How to Properly Hold a Baby

All throughout your pregnancy you dreamed about holding your baby for the first time. And now that your little one has arrived, you may be curious about how to hold her in a way that keeps her safe and secure. There are various ways to hold a baby depending on the circumstance. For example, how you hold your baby when picking her up from her crib, bottle- or breastfeeding her, bathing her, burping her, or comforting her will need to be slightly different. Read on to find out how to hold your baby safely and comfortably each time.

How to Properly Hold a Newborn Baby

All new parents are nervous when it comes to holding a newborn baby for the first time — that’s human nature. There are a few things to keep in mind when holding your baby, and in the following sections we break them down for you depending on the situation. The most important step when carrying or holding your newborn is to support his head and neck. Your baby will not develop head control until he's about 4 months old, so it will be your job to ensure that his head doesn’t flop from side to side or snap from front to back.

Picking Up Your Baby

Before picking up your baby from her crib, for example, be sure to support her head and neck, taking extra care around the fontanelles (the soft spots). When picking up your baby, slide one hand under his head and neck, and place your other hand under his bottom. Bend your knees so that you don’t throw out your back. Now that you have a good grip on your baby, scoop her up and bring her in close to your chest while you straighten out your legs. Most cribs have an adjustable mattress height, which means you don’t have to bend over quite so much during the newborn phase. As your baby grows and becomes more mobile, you will need to lower the mattress to ensure your baby can’t climb out.

Lying Position Hold

To hold your baby in a lying position, cradle his head with one hand while resting his head against your chest. Use your other arm to support her neck while placing her head in the crook of your elbow. Support her bottom with your other hand. This position is great for making eye contact with your baby and smiling and talking to him, which can aid in his development and enhance his emotional security. Interacting with your baby like this can also help with bonding.

Upright Position Hold

To hold your baby in an upright position, support her head and neck with one hand while resting her on your chest and shoulder. Support your baby’s bottom with your other hand.

How to Hold Your Baby During Skin-to-Skin Contact

Skin-to-skin contact, a.k.a. kangaroo care, is a bonding practice you can begin right after your baby is born (and continue throughout infancy). Skin-to-skin contact involves placing your nearly naked baby (except for perhaps a diaper and a beanie) on your bare chest with his chest touching yours. Drape a blanket or a gown over your baby’s back to keep him warm. Skin-to-skin contact not only helps you and your little one bond but also helps regulate your baby’s temperature, breathing, and heartbeat. For new moms and dads, the benefits of skin-to-skin contact can include feeling more confident as a parent. And nursing mothers may experience an increase in breast milk supply.

How to Hold a Baby With Colic

Colic is a condition that refers to a period (usually your baby’s first three or four months) when an otherwise healthy baby cries inconsolably for more than three hours, more than three days a week, for three weeks or more. It can be tough to know what to do if your baby has colic, especially when nothing seems to work. One of the methods you can try is holding her close to your body while taking slow and calm breaths. This may help soothe her. Rocking your baby in your arms may also help, as can holding her close to you in a baby carrier. Read more about how to soothe and treat a colicky baby here.

How to Hold a Baby While Bottle-Feeding

When bottle-feeding, whether it’s with formula or breast milk, cradle your baby in a semi-upright position (to help with swallowing) while supporting his head in the crook of your elbow and his body along your inner forearm. Avoid feeding your baby when she’s lying completely flat, as this can create a choking risk. Also, don’t let her fall asleep with a bottle, which can lead to ear infections and tooth decay. When bottle-feeding your little one, it may be most comfortable for you to sit in an armchair or glider, or to use pillows to help prop up your arms.

How to Hold Your Baby While Breastfeeding

Here are four breastfeeding positions you can try with your little one:

  1. Cradle hold. This is the most traditional hold and the one most moms try first. Cradle your baby with the arm that’s on the same side as the breast your baby will be nursing from. Rest her head in the crook of your elbow, facing your breast, with her body turned inward toward you. Make sure to support your baby’s head.

