A newborn's head bobbles so unsteadily on his neck that you might be afraid he'll hurt himself. While your newborn does need head support, he'll develop better head control more quickly if you give him the opportunity to strengthen his neck muscles. Simple techniques can help your baby develop the ability to control his head and hold it midline, an essential developmental step for later physical development.
Practice Tummy Time
Lying him on his stomach, either on the floor or on your lap — an activity known as tummy time — is one way to help your baby develop his neck muscles. Utilize tummy time only when your baby is awake; sleeping while lying on his stomach increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Start with two to three minutes per day with your newborn and work up to 20 to 30 minutes per day, the American Occupational Therapy Association suggests. Around 75 percent of infants in Western cultures spend less than 20 minutes per day in the prone position, according to a study reported in the July 2012 issue of "Physical Therapy." Spending just six additional minutes per day helped infants develop head control more quickly, the study found.
Holding your baby upright encourages her to hold her head up and look around, which strengthens her neck muscles. While at first your baby may just nestle into your shoulder, sooner than you might think she will try to raise her head up to look around and see other people and objects. Support her back with your hand, so she doesn't fall backwards. In the July 2012 "Physical Therapy" study, spending 12 minutes per day in an upright position also helps facilitate head control development.
Once your baby reaches the age of 3 to 4 months, gently encouraging her into a sitting position by pulling on her hands can help her strengthen neck and back muscles. Assess your baby's ability to handle this. If her head doesn't come off the floor when you pull on her arms or if her head wobbles excessively, she might not be ready to be pulled into a sitting position. Pull just until her shoulders come off the ground, increasing the pull gradually as she develops better muscle control, physical therapist Natalie Lopez suggests.
If you have room for an exercise ball — a large, soft ball often used in therapy programs — it can help you develop your baby's neck and back muscles. When you move the ball forward, your baby must work against gravity to keep his head upright, which helps develop strong neck muscles. You can also put your baby in a sitting position and gently roll him backwards so that he must work to hold his head up.