Holding and handling your baby

It’s natural to feel nervous about handling a newborn, especially if you’ve never held a baby before.

Some new parents worry that they will hurt their baby because they look so fragile, but don’t let this stop you from picking your baby up or holding them.

Just remember… the more you hold your baby, the more you’ll get used to it and the more they’ll get used to you. In no time at all, it will feel really natural for both of you.

The basics of holding a baby – what you need to know

Young babies have a heavy head and weak neck muscles which aren’t strong enough to hold their head up or keep it still. This means that, whenever you pick your baby up or hold them, you need to support their head and neck at all times.

You will notice a couple of areas on your baby’s head that seem to be lacking bony protection. These are called ‘soft spots’ and are normal gaps in a newborn baby’s skull. They allow your baby’s brain to grow rapidly throughout the next year. Many parents are afraid to touch these soft spots, but you can rest assured that they are well protected from gentle day-to-day baby handling.

Your first time

As you pick your baby up, slide one hand under their head and the other under their bottom. Settle your baby so that their head is resting in the crook of your arm, supporting the underneath of their body with your free arm.


How babies like to be held?

Babies like to be held cuddled up close to you. Carry your baby so that their chest is against you and their head is resting against your shoulder. This is a very good position for burping, and your baby will like it because they can look at things over your shoulder.

The forearm lift

This will often calm down a fussy baby. Bend one arm and place your baby, tummy down, along the length of your forearm, with their head resting in your open hand and their legs straddling your arm. Using your other hand to support baby, safely bring your arm close to your body so that baby feels secure, and then stroke or gently pat their back with your free hand.

Other ways that your baby may like to be held:

  • Lying supported on top of your chest. Remember, though, never to fall asleep with your baby in this position, either on the sofa or in your bed.
  • With your arm around their tummy and their back against the front of your body.
  • Cradled in your arms, with their head supported, for smiling and talking to each other.
  • Lying ‘tummy down’ across your knees will often calm a fussy baby – stroke or gently pat their back.
  • Sitting on your lap with their back resting against you and your hand holding their chest. You can then gently rock your baby back and forth.
  • In a sling – this keeps baby close, but your arms are free to do other things.

What babies DON’T like:

  • Being held without their head or back supported.
  • Being held at arm’s length – this makes them feel insecure.
  • Being picked up or moved from one position to another very suddenly. Keep movements smooth and gentle.
  • Any rough play or handling, like being gripped too tightly or having a bottle or dummy pushed into their mouth.
  • Shaking – never shake a baby. This can cause serious, lasting damage to your baby’s health, or even death.