When your baby is born the muscles in her neck are very weak and she has very little control of her head. But as she grows, it gets stronger until she’s able to hold her head up herself.
Here’s how long you’ll need to support it and some exercises you can do to help develop strong head control.
What to expect
In the first few weeks, your baby will need you to support her head and neck muscles when she’s not lying down. The way to do this is to slide your palm behind her head, neck and upper spine when picking her up.
At 1 to 2 months, you’ll notice that if you put her on her tummy, she might be able to lift her head for a few seconds and turn her face to the side. By the end of this period, some babies can even raise their head when you lie them on their back, and hold their head up (even if it’s a bit wobbly) when you put them on to your shoulder.
By 3 months, you’ll notice some improvement and you’ll find your baby might be able to lift her head to about 90 degrees, and even hold it steady for a longer period. But you’ll still need to support her while you hold, feed and play with her!
At about 4 months, you’ll find she won’t be needing too much support and she’s quite likely to be able to raise her head much easier when she’s lying on her back. She might even be able to support her weight on her forearms with her head lifted during tummy time.
By about 5 or 6 months, your baby will have developed full head control, and will be able to hold her head steady and upright, and turn her head in different directions.
Exercises to help strengthen head control
Your baby will develop head control all by herself. but there are ways you can help.
Experts agree that one of the best ways to help your baby develop her neck muscles and improve her head control is to introduce “tummy time” play.
From your lap, slowly raise baby towards you into a sitting position by allowing her little fingers to grasp your fingers. Allow baby to gently relax back against your lap, keeping a firm grip on her fingers. Repeat this move a few times.
Place your baby on her back underneath a baby gym with colourful, dangling objects hanging from it. She might try to reach for it, which strengthens the muscles in the upper body.
Shake a rattle or keys to encourage head turning. You can also gently stroke baby’s cheek with a variety of soft textures like a wash cloth, soft toy or cotton wool to get her to turn her head. Stimulate both the left and right cheek.
Content editor and writer on Living & Loving, Sonya has over 25 years experience in the media industry. She edited Living & Loving magazine for six-and-a-half years and is the former editor of Longevity magazine. She’s won numerous media industry awards and is passionate about the health and wellbeing of moms and children.
Outside of work, she enjoys trying out recipes, reading crime mysteries and thrillers, practicing yoga, and exploring new destinations.
Learn more about Sonya Naudé.