How do I hold my newborn baby?
As a new parent, particularly where this is your first baby, it can seem as if your newborn is made out of fragile porcelain. Consequently, many first-time parents often feel quite nervous about picking up and holding their newborn baby for the first time. Although babies are vulnerable in so much as they are tiny when born and their bones and body organs are immature and still developing, babies are actually much sturdier than you would expect… Simply changing their nappy often demonstrates this when they can wriggle and kick their legs most vigorously! You will however, also be surprised by just how quickly you become confident in handling your new baby. Remember: When you hold your baby confidently, your baby will feel confident, safe and secure being held in your arms.
This article offers helpful tips and guidance on holding your new baby in the first few days after birth. We have also included information on safeguarding; this refers to the safe handling of your baby so that they are not placed at risk of harm or injury.
Your new baby will love being cuddled and held close to you; however, sudden movements and a change of position can startle them, so try to ensure that if you are adjusting your hold on your baby, that your movements remain steady and gentle so your baby is not alarmed. When you are picking your baby up from their cot or Moses basket you will need to support their head and neck. This is because at birth, your baby’s head is the largest and heaviest part of their body and your baby’s neck and back muscles are not developed sufficiently to support this weight unaided.
Whether you are left- or right-handed, you will need to slide your dominant hand under the nape of your baby’s neck and their shoulders, so that you are supporting their head and neck. Use the other hand to support their body; this is usually done by holding their nappy area. You can then pick them up and bring them closer to you so that you are able to cradle them in your arms.
Whenever you are cradling or cuddling your baby you will need to always support their head and neck, even where your baby is lying in an upright position against your chest with their head resting against your shoulder. As your baby grows and develops the muscles of their neck and back will strengthen and they will gradually be able to support the heavy weight of their head unaided. Babies cannot independently support their head and neck until they are around four to five months’ of age. If your baby likes to be cuddled and held close a lot of the time, it may be worth investing in a baby sling, which enables your baby to remain close to you while keeping your hands free so that you can carry on with the care needs of any older children as well as, daily chores and household activities. See also our article on ‘Baby slings’.
Keeping your baby safe
Whilst it is true that your baby is a lot stronger than they might appear, they are still very vulnerable to, and at risk of, injury. A major concern that has been highlighted by the media and a recent NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) campaign is ‘shaken baby syndrome’. The soft tissues of your baby’s brain are extremely vulnerable to injury. Shaking your baby makes their head move back and forth quickly and forcefully, which can easily cause the fragile blood vessels in their brain to rupture (tear) and bleed causing seizures (fits), brain haemorrhage, brain damage and, in some cases, even death. Therefore, you must never shake your baby.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are frustrated or angry with your baby and are struggling to cope with these emotions, it is important that you put your baby in a safe place eg in their cot or play pen and that you leave the room and calm your emotions. If you are worried about how you are feeling towards your baby, it is important that you speak with your midwife, health visitor or GP. They will be able to offer you information and advice and can put you in contact with people and groups who can help to ensure that you receive any additional help and support that you might need. See also our article on ‘Mood changes after childbirth’.
Last image published by kind permission of Roger Acres Photography