When you think about spending time with your baby - aside from being overwhelmed with excitement, nerves, and a lot of other emotions - you'll probably picture yourself holding them.
However, this isn't always completely straightforward for new parents, especially if you're feeling nervous about how fragile your newborn baby is!
Don't worry - once you have the techniques down, holding your newborn is a breeze. That’s why we’re going to teach you how to hold a newborn baby in this complete guide.
Along with tips on holding baby safely, we're here to tell you why your baby might wiggle in your arms, how to soothe them, and advice on finding a technique that best suits you and your baby.
Before we actually teach you how to hold a baby, though, why is this something that shouldn’t be taken lightly?
The Importance of Knowing How to Hold a Newborn Baby Safely
Amid the waves of joy and wonder of early parenthood, you're likely feeling a tinge of nervousness—especially when it comes to holding your little one.
Holding a newborn isn't just a parental rite of passage. It's a vital skill that promotes both safety and bonding. Let's delve into why mastering the art of a safe embrace is so crucial.
The Science of Touch
Believe it or not, the act of holding your newborn is a symphony of scientific marvels. The skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, often dubbed the "love hormone," in both the parent and the baby.
This hormone helps in fortifying the emotional bond, alleviating stress, and even aiding in your baby's digestive processes. More than just an act of love, a secure hug is a cornerstone of developmental science.
Learn more about this in our guide on how to help dad bond with baby, as we talk more about physical touch there.
The Stability Factor
Newborns are not equipped to support their heads or move their bodies purposefully. A mishandled lift or a poorly-supported neck can potentially lead to injuries. By learning the right techniques, you'll be ensuring the physical integrity of your baby's still-developing skeletal structure. In a nutshell, holding your baby safely isn't just about avoiding immediate danger; it's about long-term well-being.
A Serene Environment
The way you hold your baby can also be a big contributor to their mental comfort. A secure, comfortable hold can be a sanctuary for a baby experiencing overstimulation, helping them to feel safe and grounded. On the flip side, a shaky, anxious hold can inadvertently communicate your tension to your baby, making them fussier.
Adaptability and Parental Confidence
Let's not forget about you, the parent. The more adept you become at holding your baby safely, the more confident you'll feel in your parenting skills. This newfound confidence won't just be limited to carrying your baby; it will spill over into other aspects of childcare, making you a more engaged, less stressed parent.
Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, a good hold can make a significant difference. A comfortable and secure position enables a more efficient latch and a better feeding experience for the baby, making mealtime pleasant for both of you.
How Swaddles Address the Flailing Baby Frustration
The key to holding your newborn correctly is supporting baby's head and baby's neck - for the first few months of their life, their muscles aren't developed and they can't do this by themselves. However, this isn't always easy if your baby has decided to flail, and worries about not holding baby correctly or even dropping baby might knock your confidence.
Babies tend to flail because of something called the Moro reflex, or startle reflex. This is a natural instinct your baby has from birth that, when triggered, causes them to stretch out their limbs and head before curling them back in again. This will typically happen because of a loud noise, but can also be triggered by suddenly tilting backward.
One way to prevent the Moro reflex from happening is to swaddle your baby, which both soothes them to sleep and keeps their arms tight to their body, preventing them from flailing so dramatically.
You don't even need to figure out how to swaddle a baby to do reap the benefits of swaddling - our pod-shaped Zen Neo is gently weighted to mimic your touch, and all you need to do is zip the baby inside! We’ll talk more about the different types of swaddles later.
How to hold a baby who has been swaddled
Once you've swaddled your baby, you might find the idea of holding them less intimidating - after all, when they're a baby burrito, you don't have to worry too much about arms and legs!
So, let’s talk about how to hold a baby that you’ve already swaddled.
There are a few different ways to safely hold a newborn baby in a swaddle, and each can be useful depending on the situation and your own preferences - here are just a few well-known favorites.
Cradle hold is the simplest way of holding your baby, and likely the method you think of when you picture yourself with your little one! Here are the steps to get your baby smoothly into this position:
- Position yourself so that your baby is level to your chest
- Slip your hand underneath their bottom and bring it along to underneath their neck
- Softly shift your baby's head to the crook of your elbow
- Bring your hand back under their bottom while still cradling them
- Lift your baby!
Not only is this position straightforward and comfortable, but it allows you to have an arm free for any multitasking you might be doing - great for any busy parents.
The shoulder hold is more upright, and lets your baby peek over your shoulder at anything that might be happening behind you!
