When you have a new baby, each and every milestone is exciting. From your very first nursing and skin-to-skin session, to her first bath, to the first time he sits up on his own — it’s all noteworthy and beautiful. One milestone that doesn’t get nearly as much attention though, is your baby’s developing head control. If you find yourself frantically Google-ing “when do babies hold head up?” hoping to find some answers, don’t stress. Most babies have their own slightly different timeline for developing head control, and that’s totally ok.
Obviously, babies are unable to hold their own head up after birth, but when can babies hold their head up on their own? It might happen a lot sooner than you expect.
When do babies hold head up?
At birth, your baby’s neck muscles are fairly weak. She’ll develop her motor skills and muscles little by little. By one month old, she should be able to hold her head up unassisted. In some cases, baby head control develops even quicker. Some mothers notice their babies holding their heads up for brief periods of time at only a few weeks old. However, until they’re able to do so for longer periods, be sure to always offer extra support for their neck and head.
How do babies learn head control?
Newborn head control, like all motor skills, is learned slowly. Babies learn to use their neck muscles by practicing, just like learning to crawl and walk — though head control happens much quicker than the other milestones. (So, the whole issue of “when do babies hold head up” can vary greatly!)
There are different stages of head control that your baby will gradually master as they get older. Tummy time is the primary way that babies develop this muscle, so be sure to place them on their tummy for at least 10 minutes a day. Here’s a quick run down of what you can expect during your baby’s first six months:
- 1-2 months: Your baby should be able to move their head from side-to-side, looking around while lying on his stomach. By 6-8 weeks, your baby will probably begin to raise his head off of the floor when lying on their back. When you carry your baby at this age, he may be able to hold his head up for short intervals, however be sure to support it just in case. If you use a baby carrier or sling, be sure his head is supported. Your baby will be strong enough to hold his head up in the car seat and swing as well.
- 3-4 months: Baby will be able to move her head easily from side-to-side during tummy time and when sitting with support.
- 5-6 months: By six months, your baby will be a pro at holding his head up. He’ll probably be able to sit without assistance, holding his head up while he’s at it.
What can I do to help?
Although muscle development just takes time, there are a few ways you can help your baby strengthen their neck muscles and develop strong head control.
First and foremost, it’s essential to be careful with your baby’s neck until she develops head control. Be sure to always support her head when you (or anyone else) hold her. Similarly, never place him in a carseat, stroller, swing, or bouncer without the proper head and neck support until he’s ready to use it without assistance.
Baby wearing has also been shown to encourage babies to hold their head up on their own — just be sure to do it safely and to support your baby’s head until he’s ready. (Source).
Practicing tummy time several times a day (for at least 3 to 5 minutes at a time) will help your baby gain the head control she needs. Be sure to do enough of it, even if your baby doesn’t enjoy it! (And by the way, most babies don’t, as we’ll discuss shortly).
Practice Other Exercises
By about 3 or 4 months, you can pull your baby into a sitting position, letting her keep her head in line with her body. This is a great exercise that lets her have gradual control over her neck and head.
Let Them Observe — Safely
Propping your baby up to sit with pillows or blankets is fine, as long as you ensure that he’s not sitting too straight up or in danger of rolling anywhere. As always, be sure his head is properly supported.
If You’re A Runner…
Wait to take your baby in a jogging stroller until she’s mastered head control — jogging can be hard on baby’s neck otherwise.
What if baby doesn’t want to hold her head up?
It’s common for babies to dislike tummy time, especially if she is colic or has acid reflux. However, it’s crucial for helping your baby hold her head up and keeping her from developing a flat head from lying on her back too often. (Source.)
Try tummy time when your baby is most alert, has a clean diaper, and isn’t hungry, but isn’t too full either. Putting a toy directly in front of her to reach for or look at can give her some incentive to practice as well.
You can use items like a bobby pillow, a tummy time pillow, or a small blanket rolled up under her chest to give her some added support.
If your baby has reflux, encourage tummy time before feedings, since the time after feedings is usually the worst for reflux babies. If your baby is colic, try tummy time in the earlier part of day (avoid the witching hour!) and after he has napped.)
Don’t stress if your baby is especially resistant to tummy time. It’s normal, especially in the first few months. Be patient and work with your child for short periods everyday until he/she is more comfortable. Eventually, tummy play will become one of his favorite things, and even lead to crawling.
Head lag: A rare situation
In rare cases, babies can develop head lag, which is simply underdeveloped neck muscles. Head lag can be due to low birth weight, low gestational age, or other cerebral injuries. (Source). Head lag can lead to postural difficulties and make it hard for your baby to support herself. If by the time your baby is four months old, you notice that she’s having a hard time keeping her head in line with her body during the “pull to sit” exercise discussed before, be sure to schedule a check up to make sure her muscles are developing properly.
Problems with head control are very rare though, so as long as you practice with your baby and keep an eye on their progress, your little one will be holding their head up in no time.
Other natural mama’s experience with baby head control:
Here are a few responses from real life mamas from our Facebook page:
- Immediately after birth for all 3 of mine. I picked them up, put them on my chest and the lifted their heads and looked straight at me They were steady by 3ish weeks. They crawled at 5.5, 4.5, and 5 months respectively. — Naomi K.
- My son did it as soon as they put him on my chest after he was born. The nurses and my midwife were impressed. After that he would poke it up to look around and then lay back down and look at me, or fall asleep. — Elizabeth D.
- He could lift his head up as soon as he was place on my chest after birth! I’d say it was around 8 weeks old that he started to have full control though and not so bobble headed anymore. — Tori D.
- Around 4 months and a week! We had a friend over with a 6-month-old baby holding his head high and proud. I commented that our girl couldn’t do that yet. Next day – boom! Lol — Alycia B.
- 2.5 months during tummy time. He was so fascinated with watching his sister. He skipped the crawling stage and was walking at 8 months. — Jelisse A
- My daughter was 3.5 months and by 5 months she was crawling. She took her first steps on her 10 month mark and by her first birthday we couldn’t keep up with her running around! — Ashely S.
- My daughter was lifting her head to look up at my husband whilst lying on his chest from just a couple of days old! — Abbie T.
- 4 months. Still remember it as it was yesterday. — Jessica M.
How about you?
In your experience, when do babies hold head up? How old was your baby start to hold up his/her head? Was it consistent with the timeline your doctors gave you or did baby seem to have his/her own ideas?