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! We're here to tell you why your baby might wiggle in your arms, how to soothe them, and a few ways of holding them so that you can find a way that best suits you and your baby.
In this article:
Flailing baby - what's happening?
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 around 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 backwards.
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 use a swaddle blanket to do this - our pod shaped Zen Neo is gently weighted to mimic your touch, and all you need to do is zip baby inside!
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!
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 favourites!
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
Holding your baby - mom hack!
'Never attempt to hold your 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
Of course, you need to make sure whenever you're swaddling your baby that you're doing so in a safe way. If you're using a swaddle blanket, ensure that it's tight enough around the chest that they can't wiggle an arm out, but not so tight that their breathing is constricted.
You also need to ensure that they have room for their legs to move around to prevent hip dysplasia, that they are never being placed on their front when swaddled as this can lead to suffocation, and that their crib is free of any loose blankets or stuffed animals.
When done correctly, swaddling can actually reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and can be a great tool for making holding your baby simpler, and therefore safer.
Baby holding safety
When you're researching how to hold a baby, keeping your little one safe should always be the number one priority.
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!
Holding your baby - from the experts
'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 baby’s fontanelles, which are the soft spots on the top of their 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 newborn baby techniques