Your baby's physical growth begins at the head and continues to the rest of the body. As her nervous system develops, she learns to suck within a few hours of birth, then she learns to lift her head slightly as she searches for milk. It is important to carefully support your baby's head and neck because the weak muscles will take months to develop and strengthen.
At birth, your baby's head is delicately balanced on a frail neck and it is slightly out of proportion to his body. An infant's head must develop to hold his brain, which is why it appears too large for his body. Your baby will demonstrate little movement in his neck because the muscles are weak and his motor skills are still in the early stages of developing. According to HealthyChildren.org, your baby's neck muscles will develop rapidly from birth -- she will quickly be able to turn her head to the side in response to your voice. By the end of the first month, your baby's developing neck muscles will be strong enough for her to lift her head slightly and turn it smoothly from side to side. However, she still won't be able to hold her head unsupported.
Your baby's developing neck muscles are one of the most important developments in her first few months of life. As her nervous system develops, she is better able to control her head movements. By the age of 2 months, she will struggle to lift her head and look around when you place her on her stomach. HealthyChildren.org notes that your baby will first be able to hold her head up for only a second or two, but these exercises help her strengthen the muscles at the back of the neck. The neck muscles will become stronger. At about 4 months, your baby should be able to hold up her head, giving her the freedom to look up and around, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Neck Muscle Development
If your baby's development is average, she should have a range of head movements by 4 months of age. BabyCenter notes that most babies can prop themselves up on their elbows and raise their head to 45 degrees while lying on their stomach. To help your baby's neck muscles develop at this age, BabyCenter recommends placing your baby on her back and gently pulling her up into a sitting position with her hands. Slowly lay her back down and repeat the exercise to help your baby hold her head in line with her body. At this age, it is also safe to carry your baby in a backpack-type carrier because she can support her neck. By 6 months, infants are able to hold their heads up steady and flex them forward when they're in a sitting position. By this age, it is usually safe to take them out in a jogging stroller.
Parents and caregivers need to be careful with babies in the first months of life because of their lack of neck muscle development. Gently cradle your baby's head and neck when lifting, holding and carrying your infant, according to the website BabyCenter. Baby strollers should support your baby's head and prevent jarring her head; avoid backpack carrier and jogging strollers until your baby's neck is stronger. When your baby is about 3 months old you can begin propping her into a sitting position using pillows, but ensure she is supervised at all times. If you are concerned about your baby's neck muscle development, speak to your doctor.
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images