Skip to main content

How to Teach Your Baby to Sit Up: 5 Simple Steps From an Occupational Therapist

How to Teach Your Baby to Sit Up: 5 Simple Steps From an Occupational Therapist

When Do Babies Sit Up?

Most babies achieve the milestone of sitting up independently somewhere between four and seven months of age. However, some will learn to sit unsupported a little earlier than this, while others may take a little longer.

Generally, most babies start sitting independently by nine months of age. If your baby cannot sit up by nine months of age, it isn’t necessarily an indicator of an underlying problem, though it is recommended to speak with an allied health provider (Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist) or your doctor to check on your little one’s developmental progress.

To learn when you can expect your baby to meet other milestones during their first 12 months of life, make sure you download our free developmental milestones checklist here.

Signs Your Baby is Ready to Sit Up Independently

Once your baby can hold their head up on their own, a milestone that usually happens at around four months of age, it’s the right time to help your baby learn to sit upright.

Prior to this, try to encourage tummy time on a daily basis. This will help develop their back muscles, neck muscles, and core strength. Tummy time is extremely important in helping your baby develop upper body strength, as well as helping them achieve many developmental milestones.

If you are struggling to get your baby to do tummy time, this article provides some tummy time alternatives that you can use to help your baby develop the strength and confidence that will make regular tummy time positions more enjoyable and easier for them.

How to Teach Your Baby to Sit Up

Once they’re ready, here’s what you can do to help your baby learn to sit up by themselves:

1. Assisted Sitting

There are two different methods you can use for this:

Method 1:

The first method is to hold your baby in a sitting position while they’re on your lap. This allows your baby to practice sitting with your help. You can do this while you’re seated on a chair or when you’re sitting on the floor.

Method 2:

The second method is to have your baby sit upright on the floor between your outstretched legs, with your thighs resting against their body.

young baby seated between mothers legs facing forwards with pacifier in his mouth

How to perform assisted sitting:

Regardless of which sitting method you choose, you must ensure you give your baby the right level of support to help them practice sitting.

In the beginning, your baby will need quite a bit of support.

You can provide maximum support and stability by placing your hands around your baby’s rib cage.

This keeps their lower body steady, allowing your baby to focus on controlling their upper body, specifically their trunk, chest, neck and head.

child sitting in mothers lap wearing a white shirt and blue pants. Mother supporter her by holding under her armpits on both sides

2. Assisted Sitting With Reduced Support

As your baby becomes stronger, you can reduce the amount of support you provide.

To do this, start by simply moving your hands from their rib cage down to the middle of their trunk.

As your baby’s physical development progresses and their stability improves to the point where they need even less support, you can move your hands down around their hips.

Lowering your hands down their body means your baby has to control more of their body in order to stay seated.

This, in turn, helps to further improve their muscle strength and sitting balance.

Just remember, when you are lowering your hands, it’s important to do it gradually.

baby in white onesie sitting on mothers lap facing outwards. Baby holding a round toy ball. Mother holding baby down around hips for support

If you reduce the support too quickly, your baby may struggle to sit up and can collapse forward or to the side.

If you notice this happening with your baby, it means they’re not quite ready for that level of reduced support just yet and need more practice. In this case, all you need to do is go back a step and provide support a little higher up their trunk.

baby sitting on mothers lap with mother supporting her by holding her hips. Baby is slumping to the right because she needs more support

Then, with time, you can gradually try to lower your hands again.

When your baby can sit upright with support just around their hips, it’s time to introduce dynamic sitting activities.

3. Dynamic Sitting

Dynamic sitting introduces activities to encourage your baby to make small movements while sitting.

This more advanced skill further strengthens their core muscles and balance skills.

You can do this by either sitting your baby on your lap facing outwards (away from you) or by having your baby sit on an exercise ball with your hands resting on their hips.

Then, with your hands around their hips, gently and gradually lean your baby slightly to one side.

woman sitting on a white chair with a baby girl wearing a pink shirt sitting on her lap facing forwards. Woman gently tilts baby to the left while supporting her hips with her hands.

