How Do You Handle a Newborn Baby?

Medically Reviewed on 6/14/2022
It's an essential parenting skill: confidently and securely carrying your newborn baby.
It's an essential parenting skill: confidently and securely carrying your newborn baby.

It's an essential parenting skill: confidently and securely carrying your newborn baby. Human babies are born with poor muscle tone, vision, and reflexes. Your baby depends on you for socialization, nutrition, and almost everything else. It's important you know how to handle and carry your baby safely while fulfilling these needs.

The critical thing to remember is that your newborn baby has very little strength and coordination. Their neck muscles cannot hold their head up — you must provide support at all times. Your baby cannot move their limbs out of the way of a doorway or furniture, so you must make sure there is plenty of room while walking with your baby.

Lifting your baby

Your newborn baby is not very strong and can't control their limbs. Their head is large and heavy, and their neck muscles can't support it until about four months. You must support their head while lifting and carrying your baby until then. Your baby's head can be injured if you don't exercise care.

When picking up your newborn, you need to support the entire body, especially the head. Bend from the knees when lifting your baby. Start by sliding one hand under the hips and up to the head, under your baby. Once you have their head well supported, slide the other hand under their body from the other direction. 

Make sure your baby's weight is on your hands, and their body can't slip out of your grasp. Once you're sure your baby is secure, straighten your knees and stand erect, holding your baby against your chest. 

Another way is to bend at the knees, insert one hand under your baby's bottom, and place the other hand under their head and neck. Make sure your grip is secure before straightening up and lifting your baby to your chest.

Cradling your baby

You can do this while standing or sitting down. Place your baby's head in the crook of your elbow so that their head and neck are well supported. Your baby's body should rest on your forearm, and your hand holds their bottom. This is a good position for breastfeeding.

Your newborn baby doesn't have much strength and needs to be supported along the length of their body. Never pull them up by their hands as their head will lag behind their body and might be injured. 

When you cradle your baby, you can look down at your baby and talk to them. Your baby will start recognizing you at about two months. But even a newborn can make out human faces and enjoys looking at them.

A newborn baby's vision works best at 8 to 12 inches, so holding them close lets them see you. Close contact also promotes emotional bonding, which is good for growth and development.

Carrying your baby on your shoulder

Newborn babies can't hold themselves erect. Hold your baby against your chest with their head at your shoulder and put one hand under their bottom, taking their weight. The other hand should support their head and neck.

The shoulder carry is a good position for burping your baby after feeding. It is also a secure position for walking with your baby or going up and down stairs. Their body is held against yours with both your hands, making it a safe hold. Your baby can hear your heartbeat and breath in this position. A crying baby is often comforted by these sounds. 

The shoulder hold is also good for putting your baby to sleep before putting them in their bassinet or crib.

Swaddling your baby

Swaddling is wrapping your baby firmly in a blanket, and the feeling probably reminds them of the womb. Most newborn babies like to be swaddled and sleep well. Swaddling also makes it easier to carry your baby.

Place a thin or thick blanket (depending on the temperature) flat on a table and fold a corner over. Place your baby's head on this part. Hold your baby's right arm close to the body, bring the corner of the blanket over their body, and tuck it under them. Then do the same for the left arm. The swaddle should allow them to move their hips and legs. Once your baby starts rolling over, you should stop swaddling.

Letting family members hold your baby

Family members who visit you and your baby may want to hold them. Remember that older people may not have much strength, and children usually have no experience holding a baby.

Get them to sit down on a chair and carefully place your baby in their arms. Show children how to support the head and neck. Hover around, just in case. It's best not to leave your baby alone in a child's arms. It's also recommended any visitors wash their hands before handling your baby, as newborns have undeveloped immune systems.

Make sure your baby is held safely

Here are a few other safety rules to remember:

  • Never lift your baby quickly by their hands. Their head is likely to snap back, and such jerky movements can injure the brain and other delicate structures inside the skull.
  • Don't carry sharp instruments, hot liquids, or food when carrying your baby. Babies tend to wave their little hands and feet.
  • Make a firm rule for older siblings -- no holding the baby unless an adult is in the room.
  • Never shake a baby or toss them in the air. These sudden, jerky movements can cause bleeding inside their head or damage the brain. The effects of the shaken baby syndrome can be permanent or even fatal.

Holding a baby, any baby is a joy. Nature has just hardwired us to like babies (and take care of them). If they are your first, you may be a little worried about holding and carrying your newborn baby. Taking a few extra precautions is crucial to keeping them safe and vital for newborn and infant parenting.


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Medically Reviewed on 6/14/2022

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Abusive Head Trauma: How to Protect Your Baby," "How Your Newborn Behaves."

Canadian Pediatric Society: "Swaddling."

National Health Service: "How to Breastfeed, Cradle Hold."

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Important Milestones: Your Baby By Four Months," "Important Milestones: Your Baby By Two Months."