Picking Up A Baby (The RIE Way)

There are several online videos demonstrating perfectly acceptable ways to pick up young infants and place them down again, but since none illustrates the way infant specialist Magda Gerber advised, I thought I’d share a brief example (N.B. – no infants were harassed or harmed in the making of this video)…

A few thoughts….

This is not meant to be a demonstration of the only “right” way, or to be at all guilt-inducing. It is a way to engage a baby when we touch him, help him to feel cradled and secure, to treat him as a fully aware human being. Or, as in Magda Gerber’s words, an “honored guest”.

“Security is almost a ‘body feeling’ that an infant can sense. The way we pick up and carry an infant can support or decrease this feeling. …Everything we do or not do influences how an infant feels. We believe that if you do everything very, very slowly, and if you include the child, then the child feels he is a very important person.” (From Dear Parent – Caring For Infants With Respect.)

To make the play time transition more comfortable for a baby, sit with the baby in your arms near the playpen or on the floor for a couple of minutes before placing him down to play.

Whenever you are unsure whether a baby wishes to be picked up or there is a choice, try asking first. “Do you want me to pick you up?” Or, “Are you ready for me to pick you up?” Then wait a moment or two.  This gives babies a wonderful opportunity to communicate their needs or wants. Young infants learn on their own to lift their arms, move their hands, or otherwise signal readiness.

Telling a baby what you are going to do before picking him up or placing him down is difficult to remember and feels awkward at first, but it soon becomes second nature. The effort is worth it. This is the beginning of the path to a highly rewarding, respectful person-to-person relationship.

I share more about this unique approach in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Just want to mention before anyone else does that I KNOW the baby’s arm is dangling, but after several “takes” and all kinds of mess-ups, we were done (especially the voice-over artist).

    I’m sure there are other details to pick at. Please feel free to correct my interpretation… 🙂

  2. I love at the end with the voice, the dog and the baby’s crazy eyes. Made me laugh!

    In all seriousness, though, thanks for the video. It’s always nice to see RIE in action as a helpful, gentle reminder. The more I read here, the more I like it.

    1. Liz, thank you so much for checking in. I always love hearing from you.

  3. Roseann Murphy says:

    Janet, wonderful presentation! So nice to see you again! The wee baby seems to enjoy her “moment in the spotlight”. Picking up a baby can be so spontaneous and done with so little thought. Your presentation gives light to the importance of slowly approaching..speaking softly and continuing to speak to give the baby time to absorb what is happening. Thank you for sharing..

  4. Roseann Murphy says:

    Janet, I had to watch again…and I must say it did make me smile…that baby doll has taken on a life of its own!!!

    1. Yes, when we treat someone with respect (even a doll) they become more human to us. 😉

  5. Any approach that takes babies SERIOUSLY — treats them with respect, and as communicating people who WANT to learn and connect — is A-#1 with moi!

    Thanks for that, Janet.

  6. Gave me a chuckle! I ESPECIALLY recommend telling the baby BEFORE lifting her! I’ve been teaching this for years (and I only met RIE when I met you recently). So to expand – voicing an upcoming transition (as we call it in therapy lingo) – is THE MOST respectful thing a person can do for anyone who is dependent for physical help.

    Not my specialty area but I also believe talking to baby facilitates understanding of language.

    Many unsophisticated parents are only responsive to babies – not understanding that the baby starts learning at birth.

    On the critique side (and from years of demo of movement) I have to jibe you on wearing a cleavage-revealing top during filming. Bwahwahwhahahaha!

    1. That’s hardly a cleavage, but thanks!!!! 🙂

      And I really appreciate your thoughts (always) and professional corroboration. I often think of the RIE approach as being similar to the way one would treat adults and older children who are dependent on physical help. We would be inclined to tell an older, more verbal person what we were doing with his body, but not necessarily a baby. It doesn’t feel as natural to talk to someone when we are not sure they can understand. But recent studies conclude beyond all doubt that babies can and do understand.

      Thanks, Barbara, so glad we “met”.

  7. Lynn Miner says:

    Hi Janet,
    What a nice video. I really felt that any child picked up that way will feel loved and secure!

    And the voice over and the dog made me laugh out loud…but the message was still very strong! (Oh, I and I did not notice the cleavage! You are beautiful)


    1. Lynn, HI! And thanks so much! Dulce the dog was just brilliant. We knew she could sing, but never realized she was such an actress, and the camera loves her!

