You may have to reconsider how early you think an infant can stand up, says a new study. With a little practice, 4-month-olds can keep their balance on their own two feet.
The study, appearing in Frontiers in Psychology, overturns many preconceived notions about a child’s standing ability, which typically hews to a timeline of nine to 12 months before an infant can stay upright. It appears those old ideas are now debunked.
“With some training, children can stand much sooner than that, even before they’re 4 months old,” said Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson, who teaches in the Department of Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
“The results are sensational compared to what we normally expect of children at this age,” added Sigmundsson.
For the study, Sigmundsson led a swimming course for a group of 12 babies over three months, during which he encouraged the babies to develop the posture and strength they needed to stand on their own.
After three months of swimming and training, 11 of the 12 babies were able to hold a standing pose for at least 15 seconds, which the researchers used as a benchmark. The twelfth baby was no slouch, either, with a standing time of eight seconds.
“On average, the children were 4.3 months old when they learned to stand without support. The youngest was only 3.6 months old,” said Sigmundsson, who added that once the babies learn how to stand, they don’t forget how to do it.
“Children can do more than we think,” he added.
The researchers admit that standing is no easy feat for children.
“Adopting a bipedal posture is a difficult milestone to reach,” write the study authors. Yet the study shows that exercise, training and a little help from their elders can help children achieve physical milestones at a far faster pace than most people think.
Sigmundsson and his co-authors call the adult-led intervention “direction-specific postural adjustment,” which they believe can help augment a baby’s development.
“The data suggest that 3- to 5-month-old infants are capable of demonstrating signs of motor learning in task-specific standing,” write the study authors. They add that “the gradual learning of efficient movement to achieve a given task depends on experience and self-produced trials-and-errors.”
The more training the babies had, the more likely they were to achieve a standing posture. Just one child was able to stand during the first swimming session, but by the sixth week about half of the children could stand.
The researchers call the results “remarkable when compared to the expected age required for other forms of independent standing” and believe that child development specialists should pursue additional work in this field.
“The presented findings should encourage further in-depth studies into the mechanisms behind development of postural strategies in very young and putative non-standing infants,” they add.
The more rapid physical development among young children corresponds to greater mental growth when children receive stimulation, according to previous research from NTNU.
“Children born into cultures where early stimulation is considered important develop earlier than Western children do,” said neuroscientist Audrey van der Meer.
You can find out more about the baby swimming course at the Ungbarnasund Snorra website.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.