When Do Babies Hold Their Head Up?
By 3 months of age, babies should have pretty good head control. It’s still normal for their head to wobble a bit at this age and they will probably still get tired after a while. But generally speaking, they should be holding their head pretty well at this point.
When you pull your 3 months old baby up to sit, their head should not lag behind much if at all. When baby is positioned in an upright or supported sitting position, they should hold their head up well. And during tummy time, they should be able to hold their head up 45 to 90 degrees while bearing weight on their forearms.
Why Do Babies Have Difficulty Holding Their Head Up?
There are many possible reasons for delayed head control. Here are a few of the most common reasons.
Not Enough Practice
This is the most likely option. Tummy time is crucial for developing head control, but many babies don’t like it which often causes parents to avoid it. I get it, no one wants to see their baby upset. Check out our article My Baby Cries During Tummy Time for suggestions if you’re struggling with tummy time.
Some parents also give baby’s head full support at all times, even as they get older, which can prevent baby from supporting their head on their own. Typically it’s a good idea to slowly reduce the support you give your baby over the first several weeks and months to help build strength.
Overuse of Containers
Containers are equipment that contain your baby. This includes car seats, strollers, bouncers, and swings. Since baby has to be strapped into these devices for safety, their mobility is limited. This can cause issues with developing head control because baby cannot move easily. For more information about why you should minimize containers and increase floor time, check out this article.
Torticollis is a tightness on one side of the neck that causes a preference to look to one side and often a head tilt to the opposite side. When there is neck tightness and the head is being pulled more to one side, it is understandably more difficult to hold the head up!
Muscle Tone Issues
Muscle tone is the state of the muscle at rest. If baby has low muscle tone, they may seem kind of weak or floppy. If baby has high muscle tone, their body may feel tight. Either of these can cause challenges with motor skill development, including head control.
How to Improve Baby’s Head Control
The good news is, there are many things you can do to improve your baby’s head control. If your baby is over 2 months of age and still needs a lot of support to hold up their head, here are some things you can do.
Yoga Ball Exercises
Using a large ball for exercises is one of my favorite activities to do with babies to work on motor skills. A large ball may be referred to as a yoga ball, therapy ball, exercise ball, or stability ball. You can find a lot of exercise ideas on YouTube by using those terms. A ball that is 55-65cm is a good size for these exercises.
You can put baby on their tummy on the ball or in a seated position if they already do have some head control. Try gently bouncing the ball or rolling side to side. This dynamic movement allows for more muscles to be activated compared to when baby is just on the floor in a more static position (but floor time is super important too!)
Here is one example of some great exercises you can do with your baby from YouTube.
Babywearing is an easy and convenient way to help baby develop head control. If you’re physically able to do it, I highly recommend it! It provides great opportunities for baby to develop head control and also makes it easier for you to get things done around the house.
My two favorite structured carriers are LÍLLÉbaby and Ergo Baby. They both provide great support for the parent wearing the baby as well as great support for baby. If you struggle with back pain or had a difficulty delivery, I highly recommend these carriers.
Babywearing is great for other things too like improving milk production, fostering attachment, and preventing flat head syndrome. Ready more in our Babywearing article.
If you were born before 1992, you probably never did tummy time. The activity of tummy time wasn’t a thing before the early 90s because babies used to sleep on their tummies. They didn’t need to do tummy time as a planned exercise, because it was already part of their day.
When the American Academy of Pediatrics initiated the Back to Sleep campaign to prevent SIDS, the importance of belly time became obvious. Without tummy time, babies were more prone to motor delays and head shape issues.
Tummy time is essential for the development of head control. Aim for 30 mins a day by the time baby is 3 months old. You can do just a few minutes at a time if baby does not tolerate longer periods. Rolling baby over for 1-2 minutes after each diaper change is a good way to get some tummy time in!
Pull to Sit
Unless baby’s head is really lagging behind, by about 2 months of age I recommend that you pull baby up to sit by holding onto their arms or hands every time you get them up. If this is too hard, you can also try pulling them up at their shoulders.
I also recommend that you lower them back down this way. We pick up and put babies down so many times throughout the day. Just think of how many times you feed or change them! This is a lot of opportunity for developing head control!
Of course, don’t do this if baby is really tired or asleep. But when baby is alert, this is a great way to work on head control.
Elicit the Head Righting Reflex
This may sound complicated, but it’s actually very simple to do. By 3-4 months of age, babies develop the ability to right their head when their body is tilted to the side. This just means that they will keep trying to hold their head up when you tilt their body.
Position baby on your lap in a supporting sitting position or straddling your leg/legs. Tilt their body to the side and hold the position for a few seconds. This is also a great exercise to do on a yoga ball.
Check out this YouTube video for an example on this head righting exercise. The video only shows going to one side, but you can go to both sides to strengthen both the left and right.
With these activities, baby will be holding their head up in no time! If you don’t see an improvement within a few weeks, talk to your provider about seeing a therapist!