When Can Babies Hold Their Head Up?

Your baby’s journey from a seemingly fragile newborn to an independent toddler is full of magical moments as your child reaches one important milestone after another. One of these is when your baby can hold his or her head up without your support. Find out when babies start to hold their head up. Learn what you can do to help your child develop head control and why it’s important for you to support your infant’s head in the meantime.

When Do Babies Start to Hold Their Head Up?

Sometime around 4 months old, you’ll likely see your baby holding his or her head up for a relatively long time and looking around while lying in a tummy-down position. This is a major milestone! Your tiny explorer now has a full, almost 360-degree view of the world. Keep in mind that every baby is unique and develops at a different rate. Your baby may achieve this new ‘superpower’ a little earlier or later than this.

In Summary

Your baby may start holding his or her head up for sustained periods at around 4 months old, although your baby may also reach this milestone a little earlier or later.


How Can You Help Your Baby Develop Head Control?

To help strengthen the neck and back muscles needed for head support, give your baby tummy time every day. Tummy time involves laying your baby tummy down two to three times a day for short periods with your close supervision. You can even dangle toys in front of your baby to encourage your little one to look up and engage those muscles. The strength gained during tummy time helps your baby build the upper body strength needed to support his or her own head – and later to sit up and start crawling. All these are steps on the road to your child’s first tottering steps. So, it’s no wonder that holding the head up is considered such an important milestone for your baby!

What Age Can You Start Tummy Time?

It’s never too early to start tummy time. In fact, the sooner the better – you can start letting your newborn baby have time on his or her tummy from day one. It’s best to start with more frequent, short spells of tummy time lasting only 20 to 30 seconds. Once your baby gets used to being in the tummy-down position you can gradually increase the duration of tummy time sessions. Your midwife or health visitor can help if you’re not sure how to give your baby tummy time.

In Summary

Daily tummy time is a great way to help your baby build up the muscle strength needed to support his or her own head.

How Do You Support Your Baby’s Head in the Meantime?

For the first few months you’ll need to carry your little one carefully to prevent his or her head from flopping around. Your baby’s head must always be supported. It can take a little time and practice to get used to this, but it will soon become second nature. You can even vary your grip to give your baby a different view of the world from time to time.

Try some of these different ways of holding your newborn:

  • Cradled in the crook of your arm. Support your baby’s head in the crook of your arm, with your forearm under your infant’s back and your hand under the bottom or thigh. This hold feels very safe and secure for your baby and is great for making eye contact, smiling and talking to your little sweetheart.

  • Resting on your forearm. Your baby might find it comforting to lie tummy-down – sloth-like – on your forearm, with a cheek resting in the crook of your arm. Your hand of the same arm will naturally support your baby between the legs. For extra security, partially encircle your baby’s uppermost thigh with your thumb and forefinger.

  • Upright, looking over your shoulder. With one arm cradling your baby’s bottom and another held up for additional back and head support, your baby will get a great view of what’s going on behind you. This is also a great natural position for burping your baby.

  • Upright, facing forwards. With one arm around your baby’s tummy, hold your little one to your chest with his or her back against your upper body. Make sure your infant is tilted back slightly so the head is supported on your chest with a little side support from the shoulder or upper arm if needed.

  • In a sling or carrier. This is a great solution for keeping your baby close while leaving your hands free to get things done. Make sure the carrying device is designed for your baby’s age and is properly set up to provide adequate head support. Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before using the sling or carrier.

Here are some dos and don’ts for carrying your young baby:

  • Do support your baby’s head and back at all times

  • Don’t pick your baby up suddenly

  • Don’t hold your baby at arm’s length – this makes your infant feel insecure

  • Never shake your baby, not even as part of a game.

In Summary

Whenever you hold your baby, it’s important to support his or her back and head. Avoid sudden movements that could cause your baby’s head to flop from side to side or front to back.

When Can You Stop Supporting Your Baby’s Head?

By around 4 months old or so, your baby will likely be able to hold up his or her head and chest while leaning on the elbows for support. As your child gets more head control, you won’t have to support your baby’s head as much as you did before. Even so, it’s important to watch out for sudden or forceful movements when carrying your baby. Carry your infant carefully and have a hand ready to give a little extra support when needed.

What if Your Baby Can’t Hold His or Her Head Up Yet?

It’s natural for some babies to develop a little earlier or later than others, as each baby is unique. However, if you think your baby isn’t close to mastering head and neck control at around 4 months old, check in with your health visitor or doctor just to be on the safe side. Try not to worry unnecessarily, though. Your health visitor will be tracking your child’s development and is there to give you reassurance and advice or recommend the right treatment options where necessary.

The Bottom Line

Each new development milestone your baby reaches will fill you with pride and joy. And this is just one of many you have to look forward to – your baby is only just getting started, and it’s going to be quite an adventure!

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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