After only getting brief glimpses into your baby’s development in the womb (thanks to ultrasounds), it’s exciting for new parents to be able to watch their little one grow and change right before their eyes once their little one is born. On the one hand, while looking at your baby when they’re brand new, it can be hard to see how they could ever possibly become a fully grown human and not stay a baby forever. But on the other hand, you witness how quickly these little creatures morph into increasingly advanced versions of themselves. You can’t help but marvel at their progress (which you convince yourself is early for their age, thereby concluding that your baby is basically a genius). You also can’t help Googling when the major baby milestones occur, like, “When do babies hold their head up?”
Hey, it’s understandable. One of the earliest significant moments in a baby’s development is when they master holding up their own head. It usually starts with some minor head-lifting during tummy time and then progresses to the point when they’re able to do it on their own, without your (physical) support. So when should you start preparing yourself for your baby to become more physically independent? Here’s what to know about when babies hold their head up, and why — whether they’re early or late to the head-supporting game — they’re (more than likely) just fine.
How can you tell if a baby can hold their head up?
Like everything else involving babies, learning how to hold their head up is a process that takes place in small, incremental steps over the first few months of their life. And as with other aspects of their development, not all babies progress at the same speed. If, at any point, you become concerned that your baby isn’t holding their head up as early as they “should,” you can always check with your pediatrician. They’ll be able to let you know if there’s something to keep an eye on, such as signs of a flat head baby.
But we know you came here looking for specific milestones involving numbers, so here’s a general guide as to when babies typically start holding their heads up, courtesy of Healthline:
- One month: Lifting their head slightly and briefly during tummy time.
- Between one to three months: More frequent head-lifting, sometimes while lifting their chest partly off the floor.
- Six months: Able to hold their head up with minimal effort, as well as easily move their head up and down and from side to side.
Is it normal for a newborn to hold their head up?
While some newborns come into this world with stronger necks than others, they all need head and neck support — especially for the first few months of their life. But what if your little one holds their head up for a few seconds when they’re only 2 or 3 weeks old? Was your sleep-deprived brain causing you to see things?
Not necessarily. According to Verywell Family, newborns as young as two weeks old can (in some cases) hold their little heads up for very brief periods. If that happens, there’s nothing wrong with your baby. On the other hand, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re incredibly advanced and will fully support their head earlier than other babies. Remember that babies are weird little creatures that can sometimes do the unexpected.
At what age should you start encouraging this behavior?
The first few times you see your baby hold up their head (even just for a few seconds), there’s a good chance that it’ll be during tummy time — which makes sense given the position. So at what age should you start this focused type of activity with your new baby? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), that would be the day that they come home from the hospital. But it’s not a situation where you can set them down and then walk away to throw in a load of laundry: In the beginning, tummy time is brief and interactive.
Specifically, the AAP recommends that newborns do two or three rounds of tummy time each day, but only for periods of three to five minutes at a time. And while the baby is on their stomach, someone (a caregiver, ideally) should play and interact with them. You can gradually increase the amount of time the baby’s on their tummy once it gets to the point where it appears as though they’re enjoying themselves.
Because newborns are notoriously moody, the AAP suggests doing tummy time right after a diaper change or when the baby wakes up from a nap to eliminate at least some of the things that could make them upset. Ultimately, the goal of tummy time is to prepare your baby for the point when they’re able to slide onto their bellies and crawl around — an activity that involves holding their head up.
Baby Neck Strengthening Exercises
A strong neck is key to a baby’s development and lifting their heads. Here are a few exercises that build neck muscles and will prepare them for the next step.
Reverse cradle: Instead of holding your baby so that you’re face to face, hold them so that they’re facing away from you or the ground. This will give the baby a new perspective which will inspire them to raise their heads and look around.
Use Noisy toys: We don’t love the loud and high-pitched toys our children have, but they can come in handy during neck strengthening exercises. Place your baby on the floor and put the toys around them. Turn each one on and watch them turn their heads to figure out which side the noise is coming from.
Prop your baby up: Using a blanket, roll it up and place it under baby’s chest. Make sure their arms are over the roll. Feel free to use a pillow for this exercise too. This neck strengthening workout forces baby to keep their head up. The slight elevation also allows them to see way more than the floor.
Baby sit-ups: Only do this exercise if your child can lift their head on their own. This exercise is a combination of baby crunches and a neck strengthening workout. Place baby on their back or on the floor or bed. Then hold both of the baby’s hands or wrists and pull them up gently. Again, only do this if baby already uses their neck muscles and can hold their heads up by themselves.
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