Published in the journal Developmental Psychology, the joint study, conducted by researchers from North Dakota State University and Texas A&M, set up a series of experiments in which 5-1/2- and 6-1/2-month-old babies looked at, touched, and mouthed a variety of tot-friendly objects.
What can sitting up do that lying down can't? The results showed that babies who were sitting up had an easier time reaching for, grasping, manipulating and inspecting objects—some of the most basic ways young children learn about touch, shape, and texture.
Two of the experiments involved babies who sat unassisted, but one looked at babies who needed support to sit up (i.e. from a blanket or nursing pillow). The good news? Even when babies needed assistance, the benefits of sitting up were still detected.
What seems to be going on, speculate researchers, is that sitting up frees babies to put their attention less on themselves and more on their environment. "If babies don't have to focus on balancing, their attention can be on exploring the object," says study co-author Rebecca J. Woods, assistant professor of human development and family science and doctoral psychology lecturer at North Dakota State University, in a university press release.
Babies typically reach the milestone of sitting up unassisted at around six months. At this age, babies are growing stronger by the day and are naturally more curious. They begin to detect more patterns, understand more words, and begin to realize there is a whole wide world out there ready to explore.
"I can definitely see this," says Heather Simpson, a Colorado mom whose 7-month-old began sitting up unassisted a few weeks ago. "We now call her 'Little Miss Grabby' because every time I turn around, she has something different in her hands. She has a pretty long reach when she bends over and then just pops right back up to sitting. It's cute to watch, and I can definitely see that she has become more and more interested in what's beyond the little play mat she's spent the last six months on."
Curiosity and learning are two wonderful traits to observe in your growing little one. But play it safe, mama! Now that your baby's grasp is improving and her confidence and strength are growing, take time to do a safety sweep wherever your baby plops down. Make sure any objects that could be choking hazards—or dangerous to your baby in other ways—are out of reach, or even better, out of sight!