When will your baby hold her head upright?

Newborns are almost alarming in their helplessness. Not only are they unable to walk and talk; they are also incapable of accomplishing the very simple task of holding their own heads upright. I remember feeling nervous when my daughter was a newborn; she seemed fragile and delicate in my arms until she was able to hold her own head erect.

A baby's ability to hold his head upright is a critical step toward his overall development. It's an important precursor to focusing, eating, rolling over, crawling, and, eventually, walking. Here are some detailed guidelines about how and when babies learn head control. Here are some facts that you may need to know about your baby's head control and its development.

1. Newborns usually lack head control. A few babies develop a very early ability to hold their heads upright; some are able to hold their heads slightly erect even at birth. However, your baby is completely normal if she can't hold her head upright at all during the first month of life. Remember to hold her carefully, cradling her head correctly so that she has an adequate amount of support.

2. Babies begin learning head control at 1 to 2 months. Sometime between 4 and 8 weeks of life, your baby will probably be able to lift her head slightly and turn it to the side. She might be able to lift her face off the ground while lying on her belly, but she is still far too young to sleep on her stomach at night. You might be able to hold your baby without directly supporting her head. For other babies, this amount of neck strength may not come until later.

3. Your baby gains more head control by 3 to 4 months. At 12 to 16 weeks of age, your baby will probably learn to raise her head while placed on her tummy, holding it steadily in position for a few seconds or minutes. Make sure that your baby gets plenty of supervised tummy-time so that she can exercise the muscles in her neck. You might be able to let your baby "ride" on your hip, instead of cradling her in your arms, by the end of this stage.

4. She should control her head well by 5 to 6 months. By the time your baby is a half-year old, her head control has improved by leaps and bounds. She'll probably be able to sit unassisted at this point, or some time soon after, and should be able to keep her head steady and erect while you feed her solid food or let her ride in a jogging stroller. When placed on her belly, she'll be able to push herself up and lift her head off the ground by an inch or two.

5. Keep an eye out for signs of developmental delay. All babies develop differently, with some learning head control far sooner or later than their same-age peers. However, severe difficulty with head control can sometimes indicate the presence of a developmental delay, which may be caused by a neurological or muscular disorder. In these cases, your baby may benefit from physical therapy or another treatment. If your baby can't hold her head up at all by 3 months of age, schedule an appointment with her primary care provider to rule out an underlying problem.

Click here for a comprehensive, realistic list of milestones for babies and toddlers.

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