Throughout my photography career, I’ve been called many flattering things but my favorite might be ‘baby whisperer.’ While my lifestyle newborn sessions don’t require babies to be asleep, we are much more successful when they are quiet + content. I always encourage mamas to feed babies immediately before our session and it doesn’t hurt to raise the temperature in the house a degree or two, but despite all of that, newborns can still be a little persnickety. Over the years I have developed five tried and true tricks that will help soothe your newborn into the perfect little model client. I should also mention that before using any of these tips-get your camera settings all set up and your mental list of ‘poses’ ready so that once the baby is soothed, you’re ready to snap! The last thing you want to do is spend time soothing the baby and then waste valuable time manipulating your camera settings. Now, let’s dive in.
Generally, newborns feel safe and secure when they’re swaddled, but I always want to try and grab a head to toe photo of them unswaddled (if possible) so I begin by laying them where I want them to be for the photo and then I use my hands to gently snuggle their arms close to their body by applying a little bit of pressure and I use one hand to pat, pat, pat their arms, as demonstrated in the photo above. If the baby is fussy they will squirm and fight back but the key is to keep the gentle pressure applied to keep their arms from flailing. Keep patting, patting, patting and chances are, they’ll eventually succumb and settle in. You’ll know they’re comfortable when you feel their muscles relax and when that happens, continue patting for a few more minutes to allow them to REALLY get cozy and then remove your hands very slowly. Since your camera is already set, simply grab and snap!
Just because I encourage feeding the baby prior to the session doesn’t mean they won’t fuss if they snuggle in with a breastfeeding mama. If a breastfed baby is fussy, try rocking and shush’ing in a football hold vs a traditional cradle hold. This way their heads (noses) are AWAY from your body (or mom if she’s trying to soothe) and deterred from the mealtime frame of mind. When I do this, I basically just touch the baby’s hip or bottom to my hip with their toes pointing behind me and their head straight out in front of me, as pictured. Then I stand while rocking and shush’ing until they’re calm. Note: this is NOT something I suggest doing in lieu of feeding a baby during a session. Trust me when I say that a hungry baby is far less likely to cooperate and you’ll find much more success in pausing the session for a quick milk break than trying to soothe a hungry baby.
Speaking of shush’ing, I LOVE my shush’ing app. I found the Sound Sleeper: White Noise app several years ago and I use it at almost every newborn session. It’s so easy to slip under a blanket or set just out of frame to help soothe. It was one of my earliest tried and true tricks.
If baby has been tightly snuggled and tapped, rocked in the football hold, and your Sound Sleeper app is shush’ing but your baby is still fussy, swaddle them up! The tighter, the better. There are tons of different ‘poses’ you can grab while the baby is swaddled (think detail shots) and once the swaddling has soothed the baby, peel it back little by little, eventually getting their arms and legs visible enough to be in the photos. Don’t worry about trying to remove the swaddle from the photos once you’ve successfully snuck the baby out of it-it actually creates a great texture in the photos and is 100% NOT worth picking up the baby to remove.
This brings me to my last tip: exercise great patience and give yourself, the baby, and mom and dad a lot of grace. Life is scary for brand new babies! Everything is bright and loud and we’re asking an awful lot of them to cooperate while we snap photos and move them from one cozy spot to the next. Plus, babies sense stress so nobody wins when stress takes over. Let the baby call the shots. Your job is to find the yummiest light, get your camera set up and have your poses in mind before you even think about moving the baby into position! Once you have them in your possession, now you’ll know exactly what to do if you need to soothe them throughout the session. I always tell my clients that newborn sessions are 40% shooting and 60% feeding, soothing, changing diapers, etc. so don’t be afraid to exercise patience when soothing. The calmer the baby, the smoother the session. You’ve got this!