How To Properly Hold Your Baby 

By: Jake Kreindler, PT
Co- Founder of DMI Therapy

Holding your baby is not only a way of transporting them, it is also a special moment of bonding. The way your child snuggles up into you, makes eye contact, and looks around at the world makes us as parents, feel great and proud of our baby’s accomplishments. 

The way you hold your baby can have a dramatic impact on their trunk control and ultimately, their gross motor development.

To understand how and why this is so, we need to take a closer look at gross motor development. 

When babies are born, they lack head and neck muscle control. Their heads are completely floppy. Over the course of the next few months, with proper tummy time, head control improves and becomes stable. (For more information on tummy time, see my article, “How Tummy Time Helps” https://getyourbabymoving.com/how-tummy-time-helps/ ). 

As strength in the baby’s neck improves, trunk control begins to play a larger role in development, setting the stage for a solid core which gives the child stability in all positions. 

When you hold your baby, you have choices. You can either be very supportive or you can challenge your baby by giving less support.

The level of challenge should match up to your baby’s age and appropriate expected abilities in the area of head and trunk control.

In the first 2 months of life, a baby’s head control is extremely poor. 

This is the time to be extremely supportive at first, then gradually, as head control improves in months 2 and 3, stop holding the baby’s head.

These are 2 great ways of holding your newborn baby.

In this picture, we see how by month 2-3, you can start to decrease your support on your baby’s head.

By months 3 & 4, your baby’s head control should have improved dramatically and, while his head may be a bit wobbly, you should be able to hold him without supporting his head. Holding your baby facing away from you is also a great opportunity to help him learn to extend his head backwards to maintain head and neck extension against gravity.

As we move from months 4 and on, we want to focus on two crucial points.

  1. Exposing the baby to gravity so he can learn to hold himself up.
  2. Using proper holding techniques so that we create good trunk strength and righting reactions. 

The biggest mistake parents make is giving too much support in the wrong places. When you hold you baby on your hip with their legs straddling your body, as seen in the photo below, 

you are supporting/stabilizing the muscles in the lower back. When muscles are stabilized in this way, the child does not have to use them, and therefore, creates lower trunk weakness. 

In the above photos, these moms are not only stabilizing the muscles of the lower back, they are also pressing the baby into themselves and stabilizing the abdominal muscles too! This will cause lower trunk instability and weakness that can cause delays in multiple milestones including sitting, kneeling, standing, and walking!

The good news is that for most typically developing children, these problems can usually be corrected within 2 weeks with proper holding.

The best way to hold your baby is in front of you, under his bottom.

This position allows for full trunk freedom. He will learn to move with you, righting his trunk to stay upright, and molding to your body as necessary. He will be strong and will begin to move independently to look around and explore his environment. 

While this position may feel unnatural at first, it is truly the best way to set the stage for your baby’s gross motor developmental success!

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at getyourbabymoving.com

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