Holding a baby for the first time is a beautiful, meaningful moment. For the new mother, it’s actually finally carrying her little one in her arms after nine months of carrying her in the womb. For the new father, it’s a moment of pride and love to see the baby that has, until now, been in physically in contact only with his partner. For others, it’s the sign of a new relationship, whether sisterhood or brotherhood or perhaps grandparenthood.
But most people find that the first time they hold a baby is awkward and clunky. It can take some time, and a lot of exposure to babies, to get just the right kind of cradle that is comfortable for both the holder and the baby.
But even those who are veteran baby carriers can often fall into quite a few mistakes while holding the baby. In most cases, these mistakes do little harm. However, they do increase the risk of falls or injury, something that nobody wants as babies are fragile.
In particular, there are special considerations in holding newborns, as there are muscles in their bodies that are not yet quite developed and so may need plenty of support.
But the new parent or brother or sister need not worry. Carrying a baby is actually pretty easy as long as a few guidelines are followed. To make things easier, we’ve listed fifteen dangerous mistakes that people make when holding the baby so it’s simple to know just what to avoid.
15 Not Enough Head Support
Mistake number one is when the little one does not get enough head support. This is particularly in newborns, as their neck muscles are not yet very well developed. In fact, it will take up to a month before a baby will be able to move her head somewhat on her own. It won’t be until three or four months that the parent can begin easing out head support, although it’s best to still do it when the baby looks tired. At six months, the little one can already lift it steadily.
Because of the nature of this development, a newborn without enough head support might flop to one side or another, or get flexed at the neck. These positions might make it difficult to breathe or might injure the baby’s neck if held like this for long periods of time. So top tip number one: always make sure that the head is supported by either a full hand or the crook of the arm.
14 Hip And Back Support
The head isn’t the only part of the body that needs support when carried. Babies will also need support of the hip and the back. Some may carry babies with support under both the head and the buttocks. However, this can leave the spine vulnerable to being pulled down by gravity. Since this is such a large surface area, it can result to stress injury or even falls, if the holder gets suddenly outbalanced.
When carrying a baby, therefore, it’s best to place a hand or an arm under the entirety of the back and the hip. The same arm or the other hand can support the head. If the baby is being carried against the shoulder, however, having the baby’s chest touch over the carrier’s chest will serve as adequate back support. Once the little one is able to sit down on her own, however, it’s alright to withdraw some back support, as long as the baby is not in danger of falling down.
13 Head And Body In Different Directions
Awkward positions, which may make the baby a bit sore afterward, are those when the head and body are misaligned. That is, when the little one’s head is facing one direction, while the body is facing the other. Usually, this happens with babies who already have some head control and may turn their heads to a side where they can breathe better. And while this may be alright for a short period of time, doing this for longer periods can put strain on the little one’s delicate muscles. In particular, this can affect the muscles of the back, the neck and the stomach.
When holding the baby, it’s generally best to keep the head and the body in proper alignment. The little one may turn her head occasionally, but shouldn’t twist it so far that it’s uncomfortable. Again, it’s best to watch the baby’s airway when carrying her so that she doesn’t have to turn to breathe.
12 Face Against Shoulder
This is a common error in babies who are being burped. In the burping position, the baby’s chest will be against the carrier’s chest. The head, however, should be turned to one side or just above the shoulder with head support from one hand if the baby is less than six months old. This is because a baby whose face is against the carrier’s shoulder may have trouble breathing. This is especially if the carrier is wearing a soft, fluffy fabric that can get in the baby’s nose and mouth.
Younger babies, in particular, will have trouble moving their heads away from this intrusion to their airway. Anyone who is burping a baby or for some other reason is carrying her against the chest had best check on the baby’s head position. In fact, with any carrying position, it’s best to check whether the baby is breathing properly. If not, it’s best to move the head into a better position.
11 Pressing Against Fontanels
In an attempt to support the head, some might press too hard on it. But since the skull is pretty sturdy, this shouldn’t do any harm, right? Well, not quite. Anyone who is observant may notice that babies have soft spots on their heads. These are called fontanelles, holes which allow flexibility of the baby’s skull when it goes out through the birth canal. In addition, these allow for further growth and development of the brain after childbirth.
One fontanelle is located at the front of the skull and is called the anterior fontanelle. Another one is located at the back, called the posterior fontanelle. There are then two smaller fontanelles on either side of the head, at around the temples. When carrying the baby, it’s best to just provide firm but gentle support on the head. Don’t grab on it with a claw-like hand as this can press against these delicate fontanelles.
One dangerous thing to do when holding the baby is multitasking. While in some cases, it may be necessary to carry the baby in one arm and then do something with the other arm, it’s best to avoid this as much as possible. This is because, even with one-arm holds the other arm should always be there to provide necessary support, make adjustments and even catch the baby in case the other one falters. Multitasking can lead to falls and injury.
One way to get around this, however, is to carry the baby with a sling or a kangaroo carrier. This can mean that the parent can use one hand to support the baby and the other to perform other tasks. But in any case, it’s still best to avoid carrying the baby when doing potentially hazardous tasks such as cooking. If something needs to be done, perhaps it’s best to put the baby in the crib.
9 Distorted Limbs
In quite a few cases, people may carry babies in a way where the support is not under the hips, but on the limbs, usually the legs and feet, tucked under the body. This is a bad idea as gravity pulling against the baby’s body can bring all that weight upon the limb, which can injure the little one’s joints or, at least, result in very sore muscles afterwards.
As a general rule, when carrying a baby, it’s best that the support is on the head, back and hips. The limbs are best left hanging freely, with some support under the thighs. This is usually no danger, as they are relatively light body parts and they do need a bit of space to freely move around. If the little one’s limbs need to be restrained for safety reasons, holding the baby in a chest-to-chest position is the best. This ensures that the baby cannot reach out too far, but also keeps the limbs in a non-injuring position.
Speaking of restraining the baby, some parents do so by swaddling, and, if you think about it, this is perfectly fine. However, it’s important to know the proper swaddling technique, as an improper swaddle can result in serious injury. First of all, it’s important to remember that the baby’s limbs have to be able to move around fairly freely or, at least, be in a comfortable position. Second, the swaddle mustn’t be too tight as this can lead to problems.
One common problem in babies that are swaddled incorrectly or too tightly is infant hip dysplasia. This is basically when the ball and socket joints between the hip and the thigh bone becomes loosened, resulting in pain and, in some cases, disability. This often happens in babies who are swaddled so tight that the legs are brought together and forced straight down. In some cases, surgery will be needed to correct this problem.
7 Bending Down To Pick Baby Up
Carrying the baby isn’t just about the little one’s comfort, however. The person holding the baby has to be equally safe when lifting the little one. For instance, when picking a baby off the floor, many people tend to bend down at the waist. This, however, puts undue strain on the waist and the back. When done frequently and in conjunction with other literally back-breaking practices, this can result in chronic pain and injury.
The proper way to pick up a baby is to bend at the knees. This allows the weight to be evenly distributed on the knees, the legs and the back, resulting in much less strain overall. In fact, this is the ideal thing to do when picking up pretty much anything, whether it’s the little one or the car keys that have fallen on the floor. Do this frequently and your back will certainly thank you in the long run.
6 Picking Baby Up From Too Far
Another baby carrying faux pas that can break mom or dad’s back often happens when picking up a baby sleeping on an adult bed. Many people tend to bend down over the bed to reach out to baby and then picking her up. In some cases, they will even put their knee on the bed for support as they lift the little one up. Again, this puts unnecessary tension on the waist and the back, which can ultimately lead to problems later on.
When picking up a little one from afar, it’s best to lean over but, instead of picking the little one up right away, slide both hands under the baby. One hand should be supporting the head and the other, the hips. The parent can then pull the baby closer to the edge of the bed. Once the little one is close enough, it’s then easier and much less backbreaking to pick her up.
5 Not Sitting Back
One common mistake for breastfeeding mothers or bottle-feeding dads is to lean down over the little one as she feeds. Again, this isn’t all too good on the parent’s back. It can also strain the neck muscles, leaving them more than a little bit sore. While this may not seem a big deal on the short-term, back and neck strain are definitely things that can haunt one later in life.
The best thing to do is to make use of whatever back support there is available. When sitting down on a chair, lean back as the little one feeds, to ensure that there isn’t too much strain on the back during the process. Ideally, the feet should be at roughly a right angle and flat on the floor. If this is not possible and the feet dangle from the edge, the chair itself might be too short for the parent’s height.
4 Forgetting Pillows
Speaking of support, moms and dads who are feeding their little ones often don’t make efficient use of pillows. Pillows are great ways to provide support to the parent’s back, torso or legs, depending on the feeding position they’re in. When feeding the baby on the bed, for instance, mom or dad might want to tuck a pillow under the armpits, behind the back and then, if it’s comfortable, between the legs. Or, when feeding on a chair, a small pillow or a rolled towel at the small of the back and perhaps a travel neck pillow will help. This allows for minimal strain on the muscles, and a more relaxed feeding overall.
In particular, mom might want to get special breastfeeding pillows that are friendly for pretty much any feeding position. Some of these pillows even come in portable inflatable versions so that mom can breastfeed in comfort in an instant.
3 Not Enough Body Contact
The best carrying positions are those with a good amount of body contact. After all, the little one craves warmth and comfort. A position where she feels like she’s being hugged and cuddled is likely the one that she’s going to like the best. These positions also help her get the adequate amount of warmth. In fact, babies have more ideal temperatures when they’re against another human being.
In fact, many experts now discourage carrying a baby facing away from the parent. Some parents do this whilst carrying the little one on carriers and kangaroo pouches. However, not only does this look clunky and awkward, this also provides inadequate support on the head and the back. The thighs will not even have enough support, again increasing the risk for hip dysplasia. If a baby must be carried facing away from the holder, it must only be for very short periods of time.
2 Too Little Carrying
Some parents avoid carrying their little ones as much as possible in fear that they will “get spoiled.” However, nothing could be further from the truth. Carrying a baby can no more spoil him than feeding her when she’s hungry will make her a glutton. In the early months of life, babies need comfort and protection, which they perceive through the warm bodies of their parents. When not held enough, a baby will perceive that there is hardly anyone there to provide for her needs. This can paradoxically make for a clingier and more demanding baby later on.
Basically, babies are meant to be held, and it’s not just for the little one’s sake but also for the parent’s. After all, time will pass, the baby will grow up and won’t quite be as available for hugs and cuddles as she used to be. So make the most of it and keep that little one close!
1 Bumping Into Things
A common baby carrying mistake is being careless! When holding a baby, it’s best to watch where you’re going. Don’t bump into things, even when it’s in the home. After all, furniture and other things can topple over, causing injury to both the baby and the carrier. This is even more important when strolling outside. Look out for people on bikes or skateboards scooting across the sidewalk.
One reason for crashes and injury while carrying a baby is that some hold the baby in a position where she blocks the view. While this may be comfortable for the baby, it’s not exactly safe when the parent has a blind spot where hazards are invisible. Save the vision-blocking carrying positions for holding the little one in a steady position or seated. When out and about, make the most out of that baby carrier or even a stroller, and, most of all, keep all the senses sharp!