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You don’t ever in a million years want your newborn to be “coping” for your photo shoot. If your newborn is inconsolable, give them back to their parents and let the parents comfort the baby. If it is a fussy day for that baby, consider rescheduling.
As a NICU nurse, I was trained as a breastfeeding educator. I see photographers advocating for the mother to leave the room during a shoot so that the baby will be calm and not rooting for their mother. My friends, this is a newborn baby. They NEED to be near their mother.
Some babies are pretty chill but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience stress. If you notice that your newborn’s skin looks mottled (which looks a bit like a marble pattern), stop immediately, wrap that baby up and give them back to their mother. Mottling is a sign of distress.
Keep a close eye on your babies: make sure their skin isn’t too warm to the touch and that their breathing stays steady and even. If your baby’s breathing is fast or irregular, stop the shoot immediately, turn off the heat, wrap the baby in a light blanket and allow their mother to hold them. You don’t want to change the babies vital signs for the sake of photography.
An overstimulated, stressed out newborn will literally put their hands in front of their face, often with the palms facing out, signaling “stop, I have had enough.” If a baby suddenly has their hands in front of their face in a stop position, give them a break.
If you are going to put your newborn in ANY pose that isn’t a natural newborn position, then you need an assistant there, other than the parents, to ensure that your baby is safe. This also includes any time you choose to put a baby in a prop, basket, or get any more than an arms length away from where the baby is posed.
Above left the ‘froggy’ pose on the left and above right a safe simple hand held set up using the posing bag.
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The more comfortable you make the baby during your sessions the more content they will be. If they are continually moved and disturbed during the shoot they will become over stimulated and unsettled. Gentle, small movements that transition babies into different poses will keep your babies nice and calm and ensure a smoother session.
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The hip positioning in the ‘froggy’ pose is basically the same as in the ‘taco’. But in the ‘taco’ pose the weight of the upper body is on their lower half, which can be very uncomfortable to the baby if they are not supported and positioned properly. I tend to only attempt this pose on newborns that naturally draw their legs up into this position.
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If a baby has unstable hips with a tendency to dislocate this should have been picked up during their screening after birth at the hospital. I would check with the parents about screening before attempting either of these poses.
When a baby is too hot, their breathing patterns change and can be too fast or erratic. Their heart rate increases, and can become too fast as well. Overheating can also make a baby lethargic, which is what photographers who want to pose their babies want. It is important that a baby stays comfortable, of course, but they should never be so warm that their safety is compromised.
I would explain to the parents that if the baby becomes uncomfortable at any stage, you would move onto the next pose. I personally would leave images like these if they are requested till the end of the session and I would not attempt poses like these on your own if doing them for the first time.
I am lucky enough to know a lovely photographer by the name of Fiona McGuire who before having her own children worked in neonatal and paediatric intensive care and special care wards as a physiotherapist. A while back we had a discussion about poses like the ‘froggy’ and the ‘taco’ regarding the dangers. I believe it’s very important to understand babies and what they’re capable of when handling them. No shot is worth the risk if something was to go wrong.
Taking a baby out of the presence of their mother in the first days of life for prolonged period of time can set back breastfeeding, interfere with bonding, and honestly stress out the baby and the mother. If a baby wants/needs to nurse and be with their mother, then that is right where the baby belongs.
There are some poses that you may be asked to create by your client. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know how they are created safely. Some being composite images that will require Photoshop to put multiple images together. Composite images are the only way to really ensure the safety of the baby when doing poses like the ‘froggy’ or ‘cocoon’. You need to be able to explain to your clients what’s involved with creating these set ups as they will be required to assist you if you don’t work with an assistant.
Friends, these are just a few tips on newborn safety. The baby’s safety should be your TOP priority, not getting a particular pose. No pose or photograph is worth risking the safety of a newborn or stressing out a new mother. These are delicate, precious new babies and they should be handled with extreme caution.
If you are going to pose your newborns, bring an assistant. My dear friend Rachel Vanoven is a genius and is internationally recognized as a posed newborn photographer says she never does a newborn shoot alone.
Let me start by saying newborn safety is my top priority, as is newborn comfort. I always want my babies to be comfortable during my sessions and I will never compromise their comfort for a photo. Ever.
Lately I’ve had a few messages from new photographers to our industry regarding the safety of certain newborn poses so I thought I would share some of my thoughts regarding safety, some tips and a couple of images.
Overfeeding for the sake of making the baby “pass out” is not a good idea. Many, many newborn photographers will advocate for feeding the baby as much as possible so that the baby will “pass out” and let them pose the baby any way they want. I have heard newborn photographers recommend giving the baby a big bottle even if the mother is breastfeeding just so the baby will sleep.
