When Can Babies Hold Their Head Up?

Newborns are adorable, but they also need what feels like constant care. They’re very vulnerable – after all, they just spent nine months in a warm, cozy, and small space. There are many things for a baby to learn.

One of the major things a newborn needs help with is holding up their head. A baby’s neck muscles need time to grow strong, so it’s important to support your little one’s head and neck while those muscles are developing. 

We understand that everything involving a new baby can be overwhelming, from pregnancy to labor to taking care of a newborn baby. There are a lot of stages in each part, and you want to learn more about how your new baby will grow and what baby milestones they should be reaching.

Even though you love holding your little one, you’re probably wondering when your baby will be able to hold their head up on their own. Having head control and the upper body strength to hold their head up is one of the most fundamental developmental milestones that babies will achieve. 

Every baby will reach this milestone at their own pace with plenty of practice, but there are helpful guidelines that can help you make sure your little one is healthy and learning on their own.

When Should My Baby Be Able to Hold Their Head Up?

Just like any muscles, your baby’s head, neck, back, and shoulder muscles need time to stretch out and strengthen. Generally, a baby should be able to hold their head up by the time they’re four months old.

This doesn’t mean they can sit up on their own. However, if you support them in a seated position or place them on their stomach, your baby should be able to keep their head in an upright position and look around on their own. They have enough neck support thanks to developed muscles.

This doesn’t happen overnight, though. Your baby needs to “work out” a little bit, gradually learning how to hold their head up without your support.

Why Do I Need to Support My Baby’s Head?

When your baby is first born, their muscles are weak – in the medical field, this is called head lag. Even though your baby can move around in the womb, kicking and pushing against your tummy, they don’t really have enough of an opportunity to test their strength and exercise.

After they’re born, their heads can flop backward or forwards if unsupported since their muscles are so weak. 

This harms your baby, though. It can cause difficulty breathing or even injury.

By supporting your baby’s head, you are protecting them from harm – but it’s also a good way to bond during your baby’s development. You’ll be keeping your baby close to you, which helps strengthen the bond between parent and child. 

It’s a Process

Once your little one is a few weeks or even a few days old, you might notice your little one trying to figure out their surroundings and, occasionally, trying to hold up their head for a very short period of time. By the end of their first month, their head may bob when they’re held upright.

They can hold their head up, but it doesn’t last long. It’s uncomfortable, and your baby’s head control isn’t developed.

When your baby reaches two months of age, they can lift their heads up for a longer period while they’re doing tummy time. Initially, it will only last for a few seconds, but as your baby’s eyesight develops, they’ll want to look around and practice holding their own head up to achieve their goals.

At this age, babies can lift their heads a little while they’re on their backs. They’ll start to move their head around to see things around them. They can also sit in a reclined sitting position, but they won’t have the neck control to sit up and hold their head up on their own quite yet.

At three months, your baby might be able to do a tiny push-up by holding up their head up and pushing up with their arms. 

Getting to the four-month mark is a process, so you need to remember not to rush things. Your baby’s physical development will take time, and those important motor skills will develop on your baby’s own timeline.

What Other Early Milestones Are There?

Many other early milestones involve your little one’s social development. They may start smiling or following you with their eyes. They might also be able to start intentionally grasping toys or other objects.

Since holding your head up is necessary for other activities, like walking, holding your head up is one of the earliest ones that babies need to achieve. 

Once your baby is able to hold their head up, it won’t be long before they’re reaching other important milestones like their first rollover.

Why Is Head Control Important for Development?

When a baby is able to hold their head centered and look up and around, it means that the necessary muscles are strong enough, and your little one can start to focus more on how to get around.

Your baby needs to learn a lot of things, and it would be much more difficult for them to learn if all they could do was be held or placed in their stroller. In order to sit, crawl, or walk on their own, babies need to be able to control their heads.

Babies also have big heads, so if they don’t have proper support, it can make it difficult to walk or sit up properly.

How Can I Help My Baby Strengthen the Right Muscles?

The best way to help your baby learn to hold their head up is to practice. The best way to practice is to have your little one do a few tummy time sessions. This can help to strengthen your baby’s neck and back.

Tummy time is a short period of time where a baby is placed on a play matfacedown on their belly with supervision. You can start once you and your baby return from the hospital, but you’ll want to ease your baby into it. 

Tummy time on an activity mat allows your little one to look around and strengthen their muscles.

It’s usually recommended that babies should have 30 minutes of tummy time per day, but it shouldn’t be done all in one go. It’s best to start slowly, maybe a few seconds of tummy time here and there throughout the day. 

Gradually, you can let your baby participate in tummy time for a little longer each time, but you shouldn’t exceed a couple of minutes at a time. However, most babies will not like tummy time, even if you limit the amount of time they have to lay on their stomachs.

With practice, your baby should start to become more comfortable with tummy time, especially if you follow some of these tips.

Key Tummy Time Tips

Although we can’t guarantee that these tips will help your baby enjoy tummy time more, here are some things you can try to make the experience more enjoyable:

  • Laying your baby on top of your chest so that they have contact with you while doing tummy time
  • Interacting with your baby
  • Keeping eye contact
  • Talking to them
  • Singing to them
  • Playing with them 
  • Helping them follow toys with their eyes
  • Timing tummy time after a nap, a change, and a snack
  • Open a soft-covered book in front of them so that they have something to look at
  • Make tummy time a habit

You could also have your baby lay down on your lap if having them on your chest is too difficult for you. It’s important to keep an eye on your little one while they’re doing tummy time. 

Not only will your baby find it more enjoyable if you interact with them, but you will also be able to make sure they’re safe.

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When Should I Be Worried?

Babies develop at their own pace. Some babies might be content with where they are in life and don’t want to rush into doing something new. Other babies enjoy testing their limits — and your limits, too.

However, if your baby cannot hold their head up after they reach the four-month mark, you should probably discuss this with your baby’s pediatrician. 

Fortunately, during your baby’s first year, most doctor’s visits fall around the major milestones, so you probably won’t need to schedule an extra visit. Your baby’s doctor will observe your baby during their check-up to make sure they are meeting milestones. 

You should also notify your baby’s doctor if your baby did pick up a new skill but suddenly stopped using it. This can happen for no apparent reason, but it can also occur after an illness or injury. You should also notify your doctor if your baby is unresponsive to sounds or displays a lack of interest in interaction.

Your little one’s doctor can help you determine if your baby has a developmental condition or if something else is happening.

A Foundational Milestone

When your baby starts holding their head up, they’re well on their way to trying to reach the next milestones in their development. They’re growing stronger and more active daily, learning how to interact with their surroundings.

Every parent looks forward to watching their baby reach a new milestone. It’s exciting to see your little one learn and develop. As your baby learns more about the world, you learn more about them. 

Do they like to take their time? Or do they rush into things? These are all early insights that you can get into your baby’s personality.

If you're looking for more information about other stages in your little one’s development, you can look at our blog.


Important Milestones: Your Baby By Four Months | CDC

Infant Head Lag | NCBI Bookshelf

How Much Tummy Time Does Your Baby Need? | Mayo Clinic