Newborn safety applies to every photographer in every genre. Even though lifestyle newborn photography is safe in the way it emphasizes poses that are natural for infants, there are precautions lifestyle photographers need to take to ensure the baby’s wellbeing and protection.
These are my top 12 lifestyle newborn photography safety tips.
Wash your hands— a lot. I wash my hands when I arrive, after I move furniture or declutter, and always before I touch the baby. Hand sanitizer comes in handy in many scenarios, and it’s something I always keep close at hand.
2. Support baby’s neck.
Babies’ neck muscles aren’t fully developed until they’re around 6 months old. Always insist on supporting the newborn’s head and pose the newborn so there is no strain on his neck. Unnatural poses or bending the newborn too much is also unsafe. Newborn bones consist entirely or partly of cartilage; over time the cartilage is replaced by more solid bone. This cartilage is soft and flexible so the newborn can grow, but it also means that un-natural posing can affect the growth of the bone.
3. Soothe, then shoot.
If you were distressed, you’d want to be with someone familiar and comforting, right? Same for newborns. Don’t emotionally push a newborn to get a few more photos. Take breaks to allow the newborn to be soothed by her mama or dad. Those moments of soothing are great photo opportunities. If the newborn becomes upset when they’re un-swaddled or away from mom or dad, then photograph them in their happy place and make adjustments to your posing. There’s no need to reschedule, you just need to be creative.
Now, if the parents become distressed, go ahead and ask them if they’d like to reschedule at a later date and give them a general timeline of when you’re available again. In my experience, I’ve never had to reschedule, nor have the parents wanted to — instead, I just had to get creative and be patient.
4. Extra hands.
Always have a spotter within arm’s reach when you place the newborn in any position where she could move or fall. This includes on the master bed, on the couch, and even on the floor. Newborns are strong and full of surprises. Typically, a parent will hover throughout the shoot, but if not, ask a parent or grandparent to come hang out with you.
Photographers need to be mindful that not all new parents understand the limitations of their newborns. I was once at a shoot where an overzealous dad wanted a photo of himself tossing the newborn in the air. I explained that the newborn’s body wasn’t strong or developed enough for such an action and that a shot like that is better suited for older babies.
Being a lifestyle photographer doesn’t mean that every newborn will be happy in a pose you put them in. Don’t force it. Move on and find a pose they like. Remember, when it comes to touching and handling a newborn, always ask the parents first. Once I have permission (and have washed my hands), I’ll announce out loud any major movements I’ll be making. For example, “I’m going to turn baby to the other direction so she has more light on her face,” or, “I’m going to turn baby so more of his face is showing.” Narrating what you’re doing makes parents feel more comfortable.
The newborn session is often the first time the older siblings get to hold the infant. Taking extra precautions is imperative when they do, since kids can be spontaneous and erratic. With kiddos under the age of 3, posing them lying down next to the newborn is safest. Older or calmer kids can hold baby on their lap while seated on a flat surface. Be sure to place the newborn and sibling away from the edge of the bed or couch so the newborn can’t tumble off.
If a child is grumpy or unhappy, don’t pressure her to pose with the newborn. Simply move on and invite the child back later when she’s cooled off. And always have a parent nearby during sibling shots so they can jump in if child wrangling is needed.
Should you reschedule if you, the newborn or even someone else in your own household is sick? Yes, absolutely. Rescheduling can be an epic pain, but it’s imperative in this case. Because a newborn’s immune system is immature, take the extra precaution. Reach out to your clients as soon as possible to inform them that you or someone in your household is sick and propose two alternate dates for the shoot. My own schedule is typically booked pretty solid on the weekends, so I keep a weekday set aside for rescheds. Be sure to get evaluated by a doctor so you have a clear timeline of when you’ll be safe to work again. New parents are always beyond thankful you’re taking this extra precaution.
If your client’s newborn is sick, also reschedule. When a newborn is sick their immune system is compromised and their exposure to other people should be minimal. Ask the parents to check with the pediatrician to clear him for photos.
For you! It’s imperative you’re up-to-date with your vaccinations before photographing newborns. Did you know you need to get a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) booster every 10 years? Well, you do. And then there’s MMR, VAR, RZV, and the list goes on, depending on your age. You also need to get an influenza vaccination yearly in the fall.
Regularly check with your health care provider to make sure you’re up to date on everything. The CDC maintains a schedule of recommended vaccinations for adults 19 years old or older.
9. Loose objects.
Keep your camera secured on a strap around your neck or wrist so if it does slip out of your hands, it won’t hit baby. Limit and be careful with the jewelry you’re wearing so it won’t scratch the newborn.
Pets are part of the family, too, and are often the family’s first “baby.” The safest pose with any size dog is to have a parent cradle the newborn in their arms and let the dog get close to sniff her. Always be sure to designate one parent to command the dog and stay near enough to grab it if need be.
11.Temperature and sun.
Usually in lifestyle photography, temperature isn’t an issue because the newborn is being held the majority of the time. If the house feels breezy or cool, just ask the parents to turn off the AC or shut the window to make the newborn more comfortable. If excess heat is an issue, keep baby dressed in only a diaper and forego the swaddle. And, if you’re shooting near a window, keep an eye out for direct sun that could get in the newborn’s eyes and simply re-pose as needed.
12. Washing props.
Some lifestyle photographers will provide blankets or swaddles for their newborn shoots. If this is you, be sure to launder the items with dye- and perfume-free detergent after every session. All props used need to be completely disinfected with a natural sanitizer. Germs are the enemy!
Photos by Tarah Beaven
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Click Magazine. To subscribe, click here.