Learn How to Hold a Baby Safely: Expert Tips and Techniques

Mother holding sleeping baby in her lap.

It may seem odd that anyone would need to learn how to hold a baby safely. The truth is, there are many dangers when an infant is held incorrectly. They are so tiny, fragile, and a tad squirmy when they get home from the hospital. As their neck and head muscles are not strong during those first few months, holding them incorrectly can cause injury to their brain or bodies.

Learning the best techniques on how to hold a baby properly will allow both new parents and newborns to thrive and bond. While reading this blog, you’ll learn the correct steps to hold a baby, how not to hold a baby, different positions, and so much more.

Why Is It Important to Hold Your Baby Correctly?

It’s natural to be nervous when holding your newborn for the first time. But when done correctly, there are many benefits for both babies and parents. Some include: 

  • A reduced risk of injury to the baby

  • An increased confidence for parents to hold their little ones and bond

  • Chances of parents tripping or falling while holding their baby decrease

Steps to Hold Your Baby Correctly

Yes, there is an entire process dedicated to how to hold a baby properly. But don’t worry, these steps aren’t overly complicated and once you get into the routine of it, it will come naturally.

Wash Your Hands

Hygiene first! Washing your hands before holding your baby is key. After all, infants have weakened immune systems. As such, you want to limit their exposure to germs, to prevent them from getting sick, especially those first few months. Nicely remind visitors to wash their hands before they pick up your newborn, too (and don’t feel ‘bad’ about doing so, at all).

Get Comfortable

When it comes to this step, “getting comfortable” is more about your “mental” state to ensure you have confidence around the hold you have on your newborn. Your baby will feed off your energy. If you feel uneasy, they will too. It’s completely natural and normal to feel nervous the first few times you handle your infant. However, this will get easier over time.

Provide Support

As mentioned above, newborn babies have very little muscle strength. Therefore, new parents need to support their necks and heads when holding them, at all times. 

Providing neck support is key until your little one can lift and move their neck and head independently, which generally occurs at around four months of age. A newborn’s head can easily flop to one side or from the back if a parent is not careful, which can cause injury.

When picking your little one up from their crib/bassinet/playpen, slide your hand under their neck and head, placing your other hand under the baby’s bottom.

Choose Your Position

When a newborn starts crying, a parent’s natural instinct is to want to pick them up and comfort them. Believe it or not, there are many positions you can hold your infant to help soothe them, feed them, or simply cuddle with them. This article outlines seven baby-holding positions. 

Cradle Hold

This technique can be used for feeding, rocking your baby to sleep, or calming them down by swaying them side to side. Essentially, your arms become a “cradle” for your baby to relax in. Below are the steps to take for this position:

  • With your newborn parallel to your chest, slide your hand up to their neck and head to offer support

  • Place their head into the crook of your elbow, slowly

  • Once their neck and head are supported within your elbow, gently move your hand from their neck to their hips and bottom

Father holding baby in cradle hold position.

Shoulder Hold

Holding them upright to your shoulders, this position assists with placing your infant to sleep and helping them release gas after a feeding (burping). Here’s how to do it safely:

  • Your infant’s body will be parallel to yours

  • You then gently lift them to your shoulder

  • Ensure their head is resting on your shoulder outward, and not against your chest so they can breathe easily

  • Support your baby’s neck and head with one hand, and the other can be placed under their bottom

Belly Hold

This position is perfect for when your baby is fussy or suffering from colic. It can also help newborns release gas. Here’s how to go about the belly hold position:

  • Carefully lay your infant on their stomach, facing down on your forearm, with their head up, over your elbow

  • Allow their feet to hang on either side of your arm in this position

  • Place your other arm across your newborn’s back, for security

Lap Hold

This is an excellent position for both parent and baby to bond. You can talk to them, make silly faces, and soak up every sweet smile and memory. 

  • While in a sitting position (on a chair or sofa), take your newborn and place them on your lap while your feet are firmly flat on the ground

  • Your newborn’s head will be at your knees and facing upward

  • Ensure both hands are under their head, and your forearms are along their body, while their feet are tucked into your waist

Newborn baby in lap hold position.

