots of its advises sound really groundbreaking to me.I think most of mothers in my country, would like to get introduced with such approaches so I was thinking it would be nice if I translate some of your posts which I had actually practiced and take benefit from to Persian.
    hence, I would be honored and thankful if you let me translate some of your post in Persian.
    thanks a lot

  9. avatar Stephanie says:

    Help! I have only just discovered RIE and this blog. Prior to this I had been giving my baby loads and loads of tummy time (paranoid about SIDS) and after she flipped over I began placing her in a sitting position as well.

    Now at 4.5 months she can sit quite steadily but she can’t play independently for more than a few minutes at a time. Is it too late? She appears to be trying to learn to crawl – I don’t help her with this (don’t know how to anyway), nor did I help her roll over, but she gets so frustrated every time she fails in whatever she seems to be trying to do. Should I intervene to rescue her or help her manage her emotions?

    What can I do or what changes should I make to encourage her to be more independent? What is the normal amount of time that a baby should be able to play independently at her age? I would be so grateful for any advice at all!

    1. I’d be interested to see a response to this as well. I have a three month old and I,ve been holding her in a sitting position on my lap. She really enjoys it and can hold herself up well holding on to my thumbs. Should I stop doing this? She resists if I try and recline her now!

      I’m laying her down on her back lots and can see her beginning to swivel her hips. However, she doesn’t like lying down for long, preferring to be in my arms. Will this come with time and practice?

      Finally. I’m wondering about play arches and baby gyms, where toys dangle above but in reach of the bsby. Are these acceptable?

  10. It was while researching the cons of placing a baby in a sitting position before they can do so themselves that lead me to your website. I’m so glad I found it for many reasons! I immediately stopped using the Bumbo (Josephine never liked it anyway). I did feel a bit behind when so many friends’ babies could stay upright when seated but what you wrote really made sense so I didn’t push it. At about 7 months Josephine learned to crawl and sit up on her all at the same time. It was fantastic to watch her figuring it out.

  11. What about when babies have reflux and begin to develop plagiocephaly? I put my daughter into seated position around 5 months because of reflux (and let her sleep in the rock and play sleeper, which coupled with always lying on her back on the floor, likely caused the plagiocephaly). She is now almost 8 months, and cannot yet get to seated position on her own, although she tries all of the time. I understand that not every rule is set in stone, and that it may have hindered her motor skills development in some way, but when they have bad reflux (my daughter required some meds), and the pediatrician advises tummy time and seated position, what do you do as a parent? We didn’t do much tummy time except for on my chest, as she never liked it, but sitting her up helped her reflux immensely. After putting her in seated position, she stopped the meds, shortly thereafter stopped regurg/spitting up, and there were no more painful screams.

    1. Me too Beth it’s so hard with reflux. I have a 8.5 month old who is trying to walk due to being sat upright never lay down unless under supervision.

  12. Hi, Beth… since your baby had a medical condition, you did the right thing — consulted an MD and followed his/her recommendations — and it sounds like she’s on the mend. Yay. No doubt she’s on a fast track now and she’ll now start developing the muscles to sit up. That’s what ‘trying’ does, develops muscle. But in her own time, on her own schedule. Nothing to fret about. You sound like a great mom.

  13. Hello I’m from Czech Republic, my baby is 6 months now and my boyfriend´s sister is telling me I should teacher her how to sit. If all you guys read pediatric studies ull find out that put baby to aby position by for is wrong!! Yes it is! If you put your baby to sit up before they start by them self you will just spoil their back. Babies are suppose to sit, stand and walk by theirselves with no help.

  14. My baby is 8 months old and can’t sit by herself, it is was frustrating, until I came up on this blog and find out I am not alone thank you for all ur support..

  15. I went into this determined not to set my son up until he could do it on his own, but it didn’t work that way for us. I have hip dysplasia so I full on refused any sitting, standing, jumping devices in my house (beyond car seat, stroller, and booster seat). I started out always putting him on his back or belly and letting him play or roll around, though he’s a high needs baby and rarely wanted to be not on me for very long. All his peers passed him up and I staunchly kept going. Then he stopped rolling and he flat out refused to ever go on his belly. He would try to sit up from nursing so I started letting him do it. If I put him on the floor on his back, he’d get upset. He wanted to be sitting up but he had low muscle tone and Early Intervention wanted me to force him to do things in order to help develope his muscles. At 11 months, he sits fine, reaches everything, scoots around a few feet on the floor, and attempts to pull onto his knees. His peers are walking while he still refuses to roll or crawl. I feel that if I hadn’t helped him learn to sit and what things he could do with his body, he would still be lying on his back. Because he’s not a very independent baby and has these muscle tone issues, I didn’t get to follow through with my plan to let him develop at his own speed. I follow his needs and watch his cues but sometimes encouraging movement is a good thing. A parent should always follow their gut and ask for an evaluation if they feel there child is stalling out on gross motor development.

