Every new baby has exactly the same basic needs for food, comfort, cleanliness, and attention, but babies are also wonderfully complex little individuals, with moods and preferences. While you’re not going to know exactly what those preferences are until you meet the little guy or gal (and isn’t that going to be awesome when it happens?), it pays to review some basic baby-care skills in advance before they arrive. At the very least, knowing what soothes some babies will give you an arsenal of tricks to try out when your own beloved baby just won’t stop howling.
Nearly every newborn prefers to be held as much as possible, and some just absolutely refuse to cope if they’re not being held every minute, so it’s a good idea to learn some holding techniques. Investing in a quality baby carrier will also help to make this phase easier – no matter how much the baby wants to be held, at some point you’re going to need to use your hands, and with a carrier, you can do both!
The number one thing to remember is: always support the baby’s head! Babies have heavy heads and no neck strength. To pick your baby up from a surface, put one hand under her head and one under her bottom and lift at the same time. (While a new baby is very light, it doesn’t hurt to obey the advice in this Aussie tutorial and lift with the knees to avoid hurting your back!)
The most basic hold is the most obvious from here: cradling your baby on her back, with her head in the crook of your elbow. Just make sure she’s supported, and you can look at each other and have a little chat. And you definitely should talk to your baby a LOT! It’s crucial for language development.
Many babies also enjoy being held upright, chest to chest: this lets them snuggle into your heartbeat, echoing the warm and coziness of the womb, and curious babies will enjoy looking over your shoulder. Just make sure, once again, that their head is supported until they have better neck control.
The experts at Dad’s Adventure* also recommend the following holds for a fussy baby:
“The forearm lift will often calm a fussy baby. Bend one arm and place your baby, tummy down, along the length of your forearm, with his head resting in your open hand and his legs straddling your arm. Bring your arm close to your body for security and then stroke or gently pat his back with your other hand.
“Laying him tummy down across your knees will also often calm a fussy baby. Stroke or gently pat his back. The best hold is laying your baby across your chest so he can fall asleep listening to and feeling your heartbeat.”
You’ve probably already seen the more advanced hold for a fussy baby which was going around the internet last year: “The Hold” as demonstrated by Dr. Robert Hamilton, of Pacific Ocean Pediatrics. This magic combination of positioning, bouncing, and a swaddled feel won’t necessarily work 100% of the time, but when it does, it’s a lifesaver!
And finally: once you’ve got the basics down, you can start having some fun. Babies are more sturdy than they look, and no doubt you’ll be doing the “Show Off To The Other Dads Superman” in no time!
* For some reason, virtually every “how to hold a baby” tutorial online is pitched at dads, as though moms-to-be don’t need this advice too! For every single parent, caregiving is part instinct and part practice. I like how one commenter put it in response to a New York Times blog about maternal instinct: “A nurturing caregiver grows their skills as carefully as the scientists who did this study grew their PhD’s.” Just as you’ve mastered other skills throughout your lifetime, you’ll become an expert on your baby bit by bit, through the daily study of their behavior and the daily work of attending to their needs.