Babies grow at an amazingly fast pace. Right now, you can’t wait for the baby to lift its head and give you a sweet smile. The next thing you know, your baby is already a very active toddler.
Are you wondering if your baby is growing just fine? Parents are often both anxious and excited to see their babies learn new things such as smiling, crawling, and talking. We call these milestones or the things children learn to do at a certain age.
One such important milestone is for your baby to hold their head on their own.
At what age do babies hold their heads up?
Newborns are very fragile and will rely on you to support their heads and neck at first. Gradually, their skills will improve until they gain complete head control at five or six months old.
How do babies learn head control?
As the first milestone that your newborn will develop, learning complete head control is important. Of course, this will not happen right away. Your newborn needs to develop motor skills and stronger muscles that will allow them to lift their heads on their own.
By the end of the first month, your baby will only be able to raise its head very briefly. For about a second or two, babies can lift their heads and chin when lying on their tummies. This will change soon.
By month two, your baby will be lifting his head longer and more often. You can notice this improvement whenever the baby is held against your chest or shoulder. When lying on the stomach, your baby should start turning their head from side to side.
By the third month, the baby will gain enough strength to hold their head and upper body up when on their tummy. When held in a sitting position, your baby will be able to hold his head up for relatively long periods.
Head control will be better by month four, especially if they are in a sitting position. You may leave the baby’s head unsupported when sitting as their neck is strong enough at this point.
Full head control will be natural when the baby is at month five or six. You can see them easily turning their head up and down or side to side. There will be little to no head lag even while pulling the baby into a sitting position.
Do All Babies Develop at the Same Rate?
Every baby is different, which means that the rate of development of your child will not be the same as others. It is okay to expect light variations, like being ahead in some areas while slightly lagging in others. However, keep in mind that all infants grow predictable and orderly.
If your baby is already five months old and still has poor head control, it can be considered a red flag. You should have your baby checked by your trusted pediatrician immediately as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
How Important is Tummy Time?
Giving your baby tummy time as early as possible can help build and strengthen the neck, back, and shoulder muscles. When your baby gets home from the hospital, you should start putting them on their belly under close supervision. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving the baby three to five minutes of tummy time two to three times every day.
As your child gets older, you can increase the duration and frequency of tummy time. Try placing a toy or object near the baby but make sure it is out of reach. This will encourage your baby to move more, extend their arms, and even try to roll or crawl to where the toy is located. As a result, you will notice that the strength and coordination of your baby are steadily improving.
When Can You Stop Supporting a Baby’s Head?
Until your baby becomes strong enough, you need to gently cradle and support their head and neck all the time. Once the baby reaches four months, less support is needed. By the time your baby is six months old, they will be strong enough to hold their head without your help.
Now that your baby can already hold their head, you will be excited to see them reaching more milestones. Their physical movements will increase as they develop motor skills.
Stages of Motor Development
What are Motor Skills?
These are the foundational skills that involve the muscle movements of the baby. Motor skills can be further categorized into two.
Fine Motor Skills
These refer to the ability of the child to use small muscles in the upper extremity such as the hands, fingers, and wrists. These are necessary for the baby to perform self-help activities.
Examples include the following:
- Bringing hands to the mouth
- Opening and closing the fingers
- Holding of toys or other objects
- Picking up small pieces of food using the hands
- Clapping hands
Gross Motor Skills
These refer to the ability of the child to use larger and stronger muscles in the arms, legs, belly, back, and basically the whole trunk. Ultimately, the goal is for the baby to gain independent and voluntary movements. From just lying flat, your baby will eventually be able to have complete head control, start crawling, and eventually start walking.
Examples of gross motor skills are the following:
- Raising the head up
- Rolling the body
- Turning side to side
- Creeping with the stomach still on the floor
- Crawling, sitting, and standing
- Stages of Motor Development
Fine and gross motor skills do develop simultaneously. Being familiar with these important milestones in a child’s life early on is important to help identify, prevent, or correct developmental concerns.
Month 0 to Two
- Newborns can move their eyes and look directly at the faces of people near them (by a foot)
- They can move their head to the side as they feed but still need support.
- Can hold head up
- When lying on the tummy, the baby begins to push up.
- Can kick both legs and move arms simultaneously
- Mostly on their tummies while on the floor
Month Three to Six
- Can do push-ups with, first, forearms, then with hands, and turn head side-to-side
- Can roll from back to belly and vice-versa regularly and comfortable
- Will mouth their feet while lying on back
- Can turn while on tummy
Month Six to 12
- Will start to sit alone
- Will start crawling
- Can reach for toys while crawling
- Will start to stand and take first steps while supported
Again, it is to note that every child is different. Your baby may manifest these milestones earlier or later than other babies. Again, it is best to consult your baby’s pediatrician for regular check-ups.
Related Read: When Do Newborns Start Teething?
Influences on the Development
Like any skill or talent, motor skills development is also based on nature and nurture. A child’s motor development is affected by several factors but can be categorized into two: Genetics and Environment.
Genetics – probably one of the most notable factors influencing development is genetics that parents pass on to their babies. If parents have strong genes or have skills, their child has a high probability of acquiring them. The same goes for weak genetics. If a baby has a weak muscle tone, motor development may be affected.
Environment – another factor that greatly affects development is the environment a child grows up in. This includes both physical and social environments. The toys your baby plays with, even how you play with your baby, by supporting them to sit or stand, affect how they develop their motor skills.
Related Read: Are Exersaucers Bad for Babies?
How to Spot Delays in Motor Development
Your baby needs to develop motor skills properly to be able to move and function independently. Identifying developmental concerns or delays early on is crucial in preventing a potential developmental disability.
Of course, most parents and adults are not trained to recognize. The good news is that delays will be easier to spot with enough reading on the subject.
As the primary carer, you are in the perfect position to make observations. Even though the development of babies is not the same, certain tasks must be performed at a certain age.
Possible Causes of Developmental Delays
Several factors may cause delays in your child’s development. The most common causes are the following:
- Pre-mature delivery
- Genetic/ disorder or medical conditions (i.e., autism, cerebral palsy)
- Poor eyesight/hearing
- Mother’s health/eating habits during pregnancy
If you fear that your child looks very stiff, weak, or limp, you need to observe more carefully. As soon as you spot any of these signs, schedule an appointment with a pediatrician.
- At four months old, the baby has not yet started grabbing or holding objects
- At five months old, the baby is still not rolling over in any direction
- At six months old, the baby cannot sit on his or her own
- At seven months old, the baby is not actively reaching out for objects
- At 12 months old, the baby is not crawling or standing without help or support
- At 18 months old, the baby is still not walking
The American Academy of Pediatrics has launched an online feature called Physical Developmental Delays: What to Look For to make things easier for parents and childcarers. You can use this tool as a guide in monitoring your baby’s physical growth.
What to Do If Your Baby Has Delayed Motor Development
The only way to confirm your suspicions is by consulting a trusted pediatrician. They can properly assess and run tests to determine and properly diagnose should your baby has any underlying condition that causes delays in motor skills.
Once confirmed, various treatment options are available. They may undergo therapy or take medications.
Regardless, the most important thing is early detection. Besides regular check-ups, keen observation of your child’s development is paramount. Having a daycare partner who can take care of your child and notice these minute things is crucial to early detection when you are not at home.