When you hold that tiny bundle for the first time, you’ll wonder how you’ll ever care for something so impossibly small and fragile. You’re sure baby will break if you’re not careful. But trust us—despite how fragile your infant seems, within the first few weeks baby’s already working on key muscles s/he’ll need in order to meet one of life’s first milestones—baby head control. But when do babies hold their heads up? And what you can do to help baby achieve this point of development?
When Do Babies Hold Their Heads Up?
By the end of baby’s first month of life, your child may be able to lift his or her head slightly when placed on their tummy. By 2 months old, baby head control increases, and baby can hold his or her head at a 45-degree angle. At 3 months, you’ll see those adorable mini push-ups as baby rises to a 90-degree angle in preparation for crawling. And by 6 months old, you should see your child have complete control of their head.
Baby Head Control Milestones by Month
Of course, every baby develops at a different pace, so these guidelines are just that: guidelines. But in general, if you’re wondering when do babies hold their heads up, here’s what you can expect month by month:
0 – 1 month: In the first month of life, infants are unable to hold their heads up at all. They need to be cradled and have some sort of neck support for feeding, burping and while being held. Despite this, it is recommended that you start doing “ tummy time” for your infant as early as 2weeks old. The American Academy of Pediatrics says “doing this regularly will help strengthen the muscles in [baby’s] neck.” At this age, it’s perfectly acceptable to lay baby facedown on your stomach or chest rather than putting baby down on the floor. Doing this is a double win—bonding with baby and tummy time!
1 – 2 months: After the first month, muscles begin to develop that will allow baby to lift his or her head to about a 45-degree angle when placed on his or her tummy. At this point, baby should be able to turn his or her head. If you haven’t tried tummy time with your child yet, this is a great time to start as, at this age, babies can begin to appreciate brightly colored (or black and white) patterns like those on an activity mat. Here are some activities you can do with baby to help build muscle strength in the neck, shoulders and upper arms:
- During tummy time, cross baby’s arms (the way you would fold your arms on a desk) and gently prop baby’s chin on them. This position naturally lends itself to practicing baby head control in your 1–2 month old.
- Lay baby tummy-down on an activity mat and get on the floor next to your infant. Notice how baby lifts head and turns toward the sound of your voice when you talk to baby or share toys. Do this for two- to three-minute intervals and gradually increase the amount of time each week.
- Try using an exercise ball as a variation on tummy time. Lay baby across an exercise ball and slowly roll it back and forth (while keeping a hand on baby at all times, of course). Baby will enjoy the gentle motion, and it may even help with newborn gas pains too.
3 – 4 months: Baby is transitioning out of that sweet newborn phase now and is gearing up for some serious movement over the next several months. Baby’s probably able to lift his or her head to about a 90-degree angle and may even be lifting his or her whole chest off the ground. At this age, your tiny bodybuilder is gearing up for—you guessed it—crawling! So if you haven’t baby-proofed yet, you’ll soon need to. If baby’s not yet doing this, that’s perfectly normal too, and rest assured that it’ll come very soon. However, if you’d like to help baby along, here are some things to try:
- Lay baby on his or her back and gently pull baby up by the hands, hold for a second or two and lower baby to the ground. It’s normal for there to be some “lag” in baby’s head at this age, so go slowly. These baby “sit-ups” are an excellent way to build baby’s neck muscles.
- Sit baby upright in the middle of a Boppy pillow to provide some support and a safe landing spot should s/he fall backward. Always supervise this position.
- Sit baby upright in your lap as you play and read together. Holding baby facing outward or laid over your forearm can also help develop strong neck muscles.
5+ months: Although the answer to when do babies hold their heads up can vary widely among children, by about 5 or 6 months old, baby head control should be mostly established. Baby should be able to keep his head aligned or even crane his neck forward as you practice the baby pull-ups, and many babies are able to maintain a fully upright seated position at this age as well. Aside from pull-ups, try the following exercises with baby to continue developing the critical neck muscles that your infant will need to meet upcoming milestones.
- By this age, babies are becoming much more engaged with their surroundings. Lay baby tummy-down and put a toy that lights up or makes noise just out of reach. When baby lifts his or her head to investigate, slowly lift the toy off the ground, which in turn will encourage baby to lift his or her head even higher.
- Sit baby upright as much as possible during awake time, either on your lap or in a Boppy pillow. Talking, reading and singing to baby are great ways to get baby engaged with the surroundings, making it more likely that baby will want to lift his or her head and get involved.
- At this age, hold baby upright against your shoulder when carrying, which will naturally encourage baby to hold his or her head up.
- If you’re concerned about baby head control at this stage, don’t hesitate to consult your pediatrician. Your doctor can give additional exercises to perform with baby.