  8. Thanks for posting this, Janet! I’ve seen (and done) demonstrations of the RIE pickup before and I think this was the most natural and easy one I’ve seen (especially since it wasn’t a real baby!). It looked like a normal, fluid interaction, not a stilted thing you are practicing.

    One thing that always bothers me about the RIE and Pikler pick-up methods is that they assume the child is immobile, or at least on their back. This is an important time to establish good habits and to practice care when the baby’s neck is not yet strong, but I more often see disrespectful pickups a baby is sitting, crawling, or walking than I do with a baby on her/his stomach or back.

    Almost every time an older baby is picked up it is with all their weight hanging from under their arms, where the carer’s hands are. I also very frequently see older babies picked up by their arms, I am so sad to say. Obviously this is uncomfortable and disrespectful. I tried many times without success to get the caregivers at the child care center where I worked to pick up by supporting the weight of the child from underneath, no matter what position the child starts out in, or how much of a rush you are in.

    Coincidentally, it is usually better for the carer’s shoulders and back to pick up by supporting from underneath, because it requires you to be closer to the child, with their weight nearer your own center of gravity. Usually people will kneel down or squat with a proper pickup (instead of bending over), which is better for the carer’s back as well. I have a chronic shoulder injury/issue, and this really makes a big difference!

    I would be nice to have a similar video that addresses different starting positions for the infant. especially sitting and standing. There isn’t anything about this in any RIE materials I have seen, and it so important!

    1. Christina, that’s a great idea! The way babies are touched and handled is extemely important, because they are forming a sense of security and of their value. “Am I worthy of gentle handling?”

      Sounds like a good project for you and I’ll post it! Or I could ask the parents in my class, because you’d need real babies for that one. 😉

    2. katia de Jesus dos Santos says:

      Hello, I love the respectfully philosophy. That is how I behave naturally with my children. Now I have a six month old. What is the best way to teach her to sleep without cry? I feel very bad when if to let her cry. But I also need to sleep.

  9. What a good idea! esp. for new moms or those who don’t have the help of moms or sisters or….
    I think you should do short clips like this for other baby issues too. Of course you must have the dog in the other clips as well!
    I especially like the voice over artist… the beautiful rust colored dog! I think she knows that the “baby” is just a doll though… could be why she looks a bit perplexed!

    As long as it’s not “Chucky”!

  10. You made me laugh! Love your sense of humour Janet! 🙂

    1. My family and I had a lot of fun making the video. Thanks!

  11. Hi Janet!
    I love your videos, I think I have watched all of them several times on youtube.com. I have a 3.5 month old daughter and I have been trying to implement RIE into our lives as much as possible. I strive to be respectful when I am picking her up, but I am pretty chubby and am not able to get up from the ground on my knees the way you do in the video. I try to support my daughter as much as possible when I pick her up, but I am wondering if you could talk a little bit about how to pick her up from the ground if I am unable to be on the ground too? Thanks!

  12. Thanks for this! Definitely something I hadn’t given enough thought to – will do in future 🙂

  13. Nicola Van Hoff says:

    That baby is so verbally advanced! I must be doing something wrong

    1. I’m sure you’re not doing anything wrong, but perhaps not understanding that babies learn language whenever we speak to them. They can’t learn words unless we use them.

  14. Kimberly McCollister says:

    This is so important and it is great you made a video. I’m absolutely cracking up over here about the end!!!!

  15. My bub is 6 months old and yet to crawl or sit but has strong neck and is “talking”. He has a play mat on floor which he uses but he rolls over to tummy and stays ontummy for a while but then cries as though he’s stuck or uncomfortable. When it happens I start by asking him if he’s ok, if he keeps crying I say would you like me to pick you up or rollyou back on your back? I guess my main concern is when do I know to pick him up? Am I reading his cues correctly? He seems upset so I pick him up to comfort him. He is my first child

    1. I would be interested in this answer too…my inclination would be to do the least invasive thing first and then go from there if the fussing escalates, though I’m guilty of rushing in. This could be some gentle words of reassurance, followed by moving within arms reach, turning over, holding in a seated position and finally picking up. I too am struggling with feeling like I’m holding my five month old baby in a newborn way even though she has neck control and can sit up with assistance. Do I start with her sitting (if she wants) in my lap and then rise supporting her bum and back with my arms? I want to become more confident with this so my daughter senses my confidence – all 17 pounds of her!

  16. Frances Brent says:

    In case anyone else has trouble seeing the video (it just didn’t load), I was able to find it on YouTube by searching Janet Lansbury Picking Up Baby

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