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Do newborns like to be held?

Newborn babies have many needs, including being fed, kept warm, having their diapers changed, and getting proper sleep. One of the most fundamental needs of newborns is to be held and cuddled. The desire for touch and physical closeness is innate in human babies, and being held provides critical comfort, security, and bonding during the first months of life. Understanding a newborn’s need for touch and holding can help parents and caregivers ensure the infant’s health and development.

Why do newborns like to be held?

There are several key reasons why newborns have an instinctive desire to be held close:

  • Comfort – Being held helps soothe newborns when they are fussy or upset. The physical closeness and skin-to-skin contact provides a sense of security.
  • Warmth – Newborns have difficulty regulating their body temperature. Being held helps keep baby warm and maintain a healthy temperature.
  • Bonding – Holding and cuddling facilitates critical bonding between newborn and parent/caregiver in the early stages of life.
  • Stimulation – Touch and movement provide important sensory stimulation for baby’s developing brain and body systems.
  • Communication – Physical contact helps newborns communicate their needs like hunger, discomfort, or distress.
  • Growth – The touch and contact of holding supports healthy physical and emotional development.

Additionally, research has shown that positive touch triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding, in both baby and the parent/caregiver. Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth specifically helps baby transition into the world and has been shown to improve newborn health and behaviors.

When do newborns like to be held?

Babies benefit from being held not just when they are upset and seeking comfort, but also during calm, alert states. Ideal times that newborns enjoy being held include:

  • During breast or bottle feeding – Providing comfort, closeness, and bonding while eating.
  • Skin-to-skin after feeding – Supports digestion and provides continued contact.
  • During diaper changes – Distracts from discomfort, maintains engagement.
  • When sleeping – Movement from light rocking can be soothing.
  • When awake and content – Enables baby to be engaged with surroundings.
  • After a bath – Helps warm and relax baby before bed.
  • When fussy – Touch provides comfort and reassurance.

Newborns generally enjoy frequent holding throughout the day. Parents can hold their newborn often during wakeful periods when baby is alert and looking to engage. Skin-to-skin sessions are recommended to help facilitate breastfeeding, bonding, and optimal development.

How should you hold a newborn?

Proper positioning is important when holding a newborn baby. General guidelines include:

  • Support the head and neck – A newborn’s neck muscles are weak and the head needs thorough support.
  • Use one arm to support the bottom – Let the infant lie along the forearm with the head on the elbow bend.
  • Keep baby facing inward – Toward the chest for comfort and head/neck support.
  • Maintain close contact – Keep baby tucked close to the body for warmth, security, and monitoring.
  • Avoid excessive movement – Gentle rocking is fine but avoid bouncing or jostling.

When holding a newborn facing you (chest to chest), their arms and legs can be tucked in or allowed to stick out. When holding baby facing out or over the shoulder, take care to properly support the head and neck. Adjust positions periodically for comfort.

What are the benefits of holding a newborn?

Regularly holding and cuddling an infant provides a wide range of important benefits, including:

  • Reduced crying and improved sleep
  • Stable vital signs
  • Improved weight gain
  • Enhanced immune system
  • Increased parental bonding
  • Better brain development
  • Decreased risk of postpartum depression
  • Greater feelings of security and comfort

Skin-to-skin contact helps regulate baby’s heart rate, breathing, and body temperature during holding sessions. The physical closeness also boosts the newborn’s immune system by exposing them to parent’s antibodies and healthy microbes.

Additionally, research shows that increased holding early in life enhances brain development and leads to better cognitive and motor skills as well as improved parent-child attachment.

How much should you hold a newborn?

Experts recommend holding or carrying a newborn baby around 2 to 3 hours total per day. This helps ensure the infant gets adequate touch and contact for bonding and development. Guidelines include:

  • At least 15-30 minutes of holding during feeding times
  • 30-60 minutes of skin-to-skin contact, ideally split into sessions
  • 1-2 hours of carrying around or holding baby during alert wake times

Aim to hold the newborn for periods ranging from 15 minutes to over an hour several times a day. This helps fulfill baby’s need for physical closeness beyond just feeding or sleeping. Take cues from the infant as well – fussy babies or those having trouble settling may benefit from extended holding.

