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How Bad Is It? Tips for Newborn Photographers!

7 min read

Whether you’ve been a newborn photographer for years or you’re just beginning to dabble in the world of babies, you’ve likely had questions that you’re too nervous / too ashamed / too embarrassed to ask. Always your friend in the business, we decided to take matters into our own hands and ask them for you!

We sat down with Anna Walters BSN, RN, a registered nurse here in Atlanta who works at the biggest maternity hospital on the East Coast. She handles babies within minutes of their birth and was happy to share her most intimate knowledge of these precious little beings. Anna gave us the lowdown on how bad it really is (or isn’t) to do the things so many of us are all secretly doing at newborn shoots every day.


How bad is it… to pose a sleeping baby?

“Babies are actually super resilient. A lot of people think they need to be handled like an egg, like they’re going to crack at any moment. Of course, you have to be careful, and gentle. But if you think about what they go through to be born, and how they’ve spent the last nine months of their lives, it makes sense that they can be comfortably moved and curled up and posed. All of the bendy things that photographers like to do with newborns, that’s what they’ve been doing in the womb.”

The verdict: Not so bad.

How bad is it… to pick up a newborn without supporting his head?

“The neck and head of a newborn are so important to protect. Newborns have zero neck control other than when they make their own little efforts to raise their head every now and again. You definitely want to be aware of that, and always have a hand behind their head. It’s important when holding or carrying or moving a newborn that you don’t make any jerky-type movements.”

The verdict: Bad!


How bad is it… to touch baby’s umbilical cord?

“The remaining bit of umbilical cord itself doesn’t hurt; it’s like hair or a fingernail, so there’s no feeling in it. Sometimes the skin around it can look red, but most of the time that’s just from the drying process. If you see that the skin is a little irritated, you can be extra gentle just because it can be a little sensitive to the touch. But temporarily wrapping baby’s torso or putting clothing or a blanket on the belly button area won’t hurt the average newborn.

All of that being said, you should never pull on the umbilical cord; its job is to fall off naturally.”

The verdict: Not so bad.

How bad is it… to start a session without washing your hands?

“Babies are super-susceptible to germs. The thing to remember is that any type of illness can be dangerous for a newborn to get. What may seem like just a little head cold for you could be RSV for a newborn. So, if you’re going near someone else’s baby, hand-washing is an absolute must.

Proper hand-washing is 20 seconds of friction, warm water, and soap, and you should wash your hands before you come into contact with the baby. But then, during the session, hand sanitizer should also be used. For example, your phone is full of germs. When mom is nursing and you’re checking your messages or when you’re snapping a behind-the-scenes photo, you’re potentially transferring hundreds of germs back to your hands. You must use hand sanitizer before you touch the baby again.”

The verdict: Very bad!

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How bad is it… to not be vaccinated (as a photographer)?

“Whooping Cough (Pertussis) has made a comeback in recent times, and it’s highly contagious and can be deadly to a newborn. At the bare minimum, we recommend that all adults that are going to be around a newborn (especially a photographer, who can come into contact with multiple newborns and their family members) have an updated Tdap.”

The verdict: Very bad!

How bad is it… to skip washing blankets and wraps in between newborn sessions?

“It goes back to germs again. I think you can never be too careful. If you have something you’re wrapping their whole body in and it’s coming in a lot of contact with them, it should be washed before you use it on the next baby. I would bet that most blankets are going to get pooped and peed on anyway!”

The verdict: Bad!

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How bad is it… to put baby in a basket or bowl for a photo?

“As long as you’re putting baby in a natural position and not forcing her body into awkward poses, you’re propping the head and neck securely, and padding up the basket and protecting baby from any sharp corners, sharp edges, or anything scratchy, these types of poses can be okay. However, a newborn shouldn’t ever be left alone, or expected to hold her head up or sit “upright” or “lean” on things. You have to remember that their safety is always the first priority.”

The verdict: Not so bad.

How bad is it… to take photos of a naked baby?

“There are certain cultural or religious reasons why a photographer (or a parent) may not want to take photos of a newborn, but that’s a different subject. For me, the reason photographing a naked baby is risky is because keeping a newborn warm is one of the most important things you can do for him or her. One of their hardest jobs is regulating temperature; that and eating are the two things that burn all of their energy! Mom has been keeping them warm like an oven for nine months, so being stark naked out in the cool air can be unsettling. Obviously, it’s more comfortable for them to be warm and they’ll be more likely to stay asleep or stay “posed” for you. But it’s important for you to make it warm for them versus forcing their bodies to keep themselves warm. When newborn photographers have it like sweatbox in their studios, it’s actually for a good reason!”

The verdict: Not so bad (as long as you keep them warm!)


How bad is it… to use a pacifier (or let Mom keep nursing) during the session?

“Pacifiers are such a hot topic! Our lactation specialists, despite widespread belief, do not disapprove of pacifiers for healthy newborns. Sucking is a natural reflex for babies. They’re born knowing how to do it and it’s not only for nutritive purposes, it’s also a soothing mechanism. So, a pacifier can certainly help baby (and even give Mom some sanity!), but even if Mom didn’t want to keep continuing using it on a daily basis, it could be a lifesaver for an hour or two during a photography shoot. That session would likely be over just that much faster if baby is allowed to pop that pacifier in, be soothed, and take some pictures.

When it comes to nursing, we tell new mothers that as newborns, for the first four to six weeks of life, babies don’t have a schedule. So having an extra feed during a photo shoot isn’t going to mess up their plan or make them less hungry for their next bottle. If baby needs soothing because the photo session is out of the ordinary (baskets, naked bodies, bright flashes of light, etc.), it isn’t going to hurt anyone to let baby nurse an extra time or two.”

The verdict: Not bad at all!

Have other newborn photography questions? We’ll find the answers for you! Comment below with the questions you’re dying to ask.

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