How to Hold a Newborn Baby

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on August 3, 2016Written by Ashley Marcin on August 3, 2016

Now that your baby is here, you probably have a lot of questions about how to care for them. Even if you’re a seasoned parent, things like how to hold your newborn might feel foreign or downright scary at first.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to hold your newborn infant.

Step 1: Wash your hands

Always make sure your hands are clean before you pick up your baby. Baby’s immune system is still developing, so any germs you carry may make them sick. While lathering with soap and warm water works well, consider keeping hand sanitizer around for guests who also want to cuddle your little one. Clean your hands each time before holding your baby.

Step 2: Get comfortable

Comfort is one of the most important things about holding your baby. Not only do you want to feel physically comfortable, but you also want to feel confident in your hold. Seasoned fathers at the blog “Dads Adventures” suggest that it takes around five minutes to get comfortable with the idea of holding your newborn.

It’s OK to feel a bit freaked out at first. Give it time, and remember to breathe!

Step 3: Provide support

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.

Step 4: Choose your position

Holding starts with picking baby up. When you go to lift your baby, place one hand under their head and another under their bottom. From there, raise their body to your chest level.

As long as you’re supporting baby’s head and neck, the position is up to you. There are a variety of holds you and your baby might enjoy. Some of these positions are also great for breast-feeding or burping. Experiment by trying different ones to see what feels the best to both of you.

Cradle hold

The cradle hold is one of the easiest and best ways to hold your newborn for the first several weeks of life:

  1. With your baby horizontal at your chest level, slide your hand from their bottom up to support their neck.
  2. Gently nudge baby’s head into the crook of your elbow.
  3. While still cradling their head, move your hand from the supporting arm to their bottom.
  4. Your free arm will be able to do other things or provide extra support.

Shoulder hold

  1. With baby’s body parallel with your own, lift their head to shoulder height.
  2. Rest their head on your chest and shoulder so they can look out behind you.
  3. Keep one hand on their head and neck, and your other supporting baby’s bottom. This position may also allow baby to hear your heartbeat.

Belly hold

  1. Lay your baby, stomach down, across your forearm with the head up toward your elbow.
  2. Their feet should land on either side of your hand, angled closer to the ground so the baby is at a slight angle.
  3. This position is helpful if baby is gassy and needs to be burped. Gently stroke baby’s back to work out the gas.

Lap hold

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet firmly on the ground and place your baby in your lap. Their head should be at your knees, face up.
  2. Lift their head up with both of your hands for support and your forearms under their body. Baby’s feet should be tucked in at your waist.

Check in

Pay attention to baby’s mood while you’re holding them. If they’re fussy or crying, you might try another position to see if that makes them more comfortable. You can also try a gentle and slow rocking. Take note that baby’s head should always be turned out to allow them to breathe.

More tips

  • Try skin-to-skin contact while holding baby. It’s a great way to bond and keep them warm. You can strip baby down to their diaper, place them against your bare chest, and cover with a blanket.
  • Choose a seated position if you feel nervous about holding baby. Sitting down is also a good idea for anyone who might not have the strength to support baby’s weight, like children and older individuals.
  • Use a baby carrier, like a Boba Wrap, for hands-free holding. Follow all instructions on the carrier’s packaging. It suggests age-appropriate holds and positions.
  • Use an infant support pillow, like a Boppy Pillow, when holding baby for extended periods of time or to help with breast-feeding.
  • Do not cook or carry hot drinks while holding baby. Knives, flames, and excess heat are dangerous and could lead to injury by accident. Stay away from others who are working with those things near you.
  • Hold your baby with both hands while you’re going up and down the stairs for added safety.
  • Do not ever shake your baby, whether to play or to express frustration. Doing so can cause bleeding in the brain and even death.

Next steps

There’s really no right or wrong way to hold your baby if you keep these tips in mind. Though they’re tiny, newborns are less fragile than you might think. The key is to get comfortable and support your little one’s delicate head and neck. Even if holding your baby feels funny or frightening at first, it will soon become second nature with practice. 

Q:

What are some helpful resources for new parents to learn about caring for an infant?

A:

There are many great resources. Your baby’s pediatrician can be helpful. A good book is “What to Expect the First Year” by Sandee Hathaway. Also visit http://kidshealth.org/ for more information. 

University of Illinois-Chicago, College of MedicineAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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