Tips for holding a newborn

Some helpful tips for holding a newborn include:

  • Talk, hum, or sing to baby while holding
  • Make eye contact and engage facial expressions
  • Gently sway or rock baby
  • Try skin-to-skin holding
  • Let baby grasp your finger when holding
  • Switch arms or position periodically
  • Loosen blankets or clothing when doing skin-to-skin
  • Keep baby’s head up on your shoulder when burping

Parents should also make sure they are in a comfortable, safe position when holding an infant for longer periods. Sitting down in a chair, rocker, or bed eliminates falling risks.

How does holding impact development?

Regularly holding an infant provides important developmental benefits, including:

  • Physical – Enhances muscle tone, aids digestion/feeding, improves sleep.
  • Emotional – Provides security, aids bonding, reduces stress.
  • Cognitive – Stimulates senses and neural pathways in the brain.
  • Communication – Helps infants recognize caregiver voices.
  • Social – Promotes parent-child attachment, has long-term effects on relationships.

Skin-to-skin holding immediately after birth has additional effects like stabilizing heart rate, breathing, and temperature during the transition from womb to outside world.

Studies show positive impacts on brain and neurodevelopment from regular holding and touch early on. More holding in early infancy predicts greater compliance, advanced mental and motor skills, and fewer behavioral issues later in childhood.

Challenges with holding a newborn

While most newborns love to be held, some challenges can arise including:

  • Fussy periods – Some babies may resist holding at times or have periods when they are difficult to soothe.
  • Medical conditions – Babies with reflux, respiratory issues, or other conditions may need special positioning.
  • Nursing difficulties – Problems like latch issues or poor weight gain may impede holding during feeding.
  • Parent fatigue – Sheer exhaustion from lack of sleep can make extended holding sessions challenging.
  • Improper technique – Not properly supporting head/neck or other mistakes in holding form.

If a baby resists being held, checking for signs of hunger, fever, or other discomfort can help. Letting baby lead by responding to their cues is also important. Taking breaks as needed helps parents maintain energy for optimal holding.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my newborn cry when I hold him?

Some common reasons a newborn may cry when held include:

  • Hunger
  • Needing a diaper change
  • Discomfort from gas, reflux, or an underlying condition
  • Overstimulation
  • A need to change body position or location
  • General fussiness or overtiredness

Checking for signs of hunger, wet diapers, or illness can help identify causes. Changing positions, light rocking, and soothing talk may also calm an upset baby.

How can I get my newborn to sleep while holding him?

Tips for helping a newborn sleep while holding include:

  • Hold baby facing chest in a cradled embrace
  • Gently rock or sway from side to side
  • Softly pat or rub baby’s back
  • Breastfeed or offer pacifier to comfort suck
  • Play white noise or lullabies
  • Keep baby’s environment dim with muted sounds
  • Allow baby to grasp finger when drowsy
  • Avoid overstimulation and abrupt movements

Pay attention to baby’s sleep cues like eyelid fluttering and watch for the drowsy but awake state before transitioning to the crib.

What if my newborn doesn’t like being held?

If a newborn strongly dislikes being held, some possible reasons include:

  • Colic, reflux, or other sources of discomfort
  • Preferring movement in a baby carrier/sling over still cuddling
  • Aversion to position – try different holds
  • Overstimulation when there’s too much going on
  • An underlying medical issue like infection

Gently swaying while holding, using sound/touch to soothe, and swaddling may help calm a fussy baby. Check with a pediatrician if resistance to holding persists.


Being held close by caring parents and caregivers provides vital nurturing for newborn babies as they adjust to life outside the womb. Holding satisfies an infant’s innate need for touch and contact while supplying critical warmth, comfort, security, and bonding during the first fragile months. By understanding newborns’ desire for physical closeness and practicing safe, loving techniques for holding baby, parents can ensure their little one’s needs are fully met while fostering healthy development.