Lessons on Baby Milestones: Flipping and Sitting

Like all parents, we tracked little Isaac’s milestones eagerly, watching intently for when he would achieve his many “firsts”. But we also made a conscious effort not to rush Isaac — especially in this age where other parents are also eagerly sharing their children’s accomplishments and it is sometimes difficult not to compare. Still, of course we hope that Isaac would at least be developing at a average pace compared to his peers.

FLIPPING

That absolutely did not happen for flipping, which had me worried for a bit! Most baby books would lay out a sequence of developmental milestones — a later milestone is usually built upon the achievement of the earlier ones. Briefly, for gross motor skills, one can expect babies to:

Hold up their heads –> Raise their heads off the mattress when laid on their tummies (with and without arms propping) –> Flip (either from tummy to back or vice versa) –> Sit while supporting themselves on their arms in a tripod position –> Sit without support –> Crawl –> Sit up by themselves –> Stand with support –> Stand without support –> Cruise –> Walk

Of course it’s not a strict sequence — some babies skip stages e.g. go straight to walking without crawling, some may switch one or two adjacent skills around. But in general the few earliest skills on the list would set the stage for the rest by signaling that the baby has developed sufficient strength and coordination.

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Isaac had no issues with holding up his head from a fairly early stage, and although he was not a particularly good tummy-timer, he seemed fairly average. But he simply refused to flip! By the time five months was approaching, I started to get worried because five months is when, according to his health booklet, 90% of the babies should have learnt to flip either from the tummy to the back or vice versa.

Then on the exact day he turned five months old, he decided to flip twice from his back to his tummy for our viewing pleasure, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, prompting a huge sigh of relief in us. Over the next few days, he lazily but obviously flipped a few more times in our sight, then nothing! He stopped flipping entirely for the next few weeks. It was as if he was telling us “Look mummy I can flip, I just don’t find it particularly interesting to do so. Now that you have seen me do it, please get off my back and let me do more interesting things such as eating everything out there!” Similarly with rolling the other way from tummy to back, he first managed that about two weeks ago, did a few flips in my presence for a few days, then stopped entirely! It was only in the past week that he suddenly decided that flipping was very interesting indeed — at least flipping from tummy to back was because it got him out of the sleeping position I’ll put him in.

[As a side note: Yes, Isaac sleeps on his tummy, which is not encouraged by pediatricians. I’ll probably write about this some time when I put together a post on baby sleep but for now, I would not encourage other mummies to do the same unless they have familiarised themselves with the risks (mainly of SIDS) and have carefully considered if they are prepared to take on the risks of tummy sleeping.]

Now he is flipping around with glee and I just woke up from a very confusing night when I kept thinking I put Isaac to sleep in a certain position but wake to see him in an entirely different position.

Anyway, while I was all worried about Isaac not flipping, I started reading more about baby milestones and looking up why he may be slow to flip. And here are a few lessons (which may be useful for parents with younger infants!):

1) For babies to develop the strength and coordination required to flip, they really need to spend a lot of time on the floor — on their tummies, their back and their sides. Now if your baby is anything like mine, they love to be picked up, carried and supported in various standing and sitting positions. And earlier, we found it fun to see how much Isaac enjoyed being propped up to stand to sit. But the truth is — the more time babies spend being supported in positions they cannot achieve on their own, the less they are practising the precise skills required for them to achieve those positions. We held Isaac a lot, and at other times put him in a rocker where he happily observed the world around him instead of fussing. In retrospect, it helped settle Isaac for the moment, but he was not getting the floor time he needed to develop the skills he needed. And of course babies love sitting and standing–which should be the motivation for them to lift their heads during tummy time, try to turn and work at all these skills which would help them engage more with the world around them. What I read from another site captures this well — if you help babies sit up, of course they would prefer sitting up, and expect you to help them!

2) That said, I also realise that it’s entirely natural for parents to want to hold their babies and sometimes there is no other way to settle them. But in my own case at least, I realise that I should have tried harder to play with and entertain Isaac on his back or tummy, instead of too quickly putting him in a rocker chair. Eventually, all healthy babies would achieve the various developmental milestones so giving them more floor time is not about rushing the process but rather, not delaying it. So if you want to encourage your children to develop muscle strength and coordination, play with them more on the floor even if that is not what they like best. Don’t force it — but try to be creative and use toys, songs, music to encourage movement on the floor. 

3) Nevertheless, sometimes it’s just a matter of your baby’s personality. Babies flip, crawl, sit — not only if they can, but also only if they want to. Isaac just did not find flipping interesting until he discovered a purpose for it (getting out of sleep!) and now that he does, he takes every opportunity to show just how well he can flip. I’ll definitely be a lot less worried about milestones for my next child, as long as he or she is happy and healthy overall!

SITTING

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When it came to sitting, we were therefore prepared with a new approach. When he first could sit up with some support from his hands, we were always hovering to give him support should he topple. At the slightest tilt, we would hurriedly push him up. So for a while, he looked as if he had the strength to sit up by himself, but had absolutely no motivation to keep himself up. He would flail his arms around in excitement, pivot suddenly, always expecting that we would keep him up. Then in the past few days, I decided that tumbling over was really not such a bad thing as long as he was on a soft surface and he really had to learn that he had to keep his own balance.

And indeed, after just a few days of allowing him to topple over whenever he decided he would make sudden movements or raise his hands, he started beginning to balance himself. Now he can lift his hands and still keep his back straight, when he turns and looks as if he was going to topple over, he would reach out with a hand to keep himself up, and he also knows to reach for support when available =)

So just to share a brief recap of how Isaac started to flip and sit and some of the lessons we learnt! Next up is crawling and standing we’re quite excited to see how Isaac goes about them! =)