Sitting: The First Vertical Alignment

Babies and Sitting: Putting the Puzzle Together
toward the first vertical alignment
Ellynne Skove MA, LCAT, DMT-BC, NCC, RPP

As parents we become enthralled with the many accomplishments of our new babies; the first smile, the pulling of the feet to the face to grab toes, the first rolling, sleeping through the night, sitting, crawling, standing, and walking. It is all so wonderful to behold as our little ones become more fully inhabited and capable in their tiny bodies. Each physical step is accompanied by greater social interactions, and we feel delight in how our babies become more and more “human.” One of the aspects of being human is being a two-footed vertical mammal. No other mammal on the planet lives this way fully. In being a vertical mammal, humans have a unique physical alignment between earth and sky, or Heaven and Earth, if you will. Our feet are solidly planted on the ground while our spines lengthen and reach up through our heads toward the sky. While standing up is the most obvious way this occurs, it has become apparent to me, as a baby movement specialist, that sitting is the beginning of this physical alignment. This is why so many parents and caregivers are absolutely joyous and thrilled when their little ones sit. When sitting one has the ability to really look around and interact with the world and others in a very full way. It is very exciting indeed. Babies who sit up on their own have a very alert and beautifully aligned presence. They look very much like little Buddhas. Eyes are open and taking in the world, bodies are calm, and if you look carefully you will see that a baby who does this independently is very balanced and confident. There is no schlumping or slouching in the spine, no teetering or tottering in any direction. It is as if they have “arrived.” The sit bones, or bottom of the pelvis, are rooted to the ground, while the spine, having developed its curves via all of the other developmental movement processes that precede sitting, is aligned with a center axis that reaches upward through the body toward the “heavens.” Finding this pose for a baby takes a lot of practice and work through all of the preceding patterns. Trying to get a baby into a sitting position before it is ready is something that is not necessary and in fact could cause some challenges in the future. Many manufacturers of baby equipment have created items to help assist babies in sitting up but these are NOT NECESSARY and can actually influence harmful physical patterns.
If you consider the developmental movement patterns that occur in babies from in utero through birth and infancy to lead a baby to standing vertically as PUZZLE PIECES, then SITTING is one of these pieces. As a jigsaw puzzle is put together it initially does not have an image that represents what the picture will eventually look like. As we continue working to find the puzzle pieces parts of the picture become clearer and it becomes more exciting to reach completion, but it takes perseverance! When babies are placed into a sitting position instead of allowed to find their own way there it is as if someone else has come along and completed a major piece of the movement puzzle for them. The “arrival” into a vertical position is not something they have accomplished for themselves in this case but something that has been denied. Physically, a baby who is put in this position is not truly ready to be there and stress is placed upon the internal alignment of the spine, muscles, and other bones that contribute to sitting independently. The baby might lean forward, backward or waver side-to-side weebling and wobbling in uncertainty. Sometimes this is subtle but nonetheless, it is stress on the system. When strapped into a piece of equipment into a seated position before the baby is truly ready to be there patterns begin to develop in the body that could lead toward future alignment problems. The bottom line (pun intended) about babies and sitting independently is LET THEM FIND THEIR OWN WAY THERE. In doing so this develops physical balance, coordination, sequencing skills, spatial awareness, and a profound sense of self-accomplishment, which leads to positive body image, self-image, and self-esteem. Wow! If you think of ascending a mountain, the only way to get there is to climb it! Babies need and want to do this too. So let your baby fined its seated “Mountain pose.”
The following is a list of developmental movement patterns that occur in babies. Not all babies move through each pattern nor do they all move through them in the same sequence. Encouraging time on the tummy is extremely important but takes practice, as the head is so big and heavy in proportion to the rest of the body. All of these patterns help the baby develop the curves of the spine, which are not present at birth. Spinal curves include cervical, thoracic, and lumbar curves that are the architectural foundation necessary for human being to sit and stand vertically. Without the curves in our spines we would fall down! These are the healthy curves of the spine as opposed to scoliosis, which is what developmental movement work helps to avoid!
• Lifting of the head in tummy time
• Lifting of the bottom, or tail, in tummy time
• Rolling front to back and back to front
• Side lying balancing
• Hands grasping and reaching for the feet lying on the back
• Pushing the hands and arms into the floor to move in a circle on the belly
• Pushing the hands and arms into the floor causing the body to move backwards on the belly
• Pushing from the feet to propel oneself into creeping on the belly ( “army crawl”)
• Pushing up to hands and knees to balance on all fours
• Pushing up to hands and knees balance and rocking back and forth to further develop balance
• Pushing up to hands and feet balance (downward facing dog or plank poses)
• Pushing up to all fours and rocking the bottom back to sitting!!!!!!
Babies are placed into a variety of sitting positions before they can sit independently. Car seats, bouncy seats, baby swings, strollers, snuggled into pillows on a bed or couch with someone nearby, and sitting snuggled into the lap of a caregiver are all safe as the baby can lean back on an incline taking pressure off the spine. High chairs or other equipment that forces a baby to sit straight up vertically could be harmful to use before a baby is sitting independently.
Get down on the floor on your own tummy or back and play play play!!!! Have fun, and cheer on your child’s efforts and successes! Ideally a baby needs 45 minutes of Tummy Time play in a day. This would not happen all at once! That would be too much to expect. But spending time during diapering is a great way to add some play time. Appreciate your baby’s innate instincts and curiosity about the world that lead him/her to the puzzle pieces of movement that lead toward sitting or standing. Acknowledge the hard work it takes and let your baby rest. It takes tremendous effort to do what they do! Slow yourself down and become very observant. Try doing what your baby does. A lot of the developmental movements are similar to yoga poses and feel wonderful. Support and encourage your baby but do not push them. Appreciate your baby’s creative ability to solve the puzzle of how to develop its body.