Hip Hold

This is a great position after the four-month mark, once your little one gains control of their neck and head. The hip hold allows a baby to see the world and interact with others around you, while still safely in your arms. It’s also a fun position to dance with them, bouncy them gently, or carry them around.

  • Your baby should face outward while sitting on your hip bones

  • Wrap one arm around your baby’s waist for extra support, and the other one should be under their bottom

When Does Holding Your Baby in a Reverse-Breastfeeding Hold Work?

This is a go-to position for many parents dealing with fussy babies. Interestingly enough, it has nothing to do with breastfeeding, except for the fact that it looks like the reverse position of how a baby can safely be breastfed (thus the name). It’s a safe way to sway your newborn and help calm them down. Steps include:

  • Place the palm of your hand in front of your newborn as they are laying on their back. This technique works well if they are swaddled

  • Gently “roll” the baby onto your forearm. The newborn’s stomach should rest on your arm and should be facing outward and not against your body

  • Ensure your elbow and upper arm are supporting the baby’s neck and head

  • Slowly bring the infant closer to your body, and lightly press them against your chest. Use your other hand for neck and head support

When Does Holding Your Baby Using the Football Hold Work?

Holding your baby like a football? Yes, it’s a ‘thing’! This position is perfect for feeding your baby, soothing them, or bonding. Parents can also use this technique when sitting or standing. Here’s how to do it:

  • Support your little one’s head and neck with one hand, allowing them to rest on the back of that forearm

  • Gently adjust their neck and head with the other hand

  • Help your newborn to curl towards your body, with their legs extended from behind

  • Bring them close to your chest

  • With the other hand, offer additional support to their head or use that other hand for feeding

Ready to Hold Your Baby Correctly?

Those first few days and weeks with your newborn are a special time. It can be a stressful one, too! Still, knowing how to hold a baby properly will make it far less worrisome. It’ll get easier over time. Some added tips for handling a new baby include:

  • Ensure your infant’s head is free to breathe and move when holding them Especially when they are swaddled. Woolino has a nice selection of swaddle blankets to choose from, which are made from 100% merino wool. They not only keep babies secure and safe but also help to regulate their body temperature

  • Refrain from holding your newborn when cleaning, holding dangerous objects, or cooking near a hot stove

  • Do not throw your little one up in the air or hold them upside down for “fun”. There will be time for rough house play when they get older

  • While it’s nice to dress up your newborn for special events, keep them in comfortable clothes as much as possible. Woolino offers a wide variety of soft and comfy bodysuits, sleepers, and footed pants

  • Mind your newborn’s “soft spots”, two areas on their heads that are very delicate. One is an anterior fontanel on the top of the head, the other is a posterior fontanel in the back. Softly touching these spots is ok, but parents need to do all they can to ensure their baby doesn’t hit them during a fall, and no one should press down on them.



Still a little unsure about things? It’s completely understandable! Below are some frequently asked questions, answered.

Is It ok to pick a baby up by the armpits?

The simple answer is that it is NEVER okay to pick a newborn up by the armpits. Picking them up in this fashion increases the risk of injury to their shoulders and arms. In addition, without proper neck or head support, you risk brain injury, too.

How do you not hold a newborn?

While there are many positions on how to hold a baby in this article, the general rule of thumb is to always keep a newborn’s head and neck supported when they are in your arms. 

How long should you hold your baby for?

Parents can hold their newborns for as long as they want if they are holding them in a safe and secure position. With that said, if you are growing frustrated with an infant that won’t settle down, it’s best to place them in their crib/bassinet/playpen for a little while, so you can take a break. This same idea applies if you are feeling drowsy or sleepy.


Related Blogs:

How To Swaddle A Baby

Most Common Mistakes Parents Make with Newborns

The Safest Sleeping Position for Your Infant

Benefits & Risks of Newborn Side Sleeping from an Expert