How to Pick Up a Baby: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents

    How to Pick Up a Baby: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents
    Updated 15 April 2020 |
    Published 24 May 2019
    Fact Checked
    Tanya Tantry, MD
    Reviewed by Tanya Tantry, MD, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Medical Consultant at Flo
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    Every piece of content at Flo Health adheres to the highest editorial standards for language, style, and medical accuracy. To learn what we do to deliver the best health and lifestyle insights to you, check out our content review principles.

    You're no doubt excited when your newborn comes into the world. But even with this excitement and unbridled joy, you probably still feel some fear and hesitation in picking up this seemingly fragile baby. Worry not! This guide will teach you the safest way to pick up an infant.

    How to pick up a newborn

    Now that your journey of carrying your baby has come to an end and you have introduced him or her to the outer world, another one begins — and you're sure to have lots of questions about it. You’re going to need to usher your baby through the various facets of this new world.

    In these first months before your baby can get around on his or her own two feet, you'll need to provide some assistance. Naturally, this involves picking up and holding the baby.

    Lifting baby by arms

    Some parents might be tempted to hold the baby by the forearms or wrist and lift. This is not recommended and can be dangerous, as it can cause a condition known as nursemaid’s elbow, or subluxation of the radial head. It happens when baby’s ligaments get loose, slip, and then get trapped between the joints. This is the second most common serious elbow injury in children after supracondylar fractures. It's most common in children between 2-5 years of age and comes with lateral elbow pain, a well as pain and tenderness in that area.

    In other instances, lifting your baby by the arms might cause his or her head to loll forward or backward, owing to the momentum of the force with which you lifted. This can also be dangerous, since the neck muscles and ligaments aren’t strong enough to adequately support the weight of the head at this early age.

    So, what's the right way to lift? You should ensure that you support the head whenever you lift your baby, until he or she is able to support the weight independently. To lift your baby up when he or she is lying down, place one hand under the head and the other under the bum, and then lift up towards your chest.

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    Proper way to hold a baby

    It's not uncommon for parents of newborns to be emotional and always want to hold the baby. In the previous section, we explained how to lift a baby. Here are some steps you should follow to ensure that you hold him or her properly.

    Wash your hands

    Wash your hands before you hold your baby. The same applies to your partner, family, and friends who want to help you out with carrying the baby.

    Though it might seem rude to demand that everyone wash their hands, it’s a necessary first step. Your little one’s immune system is still weak and developing. If he or she comes into contact with germs, the body may have a hard time fighting off the infection.

    If having people wash their hands with soap seems a bit too much every time, it's a good idea to have hand sanitizer nearby so they can quickly disinfect before they pick up the baby.

    Get comfortable

    When it comes to holding your newborn, you might feel anxious because of his or her size and fragility. This anxiety can affect the way you pick up and hold the baby, making it awkward and uncomfortable — and when this happens, you are more likely to drop him or her. You need to get comfortable with the idea of picking up and holding onto a new baby. Once you get comfortable, holding him or her will come naturally.

    Provide support

    Earlier, we talked about the inability of your newborn baby to support the weight of his or her own head. This is because the head makes up about a third of the body weight and the neck muscles aren’t developed enough to support and control that.

    You should, therefore, always provide support for the baby’s head so that it doesn’t loll off in a dangerous position. It's also important to note of the position of the fontanelle, a soft spot at the top of the baby’s head. Protect it from bumping into hard and solid objects.

    Choose your position

    The position you choose to hold your baby in will likely depend on what's comfortable and what you want to do while holding him or her. Common positions include:

    • Shoulder hold
    • Belly hold
    • Cradle hold
    • Lap hold

    If you’re going to walk around the house or even outdoors with the baby, the shoulder hold is usually best. In this position, you hold the baby against you with his or her head on your shoulder and your hand supporting the neck and head.

    The cradle hold is an ideal position for breastfeeding. Place the baby face up, with the head resting in the crook of the arm along which the baby is lying. The other arm can then offer extra support or position the breast.

    The belly hold is like the reverse of the cradle. Here, the baby lies on your arm at a slight upward angle facing the ground. This position is useful if you’re trying to burp a gassy baby.

    The lap hold is for downtime when you want to look at your baby. Sit upright in a chair and place the baby on your lap, his or her head towards your knees and facing up. Baby should lie on your arms, with your hands supporting the head and neck.

    How to put down a baby

    Of course, there comes a time when you need to put down your baby so that you can do other tasks or perhaps lay down for a nap. Keep in mind the same guidelines that you had when lifting him or her up:

    • Support the head and neck with the splayed fingers of one hand, while the other hand supports the baby’s bottom
    • Bend your knees and get as close as possible to the even surface onto which you’re lowering the baby
    • Slowly withdraw your hand from his or her bottom and place it on baby’s tummy or chest for reassurance
    • Ease the other hand from under his or her head

    Picking up a baby: safety tips

    When you’re picking up your little one, there are some key tips you need to follow to ensure that the baby is safe:

    • Support the baby’s neck and head at all times
    • Don’t shake the baby when waking him or her up or during play time
    • Sit down if you’re nervous about holding the baby
    • When picking up a baby or child, carry through your knees instead of the back
    • Don’t carry hot food or drinks when holding the baby
    • Stay away from people who are working with sharp or hot objects

    The new addition to your family might seem very fragile, but rest assured: she’s hardy enough for you to pick up and hold. Do so the right way and everything will be fine!

    History of updates
    Current version (15 April 2020)
    Reviewed by Tanya Tantry, MD, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Medical Consultant at Flo
    Published (24 May 2019)
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