Should I be Concerned If Baby Can’t Hold His Head Up?

Doctors have major responsibilities when delivering a baby. Not only must they prioritize the mother’s health, but they must also use their knowledge to pinpoint any possible complications that could potentially cause damage to the baby.

When you agree to let a certain doctor perform the birth of your child, you are expecting that physician to do everything he or she can to avoid errors that could lead to a birth injury.

A birth injury can have permanent effects on your child, including potential brain damage. Some of these effects can lead to major complications with your child reaching certain milestones.

If your baby isn’t starting to hold his head up around four months, you have every right to be concerned. The cause could be a birth injury that you are unaware of.

Common Causes of Birth Injury

Here’s a look at four common causes of birth injuries that can result in your baby not being able to hold his head up.

Improper Use of Forceps

It’s not uncommon for a baby to be an awkward position during birth or to get stuck in the birth canal. This often happens because the mother’s cervix doesn’t expand enough to let the baby through. When this happens, the physician must intervene using forceps or ordering a cesarean section.

If he chooses to use forceps, he must be incredibly careful to avoid damaging the infant’s head. If he does cause damage to the forceps, this can lead to lifelong problems for the child.


Sometimes, a baby won’t receive enough oxygen during the birthing process. This lack of sufficient oxygen is commonly caused by placenta damage, a tangled umbilical cord, or an infection.

If a physician doesn’t notice the signs of hypoxia and fails to take immediate action, this can lead to both long-term mental and physical damage to the child, including the inability to hold his head up.

Delay in Performing a Cesarean Section

When a doctor notices the infant is in distress during the birthing process and the mother’s blood pressure had gotten high or the child’s heart rate is low, the physician will order a Cesarean section and move swiftly to deliver the child.

However, in some instances, the doctor doesn’t move fast enough and the infant suffers damage that impairs his health and development.

Improper Use of Vacuum Tools

Some doctors choose to use a vacuum tool to help the baby through the birth canal. This vacuum tool is placed on the child’s head or shoulders and essentially sucks the infant through the canal. Improper use of the vacuum tool can lead to injury for both the mother and baby.

When Should My Baby Hold His Head Up?

Not all babies progress at the same rate. If your child isn’t holding his head up at four months, this doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong.

The same with walking. While some babies walk at nine months, others don’t begin taking their first steps until 16 months. This is why it’s so important to take your baby to regular checkups with a doctor. The physician can help you determine whether to be concerned with any milestones that your child is falling behind in.

First Month Milestones

  • Mouthing reflexes (sucking and swallowing)
  • Startle reflex (become startled when he hears loud noises)
  • Grasp reflex (grasp objects with a finger or hand)
  • Stepping reflex (place one foot in front of the other when placed on a flat surface and supported by an adult)

One to Three Months Milestones

  • Support heat and upper body when placed on the stomach
  • Stretch out legs
  • Kick when placed on stomach or back
  • Open and shut hands
  • Bring hands to mouth
  • Shake toys
  • Follow moving objects with eyes
  • Turn head when hearing noises
  • Make cooing sounds
  • Smile at familiar faces

Four to Seven Months

  • Lift up own head
  • Arch back to lift up the chest
  • Roll over both ways
  • Sit up without support
  • Reach for objects with one hand
  • Move objects from one hand to the other
  • Support body weight when held upright
  • Laugh
  • Crawling
  • Constant babbling
  • Distinguish emotions through tone of voice

Eight to 12 Months

  • Get in and out of sitting position
  • More aggressive crawling
  • Begin to take steps
  • Use pincer grasp
  • Place toys in a container and remove them
  • Hold a spoon
  • Turn pages in a book
  • Say “mama” and “dada”
  • Shake head for “no”
  • Wave bye-bye
  • Hold the phone up to ear
  • Cry when mom and dad leave the room

What to Do If Your Child Can’t Hold His Head Up?

Your baby failing to hold his own head up after seven months is a definite reason to take him back to the doctor for another checkup. The physician can perform a number of tests to determine if your child has suffered a birth injury that wasn’t detected at birth.

It’s a possibility that your child has developed a muscle disorder as a result of a birth injury. Common muscle disorders caused by birth injuries include:

  • Erb’s Palsy
  • Brachial Plexus
  • Shoulder Dystocia
  • Klumpke’s Palsy

Always speak with an experienced pediatric physician if you are concerned about your baby meeting any milestone. The doctor can perform tests to help you determine the most appropriate actions to take.

It could just be that your baby is falling a bit behind on meeting certain milestones and there is no need to be worried. However, if the tests point toward medical negligence, it’s important to contact an attorney.

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