Newborn photography has become somewhat of a parenthood staple in America. I mean, is there anything quite as wholesome as a photo of your fresh squeeze all curled up, swaddled like baby Jesus in a muslin cloth, while showing off their best gummy grins to the camera? It. Is. Bliss. And what makes it even more adorable and memorable is when you’re able to get those shots during that perfect window of time at five to 14 days following birth — that week-and-a-half “sweet spot” that represents baby’s initial transition from the womb to the real world.
This time frame, however, is a sensitive season for most parents. We’re overprotective about the new life we brought into this world — we cry, we feel joy, we laugh, and we worry. So when it comes to finding the perfect newborn photographer for our baby, we do our research. We try to find the best person that can exquisitely capture these fleeting moments. After reading pages upon pages of positive reviews and seeing hundreds of photos meshing with what we’ve envisioned, we find someone and feel that they ought to be “the one,” right?
Well, as it turns out, yes and no.
Photography is a business built on raw, real, and undeniable talent, no doubt. So yes, you’re likely to receive high-quality pictures that you can “ooo,” “ahh,” and tear up over for the rest of your days, but many of us seem to be forgetting one major detail in the midst of our research: whether a photographer has had infant safety training and is fully equipped to handle and position your baby without harm.
Parents (me included) are so incredibly picky over everything we do and don’t do or allow to happen with our newborns. Yet, because newborn photography has become the norm in our society, we willingly place our child into the hands of someone we barely know without giving it a second thought.
This doesn’t mean that we, as parents, are negligent for hiring a photographer to capture our newborn’s first days — not at all. But it does speak volumes about our government and the lack of protection for the most fragile among us.
Literally anyone with a high-definition camera can be a newborn photographer without knowing the ins and outs of capturing a baby’s first moments, and that in and of itself is absolutely terrifying.
For photographers who aren’t skilled in the proper ways to handle or pose a newborn baby, they may try a position (the suspended baby, froggy, or a sibling pose, for example), which could put your child at risk for serious injuries (dislocated shoulder, broken bones, fractured skull, etc.). But for newborn photographers who have been trained to look out for the infant’s well-being first, and capturing the perfect shot second, they will rely on photoshop to edit out the many safety measures executed to protect your infant.
One of the most sought after newborn photos seems to be any picture where a baby is peacefully sleeping (bonus points if they give you a quick grin). That being said, your newborn photographer should be adhering to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) safe sleep guidelines. Because no matter how quickly a picture is captured or who is around to provide support, placing a child to sleep in an unsafe situation (even for mere minutes while a photo is snapped) is dangerous.
In order to keep the infant’s health in mind, photographers shouldn’t just understand how accidental suffocation in infants occurs or what causes it, but they should be accepting of it as well. For any allotted amount of time, an infant should not be placed on their stomach or in an upright/”slouched” position which would allow their chin to curl into their chest. In both situations, accidental suffocation, positional asphyxia (where a baby’s airway becomes compromised or “pinched”) and carbon dioxide rebreathing, (where a baby has a limited amount of oxygen to breath and continues to rebreathe carbon dioxide which was previously exhaled) could cause a significant drop in an infant’s oxygen.
“The more that people see these images that are potentially dangerous, the more it normalizes it, and then, the likelihood is that babies are going to be put in dangerous situations,” Benjamin Hoffman, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention tells Parents. “So what’s the cost of cute then?”
Per Hoffman’s advice, parents and photographers should use “common sense” in the way infants are posed during their newborn sessions. Babies are adorable as-is, so why is there a high demand to capture them in such unrealistic ways, doing such non-baby things, when doing so could promote other parents to be more lax with their infant’s safety?
“Babies are not show horses. It comes down to common sense and not taking pictures of your baby in a situation where it represents the baby in any peril,” Hoffman adds.
In the same way we would ask our friends and family the hard questions when handling our newborn, we need to be doing the same with newborn photographers. Because beyond an acute injury, there is also the risk of your infant contracting a communicable disease which they have not yet been able to be vaccinated for.
In a recent article with Glamour, mom Julia Pelly writes that she chose a newborn photographer (who she calls Mary) without realizing that her toddler-aged son would be attending the session also. Pelly acknowledged the hardships of being a working mother, and despite not being overly thrilled that her photographer brought her son along, she understood that she probably didn’t have any other choice. But it wasn’t until after the session when Pelly realized what her newborn had potentially been exposed to through a natural childbirth Facebook group.
“A pregnant woman posted a question about what vaccines she could expect her baby to receive at birth, and there was Mary, flying afoul of medical fact,” Pelly writes. “In her response to the woman, she detailed her opposition to vaccines and shared that she and her son were proudly vaccine-free. (Yes, the son she had held and cuddled and put down just to pick up my as-yet-unprotected infant.)”
Undoubtedly, there are numerous newborn photographers out there who have been trained in infant safety. The thing is, though, we need to ask more questions about their experiences and training for the sake of our baby before booking the session.
According to the The Academy of Newborn Photography, these are some of the questions parents should be asking their newborn photographers:
– What is your experience?
– What education do you have with neonatal and postnatal care and safety? With whom did you train?
– Are you trained in infant CPR? If so, when was your training?
– Do you have any loose chords on the floor that would be easy to trip over?
– Will my child come into contact with anyone who is not vaccinated?
– What is your policy for rescheduling if someone in you or someone in the studio is sick?
– Do you have spotters to assist positioning for my newborn? If not, will I be able to spot my newborn?
– Can I tour the studio before my session?
Choosing the right newborn photographer, not just based off of the quality of their work, but the extent of their training, is crucial for your infant’s safety. Dive deep into the history of your photographer. Research them, ask them the uncomfortable questions, and then research them some more. Push your state legislators to make infant care and safety training mandatory for photographers.
Because our newborn’s wellbeing is worth more than a beautiful canvas.