In my last article I discussed the stages of a newborn sleep cycle and how it relates to newborn photography. In that discussion, I briefly touched on settling methods for newborn babies, but today I want to discuss these methods in more detail.
When it comes to settling newborns, there are various things you can try either alone or in combination with each other. Assuming you are working in a comfortable, warm environment for baby, here is a list of things you can try or check.
If baby is crying, the very first thing to check is ‘is baby hungry’? When did he/she last feed? Was it a long feed? Are they rooting and showing other signs of hunger? If baby does ending up having a feed, see if Mum (or Dad) wants a feeding photo taken!
If baby doesn’t appear to be hungry, he/she may be in discomfort. Try burping the baby by holding them up near your shoulder and patting them on their back or another suitable burping technique. Make sure you have a wash cloth handy to catch any spit up!
It's always worth trying a dummy/pacifier to settle baby (with parent’s permission). Some babies just like to suck! When you do remove a dummy (to take the shot), take it out SLOWLY! I've heard many times that the Avent 'Soothie' Dummy/Pacifier is a great one, as it leaves less indentations around baby's mouth.
Rocking or Patting baby gives them a sense of movement, resembling life inside inside the womb. If baby is on the beanbag try patting their bottom (firmly but not too hard). If baby is in your arms then try rocking and/or gently bouncing them. If baby is in a prop, and it’s safe to do so, hold onto baby with one hand and gently rock the bowl, basket, etc with your other hand.
Similar to above, white noise gives baby a sense of being back in the womb. I would recommend playing white noise through a stereo or device with good speakers (not your phone or iPad/tablet) so that you get the nice deep bass sound. Have it playing loud enough so that it’s ‘filling up the room’.
The Baby Shusher is similar to white noise. It’s a special device, created specifically for calming newborns, that emits a repetitive ‘shhhhhhhhh’ sound over and over. Many newborn photographers have reported success with it.
About a year or so ago there was a video that had gone viral on the internet. The video shows a new Dad (Daniel Eisenman) calming his newborn daughter, within seconds, by ‘ommm’ing to her (see the video HERE). The sound produced by ‘ommm’ing is somewhat similar to the soothing sounds of white noise or the Baby Shusher, and is another thing you can add to your ‘bag of tricks’. It’s a good one for Fathers to try during a newborn session, as the tone of their voice is usually deeper, plus it’s a great way to get them involved!
SIDE AND STOMACH POSITION
Babies with reflux or gas tend to find relief when placed on their stomach or side. If the parents have reported symptoms similar to that of gas or reflux, then this is a good technique to try.
Many babies like being wrapped, as it makes them feel nice and snug like when they were inside in their Mother’s womb. Wrapping is always good to try, when attempting to settle baby. If you want to try soothing baby by wrapping, you can start off with a firm, snug wrap. Once baby is asleep (in the Active/REM/Light Sleep Stage), take some photos of them fully wrapped and once they are deep asleep (in the Quiet/NREM/Deep Sleep Stage), slowly and carefully loosen the wrap in various areas to expose and pose parts of their body like arms, hands, legs and feet. Then shoot some more.
Whilst moving from one area to another
If baby is asleep and you need to move them from one area to another e.g. from your lap to the beanbag or from the beanbag to a prop, then hold baby nice and close to you, with their limbs tucked in. When you are placing them down, keep their arms/hands close to their chest or face and their legs tucked up close to their torso. Then once they are placed down, immediately spread your fingers open and place your (warm) hands over/around them and apply gentle overall pressure, whilst securing their arms and legs so that they don’t kick out (Startle/Moro Reflex). When baby seems settled enough, slowly remove your hands. If baby starts to stir, put your hands/pressure back on baby (for 10 or so seconds) and then try to slowly remove your hands again.
Whilst adjusting their position/pose
Posing a newborn is a slow, gradual process that must be done inch by inch. Each and every time you move baby, in some big or small way, you must hold them there in that new position (using your hands) until they adjust to it. Once they seem settled, try slowly removing your hands. If you suddenly remove your hands, baby will probably startle with the sudden drop in pressure. If baby starts to stir, put your hands/pressure back on baby (for 10 or so seconds) and then try to slowly remove your hands again.
When they are in the pose but unsettled
If baby is in the desired pose but starts to stir, apply gentle ‘overall’ pressure to their body, using your hand/s. Once they seem settled, try slowly removing your hands. If baby starts to stir again, put your hands/pressure back on baby (for 10 or so seconds) and then try to slowly remove your hands again.
Photo Credit: Orsolya Englert
Well I hope the newborn settling techniques in this article are helpful! Feel free to share them with other newborn photographers or any Mums and Dads with a newborn baby!
Til next time,