|How to Hold Your
by Jan Hunt, M.Sc
|I was recently asked how to hold a
baby. This is an interesting question, because it's a reminder of
how far we've come from intuitive parenting. If we could travel
back in time to the Stone Age, and were to ask mothers and fathers
this question, I'm sure they would be quite perplexed. Judging
from historical trends and from modern-day observation of
newly-discovered Stone Age tribes, these parents would be spending
so much skin-to-skin time with their babies, they would have a
first-hand knowledge of their baby's needs moment-to-moment. They
would have even known (as many parents in so-called primitive
societies still know) when their baby needed to pee! When asked
how they know this, they are baffled, and ask in return, how do we
know when we have to pee? Some modern-day parents are
rediscovering this kind of beautiful awareness of their baby's
needs, through elimination communication training.1
Parents who have this kind of connection will also know
instinctively how to hold their baby, by staying alert to their
baby's movements, breathing, and facial expressions, and by
listening closely and respectfully, with a focus on determining
their baby's unmet needs. Such parents would never waste time and
energy wondering if they should respond to their baby's
protests and tears; they would naturally and consistently give
them the same loving respect they would want themselves when they
had an urgent need.
|Sadly, many parents have lost this kind of
awareness and connection. They are too overwhelmed by their busy
life to stop and hear what their babies are telling them. Many
parents even ignore loud crying because they've been told that
crying is an attempt to manipulate the parents, not an attempt to
communicate an important need. This has been an unfortunate and
harmful development in parenting; it has created mistrust and fear
where there should only be a joyful and loving connection.
|So how should we hold our babies? Like
many other questions new parents face, we should watch and listen
to what our baby is trying so desperately to tell us. If she isn't
comfortable, she will let us know, even in the earliest weeks and
months. Ignoring this communication is as unhelpful as ignoring
our partner's or friend's communication. It creates problems that
shouldn't exist, and which can be avoided so easily by connecting
and hearing what our baby is trying to tell us. Yes, it's easier
to know what our baby needs once they learn our language, but
their gestures, facial expressions, body language and
verbalizations can give us a wealth of information if we only pay
attention. Teaching a baby sign language (which can start as early
as the third month, with the baby signing back by about the sixth
month)2 can also make it easier
to know their needs more specifically, but long before that,
parents can connect so closely on an emotional and physical level
that words are not needed.
Communication comes in many forms. While it's not possible to
predict what kind of holding a baby will need at a specific time
beforehand, in general, they like to be held with their head on
our left side so they can hear our heart beat, as they did in the
womb. Research suggests this facilitates the baby's emotional
development.3 It also reassures
them of our continued presence, and is emotionally and physically
||Babies like to be picked up in a gentle, natural,
intuitive way, and to be held lovingly, calmly and gently, with no
sudden changes or movements. They like skin-to-skin contact, which
provides many physiological benefits.4
Whether using a baby carrier or your arms, have the baby facing
in, which helps the parent attend to the baby's cues and avoid
overstimulation. It also helps the baby's spine to develop
normally.5 Be sure her head
is held gently but securely at all times.
|After picking her up, give her your full attention.
If she squirms, stiffens, or looks uncomfortable, try a different
position. Keep making adjustments until she looks and feels
comfortable. She will let you know in many ways that babies want
to be held as much as possible throughout the day. A baby who
insists on being held all day is simply a baby who knows that
holding meets her needs in the most beautiful and effective way.
She is not "spoiled" - she is smart! And research
suggests that babies who are held the most cry the least and have
the most secure emotional attachment.6,7
Hold her at night as well as during the day, so she has
reassurance of your continued presence, and so you can monitor her
breathing (which will be more regular than if she were sleeping
away from you). All other mammals sleep with their parents, and
for very good reasons. Babies who cosleep have improved heart
rates, breathing rates, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and
body temperature. And they are learning what love should look
Of course, these are just general guidelines. Only your baby
knows what she needs at any given moment, just as she will know at
every age. Trust what your heart tells you. Connect, watch, and
listen. Your child is the best parenting counselor you can have!
1 "Diaper Free! The Gentle
Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene"
Your Baby American Sign Language"
holding biases and their relations to hemispheric specializations for
perceiving facial emotions"
4 "The Importance
of Skin to Skin Contact" by Jack Newman
Reasons Not to Carry Your Baby Facing Out"
skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants"
ER Moore, G Anderson, N Bergman, T Dowswell. Cochrane Pregnancy and
Childbirth Group, 2012.
infant carrying promote attachment? An experimental study of the effects
of increased physical contact on the development of attachment."
See also: "Ten Reasons to
Wear your Baby" by Laura Simeon, MA, MLIS
|More Articles by Jan
Articles about Babies