Once in that leaning position, wait a few seconds.

In response to this tilting, your baby will start to actively work against the lean. You’ll notice they will make an effort to align their head with the rest of their body and try to sit back up.

If you notice your baby struggles at this point, you can help them come back up into sitting by gently pressing down on the opposite hip.

woman sitting on a white chair with a baby girl wearing a pink shirt sitting on her lap facing forwards. Woman gently presses on baby's right hip to help bring her back up to an upright position.

Then, once they’re sitting up again, gently tilt them to the opposite side and wait, and then assist them to come back up into sitting if needed.

4. Dynamic Sitting With Toys

Babies love toys, which makes them a great tool to help motivate your baby to move in ways that will further improve their balance.

To do this activity, sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Then, place your baby in a sitting position between your legs, facing forward (away from you).

Next, give your baby a little support by gently placing your hands on the hips.

Once in this position, hold a toy in front of your baby or place it slightly out of their reach on the ground.

Then, encourage your baby to lean forward to pick up that toy.

young child sat up in between woman's legs on the floor. Woman is supporting his hips as he reaches forward to grab a coloured toy ball on the floor in front of him

After your baby grabs the toy, they’ll naturally try to sit back up. Depending on their strength, they might be able to do this independently, or they may need your assistance.

If help is needed, gently push down on the hip opposite to the side that they’re leaning forward to.

young child sat up in between woman's legs on the floor. He reaches forward to grab a coloured toy ball on the floor in front of him. Woman is pressing gently on his right hip to help him return to an upright position.

As they start to rise, you can gently guide them back into that sitting position.

As you keep doing these dynamic sitting activities with your baby, you’ll start to see their strength and balance improve significantly. They’ll become more confident in sitting and will begin to need less assistance from you.

The key is giving your baby plenty of opportunities to work on this skill and allowing them to improve at their own pace by providing appropriate help as needed.

As you notice this becomes quite easy for your baby, it’s time to challenge them a bit more by slowly reducing your support.

5. Gradually Reduce Support

Once again, start by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Place your baby on the floor between your legs with your thighs resting gently against the side of your baby’s body.

Next, encourage your baby to place their hands on the ground, on their thighs, or on a stable toy. This encourages them to use their arms for support, which will naturally help them to sit up.

infant sits between a woman's legs facing forwards with his hands resting on a soft, square toy for support

Then gradually move your legs away from their body so that your thighs are no longer touching them.

By creating this space between your thighs and their body, your thighs will still be there to soften their fall, but they are not helping them sit up.

Instead, your baby is sitting up all by themselves.

Now at first, your baby may only manage this for a few seconds. But with regular practice, they’ll soon be able to sit unassisted for longer periods.

Once your baby can sit independently for a few minutes, you won’t need to sit right behind them anymore.

However, they will still lose their balance every now and then while reaching for toys or moving around.

So to keep them safe, it’s important to have a soft landing area. A great way to do this is by placing a nursing or boppy pillow behind their back.

baby girl wearing a pink shirt and holding a soft owl toy is sitting in a green boppy pillow looking at the camera

This way, when your baby falls sideways or backwards, which is a natural part of them refining their sitting skills, they will land on something soft.

baby boy wearing a blue and white striped onesie has tipped over and is lying on his back on a boppy pillow which caught his fall.

Plus these pillows give your baby something to push against if they do start to wobble, which at times may be enough to stop them from falling over.

One your baby has reached this point, they’ve achieved the huge milestone of being able to sit independently! With practice, they’ll become more stable and content in this positon.

When To Worry if Baby Is Not Sitting Up

While every baby develops differently, if yours isn’t able to sit upright by nine months of age, they may need a little extra help. Talk to a physiotherapist or your pediatrician who will be able to assess your little one, ensure their development is on track, and provide guidance and assistance if needed.

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Newcastle. Emma is the founder of Brightest Beginning & writes about all things child development, sleep, feeding, toilet training and more.

Back to blog