When Do Babies Hold Their Heads Up?

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.

Baby laying on tummy, sucking his fist
Photo: Shutterstock

When your baby is first born, they’ll have very weak neck muscles. But soon they'll gain enough strength to hold up their head on their own. Babies start to hold their heads up by 2 months old, with most mastering the skill by 4 months old. 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 their head. As they grow, though, the neck muscles will quickly get stronger. By 2 months, you may notice them briefly popping their head up during tummy time, even if only for a few wobbly seconds. They might also be able to turn their head at a 45-degree angle. (If they detest tummy time at first, keep trying—it’s an important way to build neck muscles and upper body strength, and it also introduces them to the concept of head control.)

By 3 months, your baby should raise their 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 them.

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

So when can 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 to 6 months. By this point, they should maintain proper alignment in their head, turn their 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 their 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 their tummy until you reach a total of 20 minutes per session.

Does your baby hate tummy time? Keep at it! Try propping them 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 them, place colorful toys just out of reach, or use a patterned play mat. Always supervise your baby during tummy time, and make sure they're on a low, flat surface (the bed, couch, and changing table are off limits!).

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

Practice mini sit-ups. With your baby on their back, grab their hands and gently pull them upwards. They’ll lift their 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 their fall if they lose their balance!

When Can You Stop Supporting a Baby's Head?

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

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

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