  2. Cross-cradle hold. It’s similar to the cradle hold, except that you’ll be holding your baby with the arm opposite the breast he will be nursing from. Support your baby’s head with your hand, place his bottom in the crook of your elbow, and use your other arm to support your breast from below. Have your baby’s body turned inward toward you. Try this position if your newborn is having trouble latching.

  3. Football hold. As you’d imagine, this position has you tucking your baby under your arm as if she were a football. To do so, hold your baby to your side at the same level as your waist and support her back with your arm. Tilt her head up toward your breast. Try this position if you’ve had a C-section, if you have large breasts, or if you’ve given birth to twins and want to feed both babies at the same time.

  4. Side-lying position. As you lie on your side, place your baby beside you, and lift your breast up so that he has easy access to your nipple. You’ll find this position will be convenient for late-night feedings (just make sure you put your baby back in his crib once you’re done feeding him). It’s another good position to try if you’ve had a C-section.

Get the full list of recommended breastfeeding tips.

How to Hold a Baby When Burping

Here are three different ways you can hold your baby for a burping session (use the one that’s most successful with your baby):

  1. Hold your baby upright while you rest his head on your shoulder and support his head and back. Use your other hand to softly pat his back.

  2. Sit your baby on your lap while you support her head, chin, and chest with one hand. Use your other hand to gently pat her back.

  3. Lay your baby in your lap on his tummy you while you support his head so that it’s higher than his chest. Use your other hand to gently pat or rub his back.

How to Hold a Baby When Bathing

When bathing your baby, be sure to support her head with one hand while you use your other hand to guide her into the baby bathtub. Make sure to keep most of her body and face above the water, and always keep a hand on her. Don’t leave your baby unattended for even a second. Use your free hand to gently wash your baby’s body with warm water.

How to Hold a Baby When Feeding With Solid Foods

Make sure your baby is sitting upright when you feed him solid foods. This helps minimize the risk of choking, and it will also help prepare him for joining the family at the table when the time comes. Support your baby in your lap or place him upright in an infant seat. You can also use a high chair beginning at around 6 months of age if he is able to sit well.

How Not to Hold and Handle a Newborn Baby

When holding your little one, focus on your baby and avoid trying to multitask, being especially careful not to do anything that could be potentially dangerous. For example, never handle hot drinks or cook while holding your baby. By focusing on your baby and on holding her securely, you also minimize the risk of tripping or accidentally dropping your baby. Never shake your baby. If your little one is crying and you’re feeling frustrated, place him on his back in his crib, and take some time out in another room for a few minutes. Reenter the room when you’re feeling calm and ready. When it comes to friends and family holding your baby, make sure not to hand them your baby while they’re standing. The safest thing to do is ask them to sit down, and then gently place your baby in their arms, ready for cradling. Some other important tips to keep in mind:

  • Ask that anyone who handles your baby wash his or her hands or use hand sanitizer first

  • Make sure the person holding your baby supports your newborn’s head and neck at all times

  • Your baby should never be shaken or roughhoused with, which includes being jiggled on the knee or thrown in the air.

Safety Tips for You as You Hold Your Baby

As you master holding your baby in the correct way, it’s also important to pay attention to how you carry yourself while holding him. The weight of your baby as you hold him can increase your risk of injury or muscle imbalances, which can lead to pain. To avoid injury, aim to carry your baby close to and centered on your body. Avoid carrying your baby on your hip as this can cause shoulder, hip, and spine problems. To properly carry and lift your baby, keep your

  • spine straight

  • shoulders back

  • core (abdominal muscles) engaged.

When picking up your baby up from a lower spot like the crib or play mat,

  • bend your knees to protect your back as you bend over

  • straighten your legs as you stand back up.

The Bottom Line

Holding your baby isn’t rocket science; however, there are some important guidelines to follow. The most important is always to support his head and neck and to keep your focus on him, avoiding distractions or multi-tasking with anything that could be dangerous. Whether you’re feeding your baby, burping him, or practicing skin-to-skin contact, the simple holds we’ve described help ensure both of you are comfortable and safe. Holding your baby is a wonderful thing — these are the moments that will bond the two of you for a lifetime. Enjoy the cuddles!