When Can Babies Hold Their Head Up? And How Can We Help?

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 11/09/21 •  9 min read

When you hold that teeny tiny baby for the first time, you wonder how you’ll ever care for something so small and fragile. 

After all… their hands are so impossibly tiny and it feels like their big wobbly head is only held on by a piece of string!

You’re sure baby will break if you’re not careful.

So, you’re careful with every pick up, put down, change in position and twist to ensure baby is supported at all times…

But soon enough, baby will surprise you with how much they have grown and how much they can do!

The first big milestone will be learning how to hold up that big wobbly head of theirs!

So keep reading to answer the question “when can babies hold their head up?”, learn what you can do to help your child develop full head control through play and learn how to properly support your infant’s head in the meantime!

When Can Babies Hold Their Head Up?

A crucial gross motor milestone, lifting their head is one of baby’s first steps on their developmental journey! 

In fact, your baby’s ability to hold their head up is the very first sign that they will be moving towards their ability to crawl and sit!

So when can babies hold their head up then?

Well, towards the end of your baby’s first month, your baby may show signs of lifting their head ever so slightly when on their tummy…

And by 2 months most babies will be able to hold their head at a 45-degree angle whilst on their tummy.

But…

By 3-4 months is when the magic happens.

It is now that baby will regularly be pushing themselves up onto their elbows and holding their head at a 90-degree angle!

Bear in mind that some babies will still need a bit of support around their head when moving from different positions…

This is because their neck and upper body muscles are not quite developed enough to fully hold their head up independently all the time just yet. 

So when can babies hold their head up independently, all the time?

When Can Babies Hold Their Head Up On Their Own?

By 6 months of age, your baby should have full control of their neck and upper body muscles and be able to hold their head up independently.

when can babies hold their head up featured image

What If Baby Can’t Hold Their Head Up Yet?

Of course, as always babies are individuals and the above “when can babies hold their head up?” development schedule is only a guideline. 

However, all babies will follow the same stages of development… but they’ll just do it in their own time.

Most babies will be holding their head up more steadily by 3 months of age. But, if your little one appears not to be gaining more control of their head and neck by 4 months you should seek medical advice.

In What Order Will Baby Develop Head Control?

Your baby’s ability to hold their head up independently will follow a specific order in their physical developmental journey.

Being able to have head control will be vital as they work towards other physical milestones such as crawling and sitting.

Your baby’s head control development will go through certain stages as follows:

In What Order Will Baby Develop Head Control

Newborn Head Control

Newborn babies have little to no head control. 

Their neck and upper body muscles are not yet developed enough to hold their head unsupported, so you will need to take care in supporting their head for them all the time.

1-2 Months Old Head Control

By one month of age, most babies will be showing signs of growing strength in their neck muscles and they will be able to hold their head up slightly when on their tummy.

By two months of age, babies will be able to hold their head up for slightly longer periods at a 45-degree angle.

However, you will still need to take care and support their head when they are in an upright position!

3-4 Months Head Control

When your baby reaches the 3-4 month stage, they should be able to hold their head up at a 90-degree angle… especially when on their tummy and learning to push up onto their arms. 

They may also be able to hold their head steady for short periods of time in an upright position too at this age… 

Now is also the ideal time to start encouraging your baby to learn to sit too.

5-6 Months Head Control

The previous months of slowly building up their neck and upper body muscles to support their head will now start to pay off as your baby moves towards sitting.

By this stage, your baby will be able to hold their head up with very little effort and turn their head from side to side and up and down with ease.

How Can We Help Baby Learn To Hold Their Head Up?

In order for your baby to develop strong neck and upper body muscles to support their head they will need some help from you!

You can help your baby learn to hold their head up by providing age-appropriate play opportunities and activities to strengthen these all-important muscles!

9 Ways To Help Baby Learn To Hold Their Head Up

1. Have Tummy Time

We all know how important tummy time is for babies and for no greater reason than to ensure your little one can start to strengthen those all-important neck and upper body muscles in readiness for sitting and crawling. 

Making sure your baby has regular tummy time in the early weeks and months is one of the best ways to help your baby learn to hold their heads up.

If your little one is struggling with tummy time, read my post Baby Hates Tummy Time to learn how to handle this tricky situation and find suitable alternatives!

2. Use Tummy Time Books And Mirrors

Making tummy time engaging is very important in ensuring your baby gets the most out of tummy time. 

Using a tummy time book and or mirror is a great way to encourage your baby to look forwards and upwards and in so doing start lifting their head independently.

3. Invest In An Activity Mat

An activity play mat encourages your baby to reach forwards and sideways which strengthens the upper body muscles that are necessary to support their head.

4. Start Propping

You can start propping your baby up during tummy time to encourage them to lift their upper body and head. 

By 4 months old, they will probably be able to push themselves with their arms rather than needing a prop.

5. Encourage Your Baby To Face The World

Once your baby has some head control you can help them hold their heads up for longer periods by sitting them on your lap facing outwards and leaning back on you. 

This allows your baby to get a good look at the world and practise holding their head up in a supported sitting position.

6. Place Toys Just Out Of Reach

Another great way to help your baby to hold their head up is to place toys just out of their reach when they are having tummy time. 

Reaching for toys is fantastic for strengthening the upper body and neck muscles.

7. Make A Toy Gym

Toy gyms are also good for strengthening the upper body. 

Place your baby under a play gym and let them bat away and reach for the dangling toys.

8. Have Face To Face Tummy Time

A fun way to help your baby learn to lift their head up is lay them face down on your tummy and then have a face to face chat. 

Your baby will have to lift their head to look at you and there’s nothing they love more than to engage in some one-on-one time with you!

9. Practise Sitting Exercises

Once your baby has some basic head control you can start doing some pulling to sit exercises such as the one shown in this video:

How To Hold Baby’s Head In The Meantime?

While your baby is learning to hold their head up independently, there are ways that you can help support their head in the meantime. 

This involves holding them in certain positions that can help build their muscle control too:

1. Cradle Their Head

When your baby is first born you will need to cradle their head when you are holding them as they will not be able to support their heads unaided. 

When you pick up your baby, slide a hand underneath your baby’s shoulder blade, supporting the neck and head while you place the other hand under their bottom. 

Do this in reverse when you put your baby down ensuring their head does not flop backwards.

2. Hold Them Upright

When you hold your baby over your shoulder keep a loose hold on their neck and head to stop any wobbling. 

As they get older, your baby may start to hold their head up while in this position for short periods of time but always have your hand ready for support.

3. Face Baby Outwards

Sitting your baby facing outwards with you as a support behind them is a great way to ensure your baby has plenty of back, neck and head support while safely allowing them to practice holding their head up.

4. Choose Strollers, Bouncers And Car Seats Carefully

When putting your young baby in any item where they have to be placed in a sitting position… 

Make sure that your baby has age-appropriate head support, that they are reclined adequately and that their head is well supported and does not flop forward.

When Can Babies Hold Their Head Up Recap

Your baby learning to hold their head up is a long and slow process that follows a sequence of developmental milestones.

And knowing when can babies hold their head up is only the first part of this journey!

Always remember that it is important that your baby’s head is well supported until you are sure that they have the adequate muscle control to start to do this for themselves. 

From tummy time to those final stages of learning to sit with their head held high, your baby has a lot to learn!

Offer baby plenty of age-appropriate activities to allow them to develop their neck and upper body muscles and as they grow, give them lots of opportunity to practice learning to hold their head up alone too!

Soon they will be well onto sitting, crawling and so much more!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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