Category Archives: LIFTING THE HEAD

tips for baby motor skill development: lifting the head



Madison looks to the stars!

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Madison learned to lift her head just ten days ago.  Her mother practiced this movement skill with her for about ten or fifteen minutes once and sometimes twice a day.  Today, in order to assist Madison in lifting the head a little bit higher, I tapped her pelvis gently against the floor with my hand to show her how to use it as a base of support.  The result? Madison lifted her head even higher!  The more her pelvis could lean on the floor, the more her head could lift up toward the sky, especially since the muscles have been learning to work for a couple of weeks now. They developed some strength and are ready to lift more weight.  As she rolled onto her back to take a rest, Madison looked pleased with her new accomplishment!


One of the most important milestones of a baby is the motor skill of lifting the head.  Babies learn this skill very gradually.  First, they learn to lift it just a little bit, maybe only and inch or so off of the floor.  The muscles in the back and neck are only beginning to work.   After practicing for a week or so, baby can begin to lift her head a bit higher.  It is easier for her to learn this if she has something interesting to look at when she lifts her head, such as her mother’s face or a favorite toy.  After lifting the head a bit higher, baby learns to hold her head up for awhile longer before putting it down again from muscle fatigue.  Soon, baby can play on her stomach and keep her head up for a very long time. The development of infant head control leads to an improved use of the upper body when playing on the stomach and excellent posture in the sitting position. For Madison, just over two months old, things are certainly looking up!



Rochel learns tummy time

Rochel received her first lesson at two months.  In this story, the mother learned from the grandmother the importance of baby experiencing each motor milestone fully, and without rushing!  Lucky Rochel!  She gets to enjoy being on the floor without being forced to stand too soon.  Rochel’s mother asked for tummy time tips, reporting that the baby did not like it very much.  This was no surprise!  Tummy time is usually one of the first topics covered in a newborn’s stellar caterpillar lessons. I explained that prior to birth, for all of those months, the baby is curled up in a ball.  This means that all of the muscles on the front of the body, which we call the flexors, were contracted or shortened.  The abdominal, front of the hip joints, and chest muscles are all contracted!  Lying on the belly comfortably means these muscles have to lengthen.  The front of the body can only lie flat against the floor when these muscles have lengthened, otherwise, the contracted muscles pull the body, specifically the pelvis and torso, up away from the floor.  Once these flexor muscles (abdominal, chest, and front of the hip joints) soften and stretch out, the baby can be comfortable on her belly.

We began to teach Rochel how to lengthen the front of her body. First, we began with gently stroking the abdomen, with long gentle brushing strokes from the top of the chest to the bottom of the abdomen, left to right.  We knew by Rochel’s happy cooing and little smiles that she was quite happy receiving this touch.  Next, we gently assisted the lengthening of her legs by bending and straightening them, one at a time.  Bend and stretch, bend and stretch, bend and stretch, several times with the right leg, then we worked with the left leg.  After working with both legs, we gently rolled her onto her tummy, and there she was with her behind sticking up in the air and her nose pressing down into the floor!  I said smilingly to her mother, “You wouldn’t be comfortable either if your face was smashed into the floor!” In this tummy position I stroked the front of Rochel’s hips to elongate the muscles and allow the pelvis and thigh bones to be flat on the floor, and now she could lift her head and see her mother smiling at her!  Her mother’s face was far more interesting than only the darkness visible to her as her face smashed into the bedspread.  In fact, so interesting was the world around her from this position that Rochel kept her head up a bit more, curiously gazing around the room.  “What a different view from when I am lying on my back looking up at the ceiling,” she thought.

When you look at your baby on her stomach, look at her head and her pelvis.  Is one higher than the other?  Think of a teeter-totter: when one end is up, the other must go down.  So, when the pelvis goes up, the head/face goes down into the floor.  It is very difficult to breathe, lift your head, or look at the world if your face is pressing down into the floor.  We would like her pelvis to stay down flat on the floor so her head is free to lift and examine the world.  First we must uncurl the flexors from that ball-like position she was in for so many months prior to birth,  then a new world curiously becomes visible.  After some practice, Rochel now lays contentedly on her stomach while watching her mother chase her older sister.  And, she still enjoys the abdominal massages, too!