The greatest gift that parenthood offers is the time you spend with your babies and watch them slowly grow up. It’s wonderful to witness your little one reach milestones like being able to talk and taking the first steps. The ability to lift their heads without support is another such milestone. Newborn babies have to be handled carefully, especially the neck area, as they are still some time away from becoming fully developed. The neck and head muscles of babies are fragile and delicate and care must be taken when lifting them. That’s the reason when adults lift a baby, they make sure to place their hands behind the baby’s neck providing the much-needed support to the region.
At a certain point, the neck muscles do become strong enough and you would be able to notice the baby doing their meerkat neck movements trying to look around. However, parents might be confused when exactly it’s safe to hold their babies without support. Let’s dive in and get to understand when to know if your baby is ready to hold their heads up without support:
Understanding The Stages
Babies don’t just randomly lift their heads out of the blue, just like that. It happens in stages, and these stages are spread over a period of time in their developmental phase. Let’s look at the different stages that your baby will go through:
1. Early Head Lifts
This usually happens when your baby is placed on their tummies. It’s not very noticeable, but it is a starting point for them. And believe it or not, this can happen as early as one month of age! Ever noticed how they slowly give a mild nudge when you make them rest on your shoulders while burping? That’s an early head lift. Or, if you’re lying on your back with the baby on your chest facing you, they might try to lift their head to see you slowly. This, too, is an example of an early head lift. As the days pass, they might even try to turn their heads from side to side. This early stage is a precursor to more head and neck movements (1).
2. Head And Chest Lifts
Those small head nudges slowly pave the way to full chest lifts! This happens between two to three months of age. Your baby has better vision by this time, so they’re a lot more curious about their surroundings. They want to see what you look like, where they are, and what this big world is all about. After all, curiosity is innate in us humans and it is safe to say that it starts early as well. That’s enough incentive for a little brat to put all the effort it takes to jutting their chests out and improving their head movements (1).
3. Complete Head Lift Mastery!
Finally, at around three to four months of age, the efforts have paid off, and your baby will be able to lift their head without support like a pro. They should be able to master this entirely by six months of age. At this time, their necks, shoulders, and chest are all strong enough to support their heads, lift it when they please, and turn it around to look where they want (2). Around this time you will start witnessing the early signs of how active, energetic and naughty your little one is going to be in the coming months.
Helping Your Baby Through The Process
You can help your baby overcome the milestone of holding their head up without your support by providing them with a bit of support during the early days. Here’s what you can do to help them:
• Encourage them to sleep on their tummies once in a while. They may not like it in the beginning, but it’s okay to do this occasionally.
• You can distract them with toys. If your baby is lying on their stomach, then use a few toys to get them to look up. This would provide some stretching and elongations which are great for muscle development.
• Get them to spend some time on a mat that is propped with soft pillows. Let them lie on their backs for a while. Then, place them on their tummies.
• You could make use of high chairs that offer baby support. This encourages them to hold their heads steady, and this way, they can practice.
• The outside world is a fascinating place, and your baby would love to see what’s there. Invest in a baby carrier that allows them to keep their head straight, and use this when you run errands or go on a walk. This encourages them to lift their heads.
• Make sure your baby has some tummy time when they’ve just woken up from a nap or if you’ve just changed their diapers.
Precautions You Need To Follow
They weren’t kidding when they said babies are delicate and fragile! So, keep the following things in mind when you’re helping your baby hold their heads high:
• Do not leave your baby alone when they are lying on their stomach. They can’t handle that position for too long, and they need your help to turn over.
• Make sure there are no small items such as coins or bottle caps. Your baby can reach out to this and swallow it if it’s near them and they are on their tummies.
• Don’t put your baby on their tummy if they’ve just been fed. They can puke all over you, and that’s the last thing both you and your baby need!
• Though it’s normal to want the baby to be able to move their head and neck freely, it’s better not to try to rush the process. Let the muscles develop and strengthen gradually and slowly.
Be patient and gentle with your little one. Give the necessary support they need, but let them figure this out on their own. Talk to your doctor if you notice little to no head movement even after your baby has crossed four months of age. What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below!