Newborn Photography and Infant Massage
Being a successful newborn photographer requires you to know a lot about newborn babies that has nothing to do with photography. And there is so much to know. It can be intimidating to new parents. I know I spend a fair amount of time answering basic newborn questions while parents are here for their newborn session. Sadly, because we live in such a litigious society, most hospitals do not offer any kind of formal education about newborn behavior.
One of the most difficult circumstances a new mom or dad can find themselves in is being "stuck" with an unsettled or 'fussy' baby. This is a baby who continues to cry even though they have been fed, changed, and are warm and comforted. This is especially true during a newborn photo session. If a baby is fussy, it is virtually impossible to get images even a mom with "mom goggles" will like. So what can you do? Massage. Babies LOVE to be touched and massaged with firm yet gentle strokes. It tends to kick in sleepiness.
How to give a massage to a fussy baby
In my studio, with the permission of parents and a doctor's approval, I will give a newborn a massage using oils. Preferred oils for this are coconut oil, avocado oil, almond oil or extra virgin olive oil. I am not a fan, ironically, of so-called 'baby oil". Baby oil is just mineral oil, and in my experience, I have found that it often clogs baby's pores.
When trying to calm a baby down so that they can be photographed, I first unwrap them out of their swaddle. It is important to move very slowly in doing this. Jerky, hard, or fast motions often make the baby even more cranky. I place the baby on a soft table, or ottoman, in a dark environment (no music or talking or other sounds) and unwrap her. Then I place her on the softest swaddling blanket I have. I do this because I will be rubbing firmly, and I want her skin to be touching something soft and soothing. Here is one of my favorite blankets that I use in the studio.
Almond oil is my preference for newborns in the studio. It has a subtle smell they seem to like and the oil is viscous enough to not "run" all over the place like virgin olive oil can. But that is just my preference. Everyone is different. I start by making firm clockwise circles on the baby's tummy (being careful around the umbilical cord if it is still attached). I start here because it is always possible that gas is the culprit. Loosening up this area often releases gas, and then it is like a miracle, how the baby is happy once again. But even if this happens, I still continue the massage. Once I finish the tummy, I move upward and do the baby's chest area. This is a favorite of baby's to be touched. They just love it. I gently rub and stroke in circles or lines as the baby responds to. Finally, I massage the baby's forehead. A minute or two here can really make a huge difference.
For me, in a photo studio, doing just these areas is usually enough to calm the baby down so that she falls asleep. But if your baby is at home, you can get some great bonding time by massaging arms, legs, hands and feet.
After this, it is critical to continue to move very slowly while manipulating the baby. Whether you are going to swaddle for bed, dress in a onesie, or be wrapped and posed for newborn photos, you have to be sure to go slowly. Fast, in these situations, is not what a baby likes. Literally, it may take me 5 minutes to dress a baby in a onesie. Think about how slow that is. Remember that newborn time, is not at all like adult time, and going fast is usually not something babies like when they are newborns.
The next time your baby seems fussy, you can try this 10 minute massage trick. Want to learn more?
Katie is a newborn photographer in Los Angeles, Tujunga, CA 91042