You finally have your little bundle of joy in your arms. And you notice that she is able to hold her head up by herself, and has done since birth. Family members, strangers and the maternal and child nurse all comment on her excellent head control, and you feel so proud of your baby. If you have had a health professional tell you that your baby is advanced with great head control, please read on!
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest a baby with a “strong neck” from birth has developed control early, but there is some evidence indicating it could mean your baby has discomfort somewhere in their body.
What babies should be doing with their heads at birth
Babies are born with low muscle tone and strength. They should be quite floppy (though not too floppy – your paediatrician or nurse should be able to pick up if they are!). Learning to hold their head up takes approximately 12 weeks! This means that a baby should not be holding their head up from birth – and they really shouldn’t be holding it up for themselves until close to 12 weeks of age (3 months).
Learning to hold your head up takes a certain level of neurological development that newborn babies are yet to have. The progression to be able to hold up their own heads is mostly learned from adequate tummy time, and your newborn has just spent the last 9 months curled up inside your belly – quite the opposite of stretching out and lying on their tummy!
When it comes to tummy time, you’ll notice initially your baby will be able to lift their head just long enough to turn their head to face the other direction (if your baby only prefers to look one direction this is a risk factor for plagiocephaly and worth having a check-up).
Slowly from around 4-8 weeks, your baby will begin to try lifting their own head, holding it for a few seconds and with time increasing the muscle endurance to be able to hold longer and longer. It will still appear quite floppy at this time, though they will be able to hold it quite steady when you’re holding them up.
Somewhere between 8-12 weeks, the muscles will gain enough strength to hold the head up while on the tummy, and look around their environment. You’ll notice if you pull them into a sit-up from lying down position, they will be able to hold their head through the entire movement rather than have it flop backwards. And following on from that, they will hold up their head when you’re holding your baby upright.
As you can see, there is a set sequence when it comes to gaining head control. Babies are not born with it, despite what anyone might tell you. If a baby has a “strong neck” from birth, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are advanced, it could be a sign of some form of dysfunction. Many health professionals suggest a baby with a strong neck is developmentally advanced when this presumption may potentially be incorrect.