Holding and dressing your baby

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Helpful tips on holding and dressing a baby. Though they are not as fragile as they look, it is important to handle them gently for them to feel safe.

Key points

  • To avoid causing your baby to startle, handle them slowly and support their entire body when you hold them.
  • Always remember never to shake your baby because shaking can lead to serious brain damage.
  • When planning to go outside, dress your baby in the same number of layers that an adult would need for the weather.
  • Your baby does not need shoes until after they learn how to walk, as shoes can interfere with the normal development of the arch in their foot.

Your baby is not nearly as fragile as you might think. Babies are pretty resilient beings with many natural reflexes. However, you should still handle your baby gently, not just for safety, but also to keep them feeling safe and secure.

 

Holding your baby

All babies come into the world with what is known as the startle, or Moro, reflex. In the startle reflex, loud noises or sudden movements may cause your baby to arch their back, throw out their arms and legs, and cry. This natural reflex usually lasts about four months. To avoid causing your baby to startle, handle them slowly and support their entire body when you hold them. Allowing their legs and arms to dangle could make them feel unsafe and cause them to startle.

Always make sure to support your baby's head and neck when holding them. They will feel safe and secure if you support their head and neck with one hand, and their bottom and thighs with the other. Hold your baby close to your body for added security.

When putting your newborn baby down to sleep, move slowly and gently to avoid waking them up or causing them to startle. Put your baby’s head down first, and then gradually lay the rest of their body down. Remove one hand slowly, and then the other. Hopefully they will not wake up at this point. If your baby tends to startle when they are put down to sleep, try swaddling them before putting them down. Remain with your baby for a few more minutes, slowly stroking them and speaking to them in a soft, soothing voice. Wait until they are settled before leaving.

Always remember never to shake your baby. Shaking can lead to serious brain damage. If you feel like you might harm your baby by vigorously shaking them, seek help. Grandparents and other caregivers also need to know that they should never shake a baby.

Dressing your baby

When you buy outfits for your baby, avoid turtlenecks, skin-tight sleeves, multitudes of buttons and zippers down the back. It is difficult enough trying to wrestle a wriggly and fussy baby into any outfit. Do not make the process more difficult than it has to be.

When planning to go outside, dress your baby in the same number of layers that an adult would need for the weather. Try to resist the urge to overdress your baby in the summer. In winter, your baby needs a hat to protect their head against heat loss.

Lie your baby down when you are dressing them. This will leave both of your hands free to do all the work. Remember that, for the first little while, when you dress your baby, you will need to do everything for them. It will be a while yet before they can put their hands through the sleeves on your prompting. You will need to guide their arm through each sleeve, and likewise for their legs.

Regardless of what the neighbour next door says, your baby does not need to wear shoes. In fact, they will not need shoes until after they have started to walk. Shoes can interfere with the normal development of the arch in your baby’s foot. Just use little booties and socks for now.

Last updated: October 18th 2009