|How to Hold Your Baby
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 calming.
||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 like.
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"
2 "Teaching Your Baby American Sign Language"
3 "Infant holding biases and their relations to hemispheric specializations for perceiving facial
4 "The Importance of Skin to Skin Contact" by
5 "Nine Reasons Not to Carry Your Baby Facing Out"
6 "Early 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.
7 "Does infant carrying
promote attachment? An experimental study of the effects of increased physical contact on the development of
See also: "Ten Reasons to Wear your Baby" by Laura Simeon,
|More Articles by Jan Hunt More Articles about Babies