As a newborn photographer, I’ve had to become pretty good at handling and settling babies. A lot of first time parents when they come and see me will ask what my secret is to settling their baby, some even going so far as to call be a “baby whisperer” so I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my top baby settling techniques for both first time parents and other newborn photographers alike.
Top Baby Settling Techniques for Newborn Photography
In my newborn photography, there are a few techniques that I have learned that babies respond to. Of course, before trying any of these you need to make sure that the 2 fundamental needs have been met – baby is not hungry, baby is not wet. If baby is tired, then usually the following settling techniques will help get them to nod off in a reasonably short time frame.
A huge help for me as a new parent and as a newborn photographer has been a book by American paediatrician Dr Karp called ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’. His theory is that in the first 3 months of life, almost all babies respond to what he calls “The 5 Ss” – Shushing (white noise), Swaddling, Swinging, Sucking, and being on their Side.
Shushing (White Noise)
In all my newborn photography sessions, I use womb noise as background noise. I have found that it really helps to calm babies who are used to being inside the womb in a surprisingly noisy environment with the constant sound of Mum’s heartbeat, digestive system, lungs, and during the day Mum’s voice etc. I find also that having white noise on as a constant noise in the room also prevents newborns from startling when my camera shutter releases.
I always start my newborn photo sessions with photos of baby swaddled in a wrap until they fall into a deeper sleep. If baby becomes upset or unsettled during a session, I always wrap them quite tightly. Swaddling is a bit like what it must feel like inside the womb – having babies arms and legs contained in a tight wrap helps them feel secure and can help them to calm down. It also prevents their arms and legs from flailing around and waking themselves up if they start to drift off to sleep.
If a newborn becomes upset during a session I have been known to rock them for what can sometimes feel like forever to get them to settle down. I avoid holding them close to my body as this can make them think that it’s feeding time – particularly if they’re breast-fed. I tend to hold them at a 90 degree angle from my body and swing them from side to side whilst holding their head in my hands (a great bicep workout!).
Another primative relex in newborn babies is the sucking reflex which is calming for them. I never push the idea of using a dummy on my photography clients but if they have already started using one, a dummy is a great way to get them to settle. I also sometimes pop a dummy in between poses to keep them settled if they look like they’re starting to wake or get a little fussy.
Being on their side can also illicit a calming response in newborns. Don’t ask me why! If baby is unsettled, often rocking them on their side can help them to settle.
If all else fails…
If baby doesn’t respond to a combination of the above and is getting more upset, the best place for them is to be comforted by their Mum or Dad. Sometimes a little top-up feed or just a cuddle will calm and reassure them and you can slowly start working with them for their newborn photography session again.
A note to newborn photographers just starting out:
Newborn photography is very challenging. The beautiful serene images you see of sleeping babies can tell a very different tale to what the photo session actually looked like behind the scenes. We all have days when babies come to us who are really difficult to settle and it can be very stressful as the photographer when you’re trying to get some beautiful images for your clients. I know I definitely had some terrible sessions when I was first starting out that really rattled my confidence. With practise, you will learn to read babies cues and will build confidence in handling and settling them. At the end of the day though, sometimes things will go pear-shaped and you will need to remain calm and confident and ready to think outside the square. Work with the baby to find out what they respond to. If all else fails remember that you can always reschedule. And also remember that awake baby photos are just as lovely as the sleepy posed style of newborn photography. So long as your baby is calm, wrap them up and get some beautiful awake photos that their parents will treasure.
For more information on Dr Karp’s book, visit www.happiestbaby.com
With only days until my due date I’m impatiently waiting for our 2nd baby to make an appearance! In what is probably going to be my final blog entry until after the big arrival I’d just like to thank everyone for their well wishes. Over the coming couple of weeks I may be a little slow to respond to emails so I thank you in advance for your patience.
All the best!