Dad Skills: How To Hold Your Newborn Baby

Prior to my daughter being born, I was the type of guy that was happy to look at a baby and pull faces but if offered to hold them I would usually decline. Not because I was averse to them, but because I didn’t know how to hold them. They seemed so small and fragile, and I felt so clumsy that I thought it best for their safety (and my own) that I steer clear. Adding to this, I had thoughts of ‘what if I drop them?’, or ‘what if I break them?’ or ‘what if they squirm out of my hands?’, all fueling this fear of holding babies. So I stuck to my policy of ‘look, don’t touch’ and waited until they were at an age where they could walk and play before I started really engaging with them. Then once I knew my wife was pregnant, holding a baby was something I could only avoid for so long! I had to figure it out, or I would miss out on so much potential bonding time (plus have to deal with feeling guilty about not helping out as much as I could). Luckily for me, even with all the research I did, when the time came to hold my daughter it felt natural, and I almost just knew how to do it automatically. But that isn’t always everyones experience. So here are 3 common ways to hold your newborn and some tips to get you started. Remember, like any skill it takes preparation and practice, and mental resilience, to develop.

Any information included in this post is of a general nature and for informational purposes only. If you require support specific to your needs please seek support from your relevant health professional.

The Cradle

The cradle is probably the most common and most comfortable way of holding a newborn. It provides baby with a sense of safety by being held close to the parents body (and being able to feel your heartbeat) and ‘cradled’ in both arms. It provides stability for baby and ensures full support for baby’s head and neck. Aside from being a comfortable way of being held for baby, for dads and mums it also provides use with a sense of closeness and care, allows us to see baby’s face completely (which helps with bonding) and is also, for the parent, one of the most stable ways to hold a baby (reducing any worry or anxiety about dropping baby).

So how do you hold baby in a cradle position?

  1. First, place one hand under baby’s head and neck (this is the top arm) and the other under baby’s bum (this is the bottom arm). This should allow your hands to provide full support to baby.
  2. Next, as you pull baby in close to your body, slide your top hand down baby’s back under your other hand so that baby’s head is now supported by your inner elbow and body, and baby’s body is supported by your arm and hand. It is extremely important that you always maintain support of baby’s head since baby can’t support their own head. Note: you can also move your bottom hand up so baby’s head is supported by your hand and the body and bottom supported by your arm. This will give you better support of baby’s head if you aren’t feeling as confident, but you won’t have as much freedom to use your hands.
  3. Finally, with baby’s head and body now supported by your top hand and arm, place your other arm underneath your bottom arm to add extra stability and strength to hold baby. Perfect, now you’re holding your baby!

While this hold does limit the use of your arms, it does keep your hands somewhat free to hold things as needed.

Upright Head On Your Chest Or Shoulder

This hold is useful when you need baby to be upright – possibly to help with burping after a feed or if baby is awake and wants to see the world! It is also a hold that can help baby hear your heart beat more, feel safer in your arms and makes you feel like you are truly hugging your baby. If your baby is anything like mine, they may also just want to mix up how they are being held (they might get too bored in the one position) so having another way of holding baby is important!

Steps to hold baby in this way:

  1. With baby laying down, place one hand under their head/neck and the other under their back/bottom. Make sure you are always supporting their head and neck when in this position as they are unable to do so themselves.
  2. Gently pull baby up towards your chest or shoulder.
  3. Make sure baby’s airways (mouth and nose) are clear by facing them to one side. If baby’s face is nuzzled into your body, it creates a potential suffocation risk.
  4. For extra stability, you can place your hand under baby’s bottom, creating a ‘seat’ for baby to sit on. This will allow you to hold baby’s weight easier in the one hand.

I would often use this hold to help my daughter burp after feeds, by having her up on my shoulder while we walked around the house going on a ‘tour’. Aside from helping my daughter burp, it also gave me an opportunity to bond through holding her and helped my daughter to bond and develop by hearing my voice and seeing new things in the house.

The One Handed Cradle

This Cradle is exactly like the regular cradle, but as the name implies its only with one hand. This one is perfect when you have a bit more confidence and you’re comfortable with your strength in holding baby with one arm. It has most of the same benefits as the regular cradle, however even if you are comfortable with your strength and stability holding baby with one arm, it is still not as stable. The biggest draw card though for the one handed cradle is that now you have a free arm! This made it a bit easier to grab things, write things down, greet people, feed baby or do chores.

So how do you do the One Handed Cradle? Just follow the first 2 steps of the regular cradle and then remove your bottom arm so it is free!

Once I mastered this hold, it meant I could do so much more. And by so much more I mean it meant I could game for a solid 2-3 hours while baby slept (allowing me to finally complete Final Fantasy XV and have a solid run at Elder Scrolls Online).

General Tips For Holding Baby

Regardless of which method you choose to hold baby (whether its one of these three or another way), there are some key things to remember when holding a newborn baby, both for baby’s sake and also for your own confidence.

  • Always keep the neck and head supported. This is the most important part of holding a baby. If you do this, then even if baby is crying and upset, at least they will be safe.
  • Babies are more resilient than you think. Sure they’re small and feel fragile, but their bodies are tough and can handle any fumbling around you need to do in the beginning.
  • Practice, practice, practice. If you want to get better at something, you need to practice. If holding a baby is frightening, your brain will tell you to avoid holding babies. So if you want that to change, then you need to practice.
  • Babies will cry, for any number of reasons. Them crying while you hold them isn’t your fault, and with enough time you holding them will help soothe them. It’s difficult, but try not to let this knock your confidence.
  • Seek help, from your partner, family or friends. You can even ask your doctor or child health nurse. But don’t be afraid to seek help if you need to. Holding a baby is not always ‘natural’, and is something we learn.

Remember, You Got This

I’m confident now in holding babies, but that took practice and self belief. I was lucky that once my daughter was born that I had done enough to make me feel confident enough the first time I held her, but if you were to ask me back when my wife was pregnant I would be questioning my suitability to hold babies. At the end of the day, you will be able to hold your baby without any issues and feel confident about it. It may happen as soon as baby arrives, or it may take some time afterwards, but either way it will happen. So remember, you got this!

about author


I've now got 1 year experience as a father and I'm still finding my way through fatherhood. I'm a registered Psychologist, and you would think this would help me in my fatherhood journey. But realistically nothing can prepare you completely so I'm just trying to figure it all out as I go.
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