- Hold baby's body parallel to your own in an upright position
- Lift their head up to the height of your shoulder
- Place their head against your shoulder
- Keep one hand on your baby's bottom, and one supporting your baby's head
Though the cradle hold might appear to be more calming, this position allows baby to hear your heartbeat, which can also have a soothing effect.
The belly hold is almost the reverse of the cradle hold, and is perfect for when your baby is feeling gassy.
- Place your baby along your forearm, with their head resting up near your elbow
- Make sure baby's feet are either side of your hand, and that they're below baby's head so that baby is at the correct angle
- If you need to burp your baby, gently rub their back while they're laying in this position
The football hold is a great position for breastfeeding moms, as it allows you to hold your baby's head in your hand and help them latch. The directions here are for a mom nursing on the right side - if you're breastfeeding on the left, just switch!
- Hold your baby with your right arm, keeping baby's feet at your side
- Roll your baby in closer, with their bottom in the crook of your arm and their legs tucked underneath your arm
- Use your forearm to support your baby's back and your hand to guide their head as they breastfeed
Not only is this position great for moms who've had a C section and want to avoid touching tender scars, but it can also be great for supermoms of twins who want to feed both babies at once!
Finally, the lap hold gives you a good chance to look at your baby - and for your baby to get a good look at you!
- Sit down in a chair and make sure both feet are on the ground
- Place baby face up on your lap with their head at your knees
- Raise their head up with your hands
- Keep your forearms supporting the rest of their body
- Make sure their feet are tucked in at your midsection
This hold is great for parents who want to get some rest while holding their baby. It's also a good breastfeeding position. This position allows you to rest while making sure your baby is secure and comfortable. It's especially useful during those long nights when you're looking for ways to get some sleep while still meeting your baby's needs.
- Lay down on your side and place your baby parallel to your body, also on their side, facing you.
- Support your baby's head with your arm or a pillow so that it is at breast height.
- Keep your other hand free for additional support or for personal comfort.
The hug hold is a variation on the cradle hold that provides extra security and comfort for your baby. It is particularly useful when your baby needs some extra comfort or during those times when you have to move around a lot.
- Sit or stand up straight and hold your baby upright against your chest.
- Place one hand under your baby's bottom, ensuring that their legs are dangling freely.
- Wrap your other arm around your baby's back, providing additional support.
- Your baby's head should rest on your chest or shoulder.
Mom hack on holding baby
We’ve talked a lot about how to hold a newborn, but why not share a mom hack on holding a baby? After all, hearing firsthand from pro-parents who have been there and done that is invaluable!
'Never attempt to hold a newborn if you are in an unstable or odd position such as while on the stairs or when there is a possibility for you to slip or fall. It is best to sit yourself on a couch or in bed where there is no room for possible mistakes.
When you hold a baby, you also have to be confident and not hesitate before you pick her up.
You may either stand or sit when you hold a newborn. But whichever position you prefer, make sure you are comfortable.
The goal is to keep the baby well supported and cradled when you lift her up.'
- Julie, Mummy, It's OK
Holding Baby Safely: Tips on How to Hold a Baby With Safety in Mind
When you're researching how to hold a baby, keeping your little one safe should always be the number one priority. So, what do you need to consider when holding baby?
The main factor to bear in mind is extra support for baby's head and baby's neck - your newborn will have little to no muscle control in these areas, and won't be able to lift their head independently for several months.
Additionally, you shouldn't hold your baby when doing activities such as cooking or cleaning, or when carrying items like hot drinks or knives that could harm your baby if dropped or spilled.
Your baby's face should always be uncovered, you should be careful of soft spots on your baby's head, and you shouldn't hold your baby when you are angry or stressed - only hold your little one when you're stable and calm.
Finally, you should always try to clean your hands before you hold your baby - while this isn't always practical, it's good practice to keep germs away from your baby's young immune system to prevent them from getting sick.
Holding your newborn might seem daunting at first, but as long as you have the techniques down and the right sleepwear for your baby, you've got this!
What the Experts Say About How to Hold a Newborn Baby
'When holding a newborn, it’s very important to always have a hand to support the head and neck. After all, your baby’s head is the heaviest part of their body at birth. Pay special attention to the baby’s fontanelles, which are the soft spots on the top of the head.
Newborns lack the critical neck muscle control to keep their heads supported on their own. This milestone isn’t usually reached until closer to the fourth month of life.'
- Ashley Marcin, Healthline
Common questions about how to hold a baby
Before we wrap up this guide on how to hold a newborn baby, we want to highlight some lingering questions you may have about holding a newborn.
