You know you need to support your little one’s head during the first few weeks of life. But when do babies start holding their heads up, and how can you help build neck muscle strength? Keep reading to learn about this important developmental milestone.

By Nicole Harris
Updated June 12, 2020
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When your baby is first born, she’ll have very weak neck muscles. But soon she'll gain enough strength to hold up her head by herself. Keep reading to learn how long a baby's head needs to be supported, with tips for developing strong head control. 

When Do Babies Start Holding Their Heads Up?

At first, your baby's neck is far too weak to support her head. As she grows, though, the neck muscles will quickly get stronger. By 2 months, you may notice her briefly popping her head up during tummy time, even if only for a few wobbly seconds. She might also be able to turn her head at a 45-degree angle. (If she detests tummy time at first, keep trying—it’s an important way to build neck muscles and upper body strength, and it also introduces her to the concept of head control.)

By 3 months, your baby should raise her head 90 degrees—and do mini push-ups—during tummy time. Despite these improvements, though, you'll still need to hold your baby’s head when you cradle, feed, and play with her

Around 4 months, most babies won't need as much head support. At this point, she'll likely be able to raise her head even while lying on her back and prop herself up on her elbows (like a mini cobra) during tummy time. She’s building muscles while preparing for another major milestone: learning to crawl!

So when do babies hold their heads up by themselves? Every baby reaches milestones at different times, but your child will probably gain full head control around 5 or 6 months. By this point, she should maintain proper alignment in her head, turn her noggin in different directions, and maybe even sit upright

Building Baby Head Control

Your baby’s neck muscles will build gradually, but you can take some steps to help build head control. 

Engage in tummy time. Placing your baby on his stomach is the best way to build muscles in the neck and upper body. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends starting during the newborn phase; simply position your baby belly-down on your lap or chest for a few minutes, two to three times per day. Gradually increase the time your baby spends on his tummy until you reach a total of 20 minutes per session.

Does your baby hate tummy time? Keep at it! Try propping him up with a blanket for extra padding, and make the experience more fun with visual stimulation. For example, lie down with your baby while playfully talking to her, place colorful toys just out of reach, or use a patterned play mat. Always supervise your baby during tummy time, and make sure she’s on a low, flat surface (the bed, couch, and changing table are off limits!) 

Let her reach. Place your baby on her back underneath something dangly (like a mobile). She might try to reach for it, which strengthens the muscles in the upper body.

Practice mini sit-ups. With your baby on her back, grab her hands and gently pull them upwards. She’ll lift her upper body and build valuable strength. 

Try a Boppy pillow. Let your little one sit in a Boppy pillow; it will provide upper body support and cushion her fall if she loses her balance!

When Can You Stop Supporting a Baby's Head?

During the newborn phase, you must support your baby's head whenever he’s not lying down. Slide your palm behind his head, neck, and upper spine when picking him up. Also check that he’s securely fastened into strollers, car seats, bouncers, and other accessories to prevent head flopping. 

You can stop supporting your baby's head once he gains sufficient neck strength (usually around 3 or 4 months); ask your pediatrician if you’re unsure. By this point, he’s on his way to reaching other important developmental milestones: sitting up by himself, rolling over, cruising, and crawling!

Comments (2)

Anonymous
May 31, 2020
Hey, so what does it mean when a child lifts their head up right after birth. The reason why I am asking is because that happened to me when I was born.
Anonymous
December 2, 2018
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