woman holds a baby doll cradled in her arms

How to Hold a Baby: 4 Common Positions and Important Tips

“Here! Hold my baby!” they say, as you look frantically for a quick escape out the nearest exit! 

Being handed an infant can be the most intimidating moment for someone without experience.

Friends and relatives are often targets of unwanted, unrequested, unsure baby-holding as Mom and Dad assume everyone knows how it’s done. 

Even many expecting parents may have never had a chance to hold someone else’s newborn before their own comes along. Perhaps you’d love to hold your friend’s baby, but you simply don’t know what to do!

This is exactly why I’ve listed out simple steps for different positions for anyone to safely hold a baby and feel comfortable while doing so. 

Let’s start with the basics below! Four common holds are explained along with important tips. My daughter’s baby doll is back to help illustrate the positions with photos. (If you missed it, the doll made its first appearance in the post How to Change a Disposable Diaper, where you’ll find the easiest way to change a baby’s diaper!)

How to Hold a Baby Properly

The way to properly hold a baby is to keep their body safely cradled with the head and neck supported while ensuring the face is free from any obstruction. 

It’s as straightforward as that. Once you have that part down, you figure out the different positions that are comfy for you and the baby. 

Since there are many ways one can hold a baby with varying degrees of difficulty, we will explore some of the more common positions below as well as some tips for anyone who may feel nervous or unsure when holding an infant.  

Baby Neck Strength

One of the most important aspects of holding an infant is to support the neck and head because they have weak neck strength for the first several months. I’m guessing this may also be a top reason why people lack confidence when holding small babies as they don’t know what this means or how to do it. 

Babies are born with minimal neck strength, meaning they cannot lift their head well on their own or maintain much control of their neck muscles. 

Over the first several months (approximately 3-5), babies’ neck muscles will develop and they will soon have the strength needed to control their movements and support their own head. “Tummy time” is a great way for infants to exercise and improve these important muscles. 

However, during the initial months when they do not yet have this strength, their head must always be supported so that it doesn’t flop backwards or forwards, causing injury to the baby. 

Sure, it may sound intimidating at first but there are actually very easy ways to always ensure that the baby’s head is supported and safe in your arms. You can find all the necessary details with these common ways to hold a baby. 

Ways to Hold a Baby

Cradle Hold

One of the most common ways to hold a baby is the cradle hold. The cradle hold position is where the baby lies across your upper torso on its back at a slight incline with their head supported in the crook of your elbow and your hand supporting their bottom. 

how to hold a baby cradle hold

It is also a popular way to feed a baby as they are close to the breast or at a slight incline for bottle feeding. 

The majority of first-time or inexperienced baby-holders will feel most comfortable using this position as the baby’s entire body is securely held. You can gradually get used to holding a baby by first sitting down while supporting them in the cradle hold.

Make sure the baby’s body is safely resting against your body. Small babies may be able to fit safely and securely into just one arm, but feel free to provide extra support with the other hand and arm under the baby if needed. 

Shoulder Hold

This next one is a great way for babies to be supported in an upright position, which can be particularly beneficial for releasing any trapped gas (burps) after feeding. With the shoulder hold, the baby lays vertically on your chest facing you with the neck supported with one hand and the body supported under their bottom with your hand, or arm for larger babies. 

how to hold a baby shoulder hold

This position is also ideal for holding a newborn upright. Ensure that their head can rest on your chest or shoulder, and is supported by your free hand when needed. They will not have the neck strength to keep stability on their own. 

If their body is safely laying against you and the baby is calm, you can gently pat or rub their back with the “head-supporting hand” to provide comfort or a gentle but effective way to burp them. If you are doing the latter, be sure to drape a burp cloth on your shoulder in case anything more than gas comes up!

Tip: When getting the baby into the shoulder hold, cradle them facing you and bring your chest downwards to the baby’s face before moving your entire body upright. This will avoid their face bonking on your hard clavicle or shoulder area as you move. 

Facing-outwards Hold

Babies want to see the world too and facing outwards is the perfect posture for them to look around. It’s also a great position if a baby cries with the person who is holding them (that way they don’t realize who has them in arms). 

Also known as the “chair” hold, the facing-outwards hold is where the baby is laying vertically against your chest with their back towards you, their bottom held by your hand or arm and their head braced by your chest. Your free hand can either go on their tummy or under their chin if additional head stabilization is needed.

how to hold a baby facing-outwards hold or chair hold

Face-to-face Hold 

The final hold of the more popular positions is face-to-face. This one is a little more advanced if you are standing up, but can also be done seated, and is a lovely way to see the sweet baby’s face. 

The face-to-face hold uses just your hands to cradle the infant’s head and bottom with their feet against your stomach area and their little eyes facing you. 

how to hold a baby face-to-face

If you’re sitting down, you can support their bottom with your lap and have one free hand or both hands under their head. 

How to Change Baby’s Position

If you need to switch the hold or readjust baby, there are some basic steps to transition them safely and confidently. 

The easiest way to move a small baby is with one open hand cradling the back of its neck, providing support to the head, and the other open hand supporting its bottom. 

how to hold a baby and change positions

From that position, you can move them to lay on another part of your body or to their bassinet or even to another person. 

The baby may wiggle, stretch or move unexpectedly so be sure to have a gentle but firm hold on their body.

If you feel uncomfortable with the baby only being supported with your hands, try laying them on a safe surface and reposition them into your desired hold from there. Always keep one hand at the base of their head until they are fully supported in the new position. 

Always be mindful of the head’s weight when moving into an upright position so that it doesn’t drop forcefully against your body. 

The more you hold an infant, the more confident you will feel with your own movements and control over the baby’s supported body. 

Important Tips When Holding a Baby:

When you need to readjust or it’s time to hand over a baby to another person, there are some important factors to remember. 

  1. Always remember to keep the head supported until the other person is supporting it or the baby is on a safe surface.
  2. Move slowly and take your time. 
  3. Always keep a gentle but firm hold on the baby since their shifting weight can make their body move in unexpected ways.
  4. Don’t just assume the other person is ready or has proper hold of the infant.
  5. Sit down so that you have more space to readjust the baby, using your lap if needed.
  6. Use two arms/hands when holding a baby.
  7. Don’t multitask while holding an infant until you really feel comfortable.

If you’re looking for some more information on baby care, you can find Tips For Clipping A Baby’s Nails (And Not The Baby!) or Snaps Or Zippers For Baby Clothes? 12 Helpful Tips For Dressing Your Newborn along with other posts on the blog.