How To Hold A Baby: Safe, Gentle Ways (Plus, How To Pick Up A Baby)

How To Properly Hold A Baby Because, Yes, We’re All Scared Of Breaking Them

December 23, 2020 Updated May 6, 2021

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When I had around three months to go in my pregnancy, my husband and I went to a baby basics class. Of course, this was back when classes existed off of the computer. Being the youngest in my family, I didn’t have much experience with babies. I had no idea how to hold a baby. I had just a faint idea on how to change a diaper (were clothespins still involved?), but that was about it. It’s scary learning how to hold a newborn since they seem so fragile. What happened if I touched the soft spot on a baby’s head that’s so commonly talked about?

In a lot of ways, newborns are like glass or grenades. Sure they’re cute, but when it comes to holding them, that’s a different level of responsibility. If you’re anything like the rest of us, you break something at least twice a week, so why on earth would you trust yourself to hold a baby? Listen, you’re not alone in your fear. Sometimes it feels like the only one qualified to hold a baby is their mom. Anxiety over how to cradle a baby is very common for new parents.

But… there is nothing like holding a baby — their indescribable smell, their softness, the way they look at you. Ahhh, your heart will absolutely melt! Luckily, you don’t have to skip out on the experience or be filled with terror when it comes to holding a new baby. Practice makes perfect. So, whether you’re about to be a mom or just an anxious aunt, we got you. Keep reading for all of the baby-holding intel you need.

Looking for more baby content? We have pages on baby bondingbow-legged babiesbaby bouncers, and more. 

How to Hold a Baby Properly

For something seemingly so straight-forward, holding a baby can be a downright daunting challenge if you aren’t used to doing it. To help you feel more confident, we’ve gathered some top-tier tips.

Wash Your Hands

One of the first things you’ll want to do is wash your hands. You’ll always want to be as careful as possible around newborns to minimize the risk of getting them sick. This should also be a key rule for any family members who’ll want to hold the baby. It’s good to have some sanitizer around if possible. If not, just make sure you have plenty of hand soap. This is also very important for relatives who are smokers. Thirdhand smoke can affect your newborn, so you’ll want to protect them as much as possible. It’s in your right to ask them to change clothes and only smoke outside.

Sit in a Chair for Extra Support

If you feel a little uneasy, this is the best thing to do to feel more secure. Find a nice supportive chair and sit down. When figuring out how to hold a newborn, comfort is crucial. If you’re standing or moving around, you won’t build up as much confidence and may feel anxious as the baby is being passed your way.

Support Baby’s Head and Neck

This is where things can get a little awkward. Unlike adults, newborn babies aren’t able to lift their heads just yet. That’s a skill they’ll build through development and tummy time. For right now, you’ll want to make sure the baby’s head and neck are both well supported. A baby’s “soft spots,” known as their fontanels, help their skulls change shape during labor and delivery. They also help the baby’s skull grow. You’ll want to be careful with them, but they’re not something a new mom should fear.

Once you figure out how to hold a baby, you’ll grow more confident. Newborn babies won’t be as squirmy as babies who are a few months older, making it easy to adjust your hold as they get older.

Try a Shoulder Hold

This pose may be more comfortable while you figure out how to hold a baby. You’ll still be supporting your baby’s neck and bottom, but this position will also let your baby get close and hear your heartbeat, which is a comforting sound.

Try Different Holding Positions

If you plan on breastfeeding, you’ll learn plenty of different positions that’ll help feed your child. Football holds may be comfortable, especially for breastfeeding moms. This involves holding your baby horizontally, still supporting the head and neck. With an elbow pointed out, you can position your child to your chest. That said, anyone can use this position — even when feeding isn’t involved.

Make Sure They Feel Comfortable and Loved

While holding the baby, it’s important to always be on the lookout for any signs of discomfort. Since newborn babies can sleep around 16 hours per day, there’s a good chance a newborn will be fast asleep in your arms. Try not to wake a newborn baby if possible. Watching them sleep as you hold them is incredibly beneficial for your bond to develop even further.

How to Pick Up a Baby

In figuring out how to pick up a baby, you’ll essentially use the same techniques. Since the head is the heaviest part, that’ll be the side that gets the most support. If you’re concerned about how not to hold a baby, that’s the best tip. So, a solid start is to put one hand under your baby’s head, the other under their backside, gently lift them up as you cradle them, pulling them close to your body.

As long as you’re gently supporting their head and neck, you’re already halfway toward a healthy hold and pick up.

Benefits of Holding a Baby

Believe it or not, there is power in cuddling your little nugget. It can help mamas with their maternal stress and calm them down. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby can also help your newborn regulate their body temperature. And if you’re baby is in pain, snuggling with them can actually reduce their discomfort.

Holding a Baby Quotes

Holding a baby is fun, terrifying, and probably one of the sweetest experiences life has to offer. If you feel a range of emotions when holding a child, you’re not alone. We’ve rounded up a few quotes that express what it’s like to cradle a baby in your arms.

“This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps, under the stars, and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven.” — Rick Bragg
“Holding a baby in your arms is one of life’s greatest pleasures.” — Unknown
“For all the things my hands have held, the best by far is you.” — Unknown
“I hold my whole world in my arms every time I hold my baby.” — Unknown
“I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” — Isaiah 46:4

Best Position for a Baby  

Knowing how to put a baby down is just as important as understanding how to hold them. Infants aren’t ready to be in sitting positions and should not sit until they’ve started crawling. Sitting babies up too early can negatively affect their growth. It may hurt your little one’s spine and result in a weak backbone. Placing them on their stomachs is best because tummy time helps babies build muscles.