  16. I encountered this exact situation but my daughter was 9 months and not sitting. My friends’ children were the same age and their children could sit but were not mobile at all and never reached for toys. I got a couple of condescending comments from the other mummies. A month later we met again. My daughter was sitting, crawling and pulling up to stand. The other 2 had just started crawling. It’s amazing how it all comes together so quickly when nature takes its course.

  17. I am wondering if I can implement this now even though my son (9mo) can sit if I put him in that position. Will it take long for him to adjust to being placed on his back when I put him down? I am totally new to this and I try to read blog posts when I am getting the baby to sleep. Thanks!

  18. Hi Janet,

    I just came upon RIE and want very much to do this for my baby. He is just shy of 9 months and I have been one of those moms who used the bumbo and have the table with the seat to sit him in so he can “walk” around it. I have also sat him up for awhile to where he can sit on his own and lean forward to get things he wants, but he will still fall over to the side or back and so I cannot really put much distance between us when he is playing. He also has not crawled but always reaches for me to pick him up and recently my husband and i have been helping him “walk”. He loves this very much. It is hard because I kept feeling I was doing him a great disservice, but I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what I was doing wrong. Now with him 9 mos, is it too late to start? I have began putting him on his back every time I put him down now and he is already progressing very fast. He is very strong baby and learns quickly, but I am afraid he will think ill of me if I am not continuing to do the things I have been doing. Is it ok to start here now? Is it too late or what are your suggestions? I give him a lot of encouragement and believe in babywearing and demand feeding as well. He is not on solid foods yet and still just wants breastmilk. He is a very healthy 21.5 lbs. I want to respect him and encourage him in the natural way of things…please help! Thank you 🙂

  19. Hello Janet-

    I love your website and method of parenting. My husband and I have incorporated many of your philosophies into our parneting since our daughter was born (respectful speaking, waiting for her to acknowledge our statements before acting, simplistic baby items, lack of holding devices, ample independent play). However, I did start propping her around the time she was 3 months old after breastfeeding (advsiement from my doctor) due to her terrible reflux. She has gotten to the point where she sits well without propping, but must be placed in that position. I was told that she needed to be able to sit well before we could begin feeding her solids at 6 months. She is now 5 months old and sits extremely well playing with toys and can get herself out of that position. It doesn’t seem to have hampered any of her rolling, kicking and scooting which she does constantly. My concern is that she keeps grabbing my hands and pushing herself to stand. Once standing she is trying to take steps. She is not able to pull up on her own yet. We have a montessori set up with a low shelf and pull up bar available for her in her movement area. What should I do about this behavior? Thanks so much for your time!

  20. I have the same sentiment, my baby will be 9 months in a few days but is not sitting yet nor trying to sit. She loves to explore though, rolling over and crawling (military crawl), reaching anything that interests her. She also loves babbling, she says “Ma-ma-ma” and “Na-na-na”. I do have another concern though, when I try to get her in a standing position, she does not bear weight on her legs, she sometimes do try but in a way where it’s butt out and stomach in. I’ve mentioned this to our pedia but he seems not to be bothered at all. My brother-in-law’s wife who’s also a pedia do advise to have my baby check by a developmental pedia. Anyone having the same issue?

    Thanks

  21. This is a really fascinating topic and I am particularly interested in it. If you go to the website below and look at the images on page 22 of the article, you can clearly see what happens to a baby’s body when it is made to sit up before it is ready. I don’t think anyone would ever do it again! You will have to register to look at the article but it’s really worth the time.

    I hope this is helpful and or interesting.

    A Study in Infant Development
    Alma Frank
    Child Development
    Vol. 9, No. 1 (Mar., 1938), pp. 9-26
    Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
    DOI: 10.2307/1125518
    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1125518

  22. avatar Kristi Thompson says:

    I have loved following the RIE method for natural gross motor development – although it definitely continues to be a challenge in a society that puts so much pressure on you to do it another way! My 1year old daughter has very high quality rolling (not sitting up on her own yet) and maneuvering on the floor and is just now showing signs of crawling (pushing self forward just a bit here and a bit there, putting knee down and stretching forward while extending leg) but the pediatrician mad ena remark that she is behind. She is very petite and recently been stagnant in weight gain (I’m hoping just because of increased activity but kinda concerning) and then “not meeting milestones”. She has always hit each milestone a bit late, she didn’t start rolling until 6 or 7mo old. So is there ever a time where it is recommended to “intervene” with the natural progression of development if they are “behind”?

    1. Yes, if you have concerns, there are times to intervene, but I would work with professionals who value natural motor development, like this wonderful organization: The Anat Baniel Method. Does your doctor recommend an assessment?

      1. Unfortunately our pediatrician continues to recommend teaching her to sit up (which I tried to ask her how that would help but she did not really provide an answer – other than what I think she meant to connect as her not eating solids yet and not sitting up on her own, even though I explained I hold her when offering solids). The only other testing she has recommended is to get blood work done since she is essentially exclusively breastfed and therefore have low iron at this point.

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