Your newborn baby has very little control over their head and neck but, between the ages of 4 and 6 months old, they should develop the ability and muscle strength to hold their head up on their own.

  • By about 4 months, your baby should have control of their head when sitting up.
  • By about 6 months, your baby should have strong and steady head control all the time.

Why is head control a key baby development milestone?

Head control is an important milestone for your baby: it's an indication that they have strengthened some of the key muscles they will need to progress to other developmental milestones, such as pushing up, rolling over, sitting – and, later, swallowing solid foods.

How do babies learn head control: what should I expect month by month?

Head control is actually head and neck control and it has various stages.

Newborn: Your baby will need you to support their head and neck for at least the first month or so.

1 to 2 months: At about 4-6 weeks, if you lie your baby on their front, they should be able to lift their head just enough to turn their face to the side. From then on, your baby will gradually be able to raise their head for longer and longer periods of time. By 8 weeks, some babies can raise their head while lying on their back or hold their head up (maybe a bit wobbily) when you carry them on your shoulder.

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3 to 4 months: By now if you lie your baby on their front, they should be able to hold their head right up and hold it steady for longer periods. Some babies will be able to lift and support their weight on their forearms. If you lie your baby down on their back and then slowly pull them up by their hands to a sitting position, they should be able to hold their head in line with the rest of their body.

5 to 6 months: At about this age – maybe closer to 6 months than 5 – your baby should easily be able to hold their head steady and upright, and crane it forward when they're pulled into a sitting position.

Note: As with most things baby related (hello sleepless nights!), your baby will develop at their own pace, so don't worry too much if your baby isn't bang on the timelines above.

How can I help my baby develop head control?

Your baby will develop head control all by themselves, of course. But, if you'd like to support or maybe even boost that development, by far the best way to help your baby develop their neck muscles and improve their head control is to introduce (or do more) 'tummy time' play.

Tummy time is hugely important to allow your baby to develop the muscles in their neck. So, once your baby's about 2 weeks old, make sure that you pop them on a mat or a clean floor for a few minutes several times a day.

Initially your baby may protest a bit – tummy time is hard work! – so have a break and try again later. Try in different positions: with a small baby, you could just lie on your back, for example, and place your baby on your chest (chest to chest), so they can learn to lift their head up to look at you.

Or, as your baby gains strength, you could prop them up on a small cushion, so they can learn to push up with their arms.

There's no need to go over the top with tummy time – little and often is the key with small babies.

As they get older and are more comfortable lying on their tummy, you can make the sessions longer and introduce games and toys.

What if my baby's not developing any head control? What do I do?

It depends how old your baby is.

It's completely normal for newborns to have extremely limited head control, so there's no need to worry. And there's nothing to do, apart from supporting their head to make sure it doesn't flop around too much.

At 3 months, there are differing levels of head control but, if you have seen no changes or gain in head control at all, ask your GP for a check-over of your baby.

If your baby doesn't have full head control by 6 months or if you are concerned in general at any stage, particularly if you've noticed other related, such as your baby not looking at objects, please see your GP.

Pic: Getty Images


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Helen Brown
Helen BrownHead of Content Delivery

Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies and a mum of 3. Before joining MadeForMums, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.

Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice.