What’s The Right Way To Hold My Newborn?

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Some first-time parents know exactly what to do when it comes to taking care of their new baby: holding, swaddling, feeding, burping, diapering. Others aren’t so sure. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we want you to know that we’re here for you with guidance, tips and advice for properly and safely handling your newborn.

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Many of our new parents feel anxious about picking up or holding their newborn. They’re afraid they’re not doing it right or that they might drop the baby. We understand. Holding an infant is not easy and it’s natural to feel nervous. To help you and your baby feel safe and comfortable, here are some easy-to-follow guidelines, just one of the many ways we help new parents feel more confident about taking care of their baby. To learn about all the services we offer new parents, click here.

How to safely hold a baby

1. Wash your hands. Healthline.com says: always make sure your hands are clean before you pick up your baby. Newborns have not developed a strong immune system yet, making them very susceptible to germs that are easily transmitted from people’s hands. Also, keep hand sanitizer around for guests who want to hold your little one.

2. Support your baby’s head and neck. When carrying, picking up or laying your baby down, make sure to support his/her head and neck with your hands. Your baby’s head is the heaviest part of his/her body at birth and the neck muscles are not yet strong enough to support it on their own. (This typically takes 4 months.) Also, pay special attention to your baby’s fontanelles, the soft spots on the top of the head.

Many positions and holds to choose from

There’s really no right or wrong way to hold your baby if you keep these tips in mind. Although they’re tiny, newborns aren’t as fragile as you might think. Even if holding your baby seems scary at first, it will soon become second nature with practice.

Different holds work better for different purposes, such as breastfeeding, burping or soothing. Experiment to see what feels best for both of you and which ones your baby prefers. Here are our 6 favorite holds, from Mom Junction.com:

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

  • With your baby horizontal at chest level, slide your hand from their bottom up to support their neck.
  • Gently nudge your baby’s head into the crook of your elbow.
  • While still cradling their head, move your hand from your supporting arm to your baby’s
  • Your free arm can provide extra support or perform other tasks.

2. The shoulder hold

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

3. The belly hold

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

4. The lap hold

  • 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.
  • Lift their head up with both of your hands for support and your forearms under their body. Your baby’s feet should be tucked in at your waist.

5. The face-to-face hold

  • Support your baby’s head and neck with one hand.
  • Offer support to his/her bottom with your other hand.
  • Hold your baby just below the chest facing you.

6. The football hold

  • Support your baby’s neck and head with your hand, and the rest of their back with your same forearm.
  • Adjust your baby’s head and neck with your other hand.
  • Encourage your baby to curl towards your body side, with the legs extended behind.
  • Draw your baby close to your chest.
  • Use the other free hand for offering extra support to the head or to feed your baby.

A few more tips

  1. Always try to get skin-to-skin contact while holding your baby. It’s a great way to bond and keep him/her warm. You can strip your infant down to their diaper, place them against your bare chest, and cover with a blanket.
  2. Choose a seated position if you feel nervous about holding a baby. Sitting is also the best position for anyone who might not have the strength to support a baby’s weight.
  3. Do not cook or carry hot drinks while holding your baby. Knives, flames and excess heat are dangerous and could lead to injury.
  4. Hold your baby with both hands while going up and down stairs.

Never shake your newborn

Vigorously shaking your baby is very dangerous and can cause bleeding in the brain and even death. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we understand that a constantly crying or colicky baby is hard to take at times. When this happens, we recommend playing music, gently rocking your baby, or making soft, soothing, cooing sounds to help stop the crying. Whatever you do, don’t shake.

If you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, please ask for help. Call your partner, a friend or your pediatrician and we’ll talk you through it.

Count on us for all kinds of information and advice to help you raise your baby

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re a new parent or an old hand, we’ve got years and years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re ready to help you with yours.

Helpful articles you might want to read:

Questions about how to hold your baby? Come see us.

If you’d like more information about the best ways to hold and handle your newborn, or any aspect of raising your baby, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. We’ll answer all your questions, offer advice and guidance, and be a listening ear if that’s what you need. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy baby and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a practicing pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball