700 Children's Blog

Hand Containment: How Gentle Touch Can Calm Your Baby

Jan 16, 2020
Infant being cradled in hands

Human touch is healing. A warm embrace, a hand to hold and even a gentle touch on the arm can help most of us during times of distress. Holding, and the expression of care and emotional support through touching, are the main ways that infants learn to feel safe and secure.  

In the womb before birth, infants experience soft boundaries and the warmth of their mother’s body that help them stay tucked, calm and contained. When infants are born early, or with a medical condition, and are admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) they can experience less of this positive type of touch. 

Most hospitalized infants can be held skin-to-skin, also known as Kangaroo Care, which is the best form of touch for infants and parents to experience together. NICUs promote skin-to-skin holding enthusiastically, yet there are times when an infant can also be comforted using a technique called “hand containment”

What Is Hand Containment?

Hand containment is the gentle but secure placing of hands on the infant’s head and body. This recreates the warmth and containment that infants crave. It is also called “hand swaddling” as this is a way to help baby keep arms and legs tucked in close to the body - a position that is known to be calming for infants. 

How Is Hand Containment Different Then Swaddling With a Blanket?

Hand containment is a way to communicate a warm, reassuring presence to your baby.  It is also a way to actively teach your baby how to tuck arms and legs in towards the body and gradually learn to use their own calming skills. Swaddling can also be a good way to help a baby feel secure and contained, but swaddling is less responsive to a baby’s behavior.

When Would I Use Hand Containment?

Hand containment is a good way to help a baby stay calm and content during caregiving activities, such as a diaper change. Pausing and using this form of touch helps a baby develop the ability to relax while learning that you recognize and can respond to their signs of stress. This responsiveness helps infants feel secure and safe.   

Hand containment during painful procedures such as a heel stick, breathing tube suctioning, or during immunizations, has also been shown to be an effective way to reduce pain and promote a faster recovery.

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Jennifer Hofherr
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700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.