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Child Development & Parenting: Infants (0-2)
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Child & Adolescent Development: Overview
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Child Development & Parenting: Early (3-7)

Holding and Physical Support

Angela Oswalt, MSW

In the first two years of life, infants have limited ability to control their movements and to transport themselves around on their own; caregivers have to help them move around their environment as needed and to help them develop their sensory-motor skills to learn to maneuver themselves around their environment. When infants are first born, they have little control over their limbs and heads. Caregivers need to support an infant's body fully as they carry them. When holding young infants, it's important to make sure they are supporting the baby's head and neck in order to stabilize the entire body. Moreover, when caregivers hold their infants securely, they're communicating unconditional love that helps to form the parent-child bond. It is important that when a caregiver holds their baby in the first months of life, they hold them close to their bodies where they will feel warm and safe, and not feel vulnerable out in the open. Caregivers can also ensure a baby's safety by leaning close to the bed, floor, car seat, etc, when they pick infants up or set them down, in order to lessen the amount of empty space babies cross.

supporting baby's headThere are several ways parents and caregivers can hold their young infants. The most common hold is the cradle hold, in which adults sit or stand with the infant cradled against their chest in one arm while the other arm adds support to the legs and bottom. The other basic hold is the traditional burping hold, in which infants lie vertically against the adult's chest, with their head resting on the adult's shoulder. While one of the caregiver's hands supports the infant's head and neck, the other hand support the lower torso and bottom.

Some parents choose to swaddle their babies in the first two months to offer them even more support and a greater feeling of close comfort and nurturing. However, every baby is different, and if babies fuss or cry when being confined, they are not good candidates for swaddling. As well, after the first few months of life, babies should not be swaddled so that they can practice using their arms and legs to develop strength and control. To swaddle, lay out a lightweight blanket on a smooth surface and place the infant diagonally in the top corner of the blanket, keeping their head free from the blanket so they can breathe and move their head. Next, bring the baby's right arm close to her body, wrap the right corner of the blanket around her, and tuck it under her. Second, fold the bottom corner of the blanket up to cover the infant's legs. Then bring the infant's left arm close to her body and fold the left corner of the blanket over the left arm and the other folds in the blanket, finally tucking it under the baby.

As babies get older and are better able to support their own head and neck and sit up on their own more, caregivers can use the hip straddle hold. In the hip straddle, position the baby by straddling his legs over the adult's hip, using that arm to support the baby's weight sitting up. This carry allows caregivers a spare arm and hand to do other things while holding baby.