Pulling themselves up to stand and then taking the next step to walking (pun intended!) is a major milestone in your baby’s life. It calls for your baby to coordinate almost all of his or her major muscle groups at once, from their arms to their back, to their legs and feet. A terrific muscle-strengthening exercise, standing is the first step to taking those all-important first steps.
Babies generally start pulling themselves up to stand at around 9 to 12 months. They’ll use just about anything they can grip firmly to assist them with this, be it the couch, a chair or your jean-covered leg. But, like all milestones, this window is open to change.
For some babies, standing doesn’t come until much later, and some gentle encouragement may be required. Try not to feel concerned about delayed standing, and instead provide lots of fun, safe and supportive opportunities to practice. Eventually they’ll get it and then there will be no stopping them.
In order for your baby to stand – let alone walk – they must have sufficient muscle strength in their legs, hips and core. This strength will come from rolling, sitting and crawling, so try to encourage these activities as often as possible.
When held upright, most babies will start to support themselves on their legs from around four to five months. Most will also bend their knees and bounce up and down a bit. This early stage standing activity gets your baby used to standing on their feet, and can start building muscle in the legs and hips.
Once your baby is familiar with pulling themself to stand they will start to cruise along furniture. You can encourage this activity by placing toys just out of reach. Cruising long distances boosts your baby’s standing stamina and will strengthen hip and thigh muscles. Over time they will become more stable with weight on one side and better at shifting weight from foot to foot.
If you are a parent that holds out your hands to support your baby on their feet, then you are not alone. Most parents believe this is a good way to offer support when learning to stand. Unfortunately, it actually causes your baby to tilt their body forward. If you try to walk with them you will notice they are stepping quickly. This is because they are off-balance and are trying to catch up with their centre of gravity. Instead of holding your hands out, focus your support on their trunk. This will keep their feet firmly on the ground instead of tilted, helping to build muscle and bone strength.
Pediatric therapists generally recommend that you keep baby barefoot as often as possible. Babies rely on ‘feel’ to guide them, and by feeling the ground they can adjust their standing balance as needed. Different surfaces require different use of joints, muscle and posture, and when your baby can’t feel through their shoes, it hinders this learning process.
Squatting is a hugely important skill and one that will greatly support your baby in standing on their own. Place toys at their feet when supported by a sofa, and encourage them to squat and pick them up. The up and down motion will build excellent muscles in the hips and thighs.
Picking your baby’s toys up from their usual ground position and placing them on a reachable surface will encourage them to move up and down. If they’re struggling to pull themselves up, offer assistance by placing your hands on their hips or by placing a hand under their bottom.
If your chairs are lightweight and easily topple, move them away from your baby and replace with sturdy, non-movable items they can pull up on. If they pull themselves up only to pull a chair down on top of themselves, it may frighten them and prevent them from trying again.
The same idea of safety applies for corners or ledges your baby can bump into. Protect baby’s head by padding areas that could hurt to bump into. To prevent slips and trips, pick up any papers on the floor or slippery magazines. If your baby is wearing socks to keep their feet warm, choose non-slip socks or skid-proof socks.
Babies love to synchronise their movement to music, so play some tunes and let them have a dance. Music makes bouncing lots of fun and bouncing makes for strong leg and core muscles. Take advantage of their energy and dance whenever you can.
Floor time is crucial for development and, the more time your baby has to freely explore their world, the more chance they have to discover height at their own pace and doing.
Babies are easily influenced and learn best from watching others. Arrange lots of playdates with other babies and toddlers and they’ll soon be pushing themselves to keep up. If they see other babies pulling to stand, your baby might start doing it too.
Encouragement is the best motivator, whether you’re a baby or a fully grown adult. Everyone loves to be clapped and applauded, so use this technique to encourage more standing. Be over-the-top with your encouragement so they really get the point that standing is wonderful.
Encouraging your baby to stand is more than just teaching them a new physical milestone. Standing stimulates the brain by providing a change to their environment, so offer mental stimulation too. By seeing things from a different level, they are encouraged to learn.