We all think it is adorable when a newborn puts their tiny hands in front of their face in a “stop” position. But did you know that this is an actual physical reflex that means the baby needs a break?
So please, don’t overfeed your newborns just so you can get your photos.
And I’m a big believer in “prevention is ALWAYS better then cure”.
Australian Family Photographer of the Year 2014, QLD Professional Photographer of the Year 2013 & 2014. Brisbane Newborn Baby Photography
Okay, now I want to share with you a few physical signs that a newborn will exhibit if they are in distress. If your baby does any of these things, you should take a break from the pose immediately.
Work in spurts. Do a pose, let the baby eat and be comforted by their mother and then do another pose. Don’t ask mom to leave their new baby alone with you (who is likely a stranger) just so you can get your shot. You’re not the priority here. The baby and mother are.
And, use common sense. If the baby isn’t easily going into a certain position or is showing signs of discomfort do NOT force them.
I want to start by saying that this isn’t actual medical advice. While I did spend ten years as a NICU nurse, I am not currently practicing and I am sharing this as a professional photographer not a medical professional. In short, this isn’t actual medical advice on newborn posing.
Friends, overfeeding with a bottle can make the baby extremely fussy later in the day (not cool for a tired mama). It can cause the baby to spit up more than usual, have gas, and throw off their normal eating pattern. Also, giving a breastfed baby a bottle simply for the sake of newborn photography can be a major setback for the breastfeeding mother.
The safety of the baby is the most important aspect of your session. And, parents will also feel more comfortable throughout the session knowing that their baby is in safe hands.
When I was a NICU nurse, there were times when we had to perform uncomfortable procedures on babies. While comfort was always a top priority, sometimes the baby had to cry a lot. And do you know what a baby does to cope when they are stressed? They go to sleep.
Again, I will see newborn photographers post a gorgeous photo of a newborn posed with a caption that says “the baby cried for two hours but finally went to sleep and I was able to get this shot.” This isn’t a good thing.
A baby who suddenly “passes out” after prolonged crying may be telling you that they are stressed, SO stressed that they are relying on their coping mechanisms. This is not good. This baby will likely be very fussy later for the parents due to overstimulation.
When photographing newborns, it doesn’t have to be complicated. The simplest of images are often the most beautiful and treasured.
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Never leave a baby unattended in a prop, on your posing bag or with a young sibling. Always have a spotter or parent next to your baby when using props Use a support hand or finger when posing the baby and clone it out later in Photoshop.
Don’t force a baby into any pose. Instead, adjust them to where they are comfortable. Have your camera strap around your neck when shooting above the baby. Never stand on anything above the baby in case you fall or it breaks.
Never put a baby inside or on an object / prop that could potentially break or fall. Glass props should never be used.
We must remember that it is a privilege to be asked to photograph these little bundles and I believe that too often then not we get caught up in getting ‘the’ shot that we forget the real reason we are hired – which is to document every little detail of these babies and this incredible time in our clients lives so that it can be remembered forever.
Newborn babies are bendy, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be injured. If a baby’s body seems to not want to bend or flex in the direction you are trying for, then STOP!! Even if the baby isn’t showing discomfort you should never force a baby into an over-flexed position.
Above the ‘taco’ pose. This image has been rotated counter clockwise to make the baby look like they were lying flat.
And remember that every baby is different. They will all have ‘their’ comfy spot so they need to be worked with and photographed individually.
If the baby isn’t going into a position easily or is showing signs of discomfort by waking or wriggling it’s time to move on or finish the session if you are at the end.
I see many newborn images and while they are cute or beautiful, they make me extremely nervous because I feel like the safety of the newborn was compromised. The last thing any of us want is to harm our littlest subjects. I am going to share some tips on newborn safety and comfort that I hope will help you stay as safe as possible during your next newborn session.
The ‘froggy’ pose puts the hips into a bent up and spread wide position (flexion and abduction). This causes their muscles up the back of the legs and bottom to stretch. When in utero most babies hips and knees are bent up like this, which is why after birth their legs will remain up and bent when they’re on their backs. So in theory there should be little risk of dislocating hips in this position as dislocation usually happens when the legs are bent up and bought in together. My main worry with this pose is the placement of the hands – getting them into position requires a very sleepy, relaxed baby. If they’re wriggling around in this upright position they will be very unstable because a newborns neck is not strong enough to support their head – Most babies are top heavy as their head accounts to roughly 25% of their body weight. And if the hands and head are not properly supported the weight of the head can put a lot of strain on their little wrists.
But what I will say, is that my ten years as a Registered Nurse specializing in the care of newborns does give me some authority on the subject of newborn safety. It also makes me extremely cautious when it comes to photographing newborns. I learned many things about newborn behavior that I think can help you keep your newborns safe during your newborn sessions.
Watch for the baby putting their hands in front of their face