When babies learn to crawl, they stop and sit so their hands are free to play with a toy. One common pattern of sitting that emerges in infancy is the W-sit. The name of this position comes from the idea that if you take a photo from above, the shape of the legs looks like the letter “W.” Look at the top photo of baby Sayid in the W-sit position. His hands are free to play with toys while he sits. However, Sayid’s mother knew that the W-sit position was not the best for him, so she requested a virtual lesson with Stellar Caterpillar. After one virtual lesson and some daily guidance from his mother, Sayid learned to prefer other sitting positions such as the long sitting position which is seen in the bottom photo where he sits with his legs extended out in front of him. Let’s explore why other sitting positions are preferable for the motor skill development of a baby.
WHY DO BABIES W-SIT?
When crawling or walking, babies often just plop down into the W-sit. It is a quick movement and requires less coordination of the bones and muscles, so it is easier to do than the side sit, butterfly sit, or long sit. Sitting in this position very quickly accomplishes their goal of sitting down and freeing their arms and hands to play with toys or eat a snack. Quite simply, babies W-sit because they get what they want quickly! As they learn other patterns of sitting, baby’s body recognizes the benefits and begins to prefer the other, and developmentally beneficial, sitting positions. These include tailor sit, butterfly sit, Z-sit, and long sit. Slowly they drop the pattern of W-sit.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE W-SIT?
Babies are limited in their mobility as they W-sit. Their lower legs and pelvis are fixed in a way that is not easily moveable and they are not able to shift their weight from side to side or twist/rotate their torso. They play with toys on their right side with their right hand and toys on their left side with their left hand. This does not develop the skill of mid-line crossing (reaching across the body) and does not encourage the development of hand dominance (preferring the use of right hand or left hand). The internal rotation of the hips tightens the hips muscles and actually makes it more difficult to sit in the other positions as time goes on. This leads to the W-sit becoming a habit. Over time if the child continues to W-sit as she grows it may lead to orthopedic problems such as hip dislocation or knee pain.
HOW CAN A PARENT PREVENT BABY FROM W-SITTING?
The key to avoiding the W-sit is to guide baby to learn other choices for sitting. Baby will feel the advantages in these other positions and choose them over the W-sit. Some babies will learn the other sitting positions right away, the first time you show them. Other babies will require much repetition until they finally find them on their own. And a few babies will need even more repetition to find the position. What is important to remember is that baby will learn to choose other ways of sitting and will enjoy them very much as they discover improved mobility. They can grab toys all around them in these other positions due to the ability to rotate their torso and reach across their mid-line.
Observe baby Sayid in the above photos. In the top photo (in the view taken from above his head), he is in the W-sit and can turn only his head to the side. His torso is fixed in position. In the bottom photo of Sayid in the long sitting position, he is able to turn his torso toward the camera to smile and to reach toward his mother. The more he sits in this new position, the more he will discover he can turn his torso and reach to the side. His movement will develop with more skill. By teaching baby alternate ways of sitting that offer her more mobility, baby will develop motor skills with more strength, balance, and coordination. This will enhance more advanced motor skill development such as walking, running, climbing, dancing, and more.