How do you hold a newborn upright?
You can hold a baby upright by using the shoulder hold method. To do this, simply lean your baby's head onto your shoulder while supporting their bottom with your other hand.
The pressure on their tummy from this hold can have a calming effect, and the over-the-shoulder view is perfect for inquisitive babies who want to watch the world around them!
How do you hold a two day old baby?
The idea of holding a baby who is only a few days old can be daunting - they're just so little and delicate! But don't worry, as there are plenty of safe ways to hold a baby this young that are also easy to learn for new parents.
If you want a simple position, you can try the classic cradle hold - just slide your arm so a hand is under your baby's head, slip them into the crook of your elbow, and lift their body with the rest of your forearm. This is a great position for bottle feeding, as it leaves one of your hands free.
Can you hold a newborn under the arms?
Newborn babies have very little control over their neck muscles, and as such can't support their own heads until the 4 to 6 month mark. Until then, you'll need to ensure that you're supporting their head every time you pick them up.
Holding a baby under their armpits doesn't provide any support for their head and neck, which can mean breathing problems and even injuries in some cases. Instead, if you want to look at your baby's face, try the face-to-face hold: just hold baby slightly away from you, with one hand supporting their head and neck and one holding up their bottom!
Is there a bad way to hold a baby?
As a rule of thumb, if you're supporting baby's head and neck, there isn't really an incorrect way to hold your baby. It can be easy to feel like you're doing something wrong as a first-time parent when you're just learning how to hold a baby, but rest assured that it will become second nature before you know it!
Should you hold a newborn baby all the time?
When your baby is a newborn, there's really no such thing as holding them too much; in fact, giving your baby this kind of love and attention consistently is vital to their emotional and psychological development. Holding them while having some skin-to-skin contact time can also be great for bonding.
However, this doesn't mean that putting them down from time to time will do any harm - especially if it means you can get some well-earned rest as a new parent! If you have a fussy baby who struggles to settle after you've put them down to sleep, you can try our new Zen Neo - gently weighted to mimic your touch, this swaddle pod is designed to give your baby womb-like comfort and help them learn to self soothe without being held.
Does holding a newborn affect brain development?
Absolutely! Studies have shown that supportive touch like holding your baby, particularly with skin-to-skin contact, is associated with stronger brain responses, which can indicate how your baby will develop in the future.
Is it OK to pick baby up by the armpits?
In terms of how to pick up a newborn, you may be wondering if you can pick them up by the armpits. Newborns have delicate muscles and their head and neck need proper support. Lifting them by the armpits can put undue stress on their shoulders and may risk injuring their still-developing muscles and joints.
As your child grows and gains better head and neck control, lifting them by the armpits becomes less risky, but for newborns, it's crucial to support the head and neck.
What is the most important rule when holding a baby?
The cardinal rule for holding a baby, particularly a newborn, is to always support the head and neck. Newborns lack the muscle strength to hold up their own heads, so failing to provide adequate support could risk injury.
Make sure one hand is supporting the baby's head whenever you're lifting or holding them. This simple yet crucial guideline ensures the baby's safety and well-being.
Bringing Our Conversation on How to Hold a Baby to a Close
We've walked you through the essential techniques for holding a baby, from the classic cradle hold to the handy football hold. Each method serves a unique purpose - whether it's to soothe, to bond, or to aid in functional tasks like breastfeeding.
But beyond the different techniques of how to hold a newborn baby, the underlying principle that threads them all together is the critical importance of supporting your baby's head and neck at all times. It's a fundamental rule that ensures the safety and well-being of your precious little one.
Knowing how to hold a baby is an art that combines care, attention, and a lot of love. It not only provides comfort to your baby but also establishes a crucial foundation for bonding and trust between parent and child. And let's not forget - it makes those heartwarming cuddles all the more sweet and meaningful.
If you don’t already have a weighted swaddle or weighted sleep sack, get yours today at Nested Bean. We have so many styles to choose from, including our bamboo swaddle, zipper swaddle, arms up swaddle, bamboo sleep sack, or even a winter sleep sack.
You can also learn more about the journey of parenthood in our blog - with tips on everything from baby separation anxiety to sleep training newborn babies, newborn bedtime routines, signs of sleep regression, home remedies for teething baby at night, why your newborn won't sleep unless held, and more.
We hope this guide has given you the confidence and know-how to hold a baby safely and lovingly. Remember, practice makes perfect, and if you're ever in doubt, don't hesitate to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized guidance on holding a baby!