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Photographing newborns poses potential risks

Posted at 8:36 PM, Oct 08, 2019

Kaylie Kempsell takes photos of babies for a living.

“They’re really my passion. Newborns are what drives me,” Kempsell said.

As a former NICU nurse, Kaylie knows the best practices when handling a newborn. She’s a pro in more ways than one. However, with more amateur photographers taking on newborn photography, Kempsell says everyone involved needs to be aware of the potential risks a baby can face.

“There are a lot of things that go into newborn photography that the average person may not realize,” Kempsell said.

According to NICU Neonatologist Dr. Susan Hwang with Children’s Hospital Colorado, it’s important to make sure the infant is breathing comfortably.

“They are at risk of blocking off their airway if they happen to drop their heads and/or if there’s something placed in front of their nose or mouth from which they’re unable to shift their head position to allow them to get enough air during that photo session,” Dr. Hwang said.

You’ll also want to make sure the baby’s body temperature is well regulated. If the baby is wrapped in too many blankets, it could get too warm.

“Similarly, a baby shouldn’t be too cold, so if the air conditioning is ramped up during your photo session, the baby should have an additional layer.”

And then of course, if the baby is on a surface above the ground, he or she should be watched at all times. Especially since babies can easily startle.

“Often times in newborn photography, you notice that babies are on baskets or tables or are surrounded by other objects. You have to make sure the baby is secure and is not going to roll off,” Dr. Hwang said.

Kempsell says she also makes sure there aren’t any tripping hazards, and if she’s using a prop, she thinks through potential hazards like splinters or lead paint. What many may not realize is that a lot of the unique poses newborn photographers achieve are done with photoshop.

“During one photo we have an assistant holding the baby above their head like this on the top, and during another photo we have somebody holding the baby underneath their chin, usually by their wrists,” Kempsell said.

In addition to her experience in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Kempsell has a certification for newborn photography safety. However, no overarching organization requires it.

“So anybody can pick up a camera and start taking newborn photos and start charging for them,” Kempsell said.

That’s why it’s good to look for photographers who have gone through some training.

Stephanie Robin is the co-creator of APNPI. The organization started offering training courses for newborn photographers in 2017.

“Our initiative is to educate photographers primarily in safely handling newborns,” Robin said.

The safety course covers newborn physiology, newborn reflexes, safe environments for studio setting and how to handle birth injuries or pre-existing diagnoses. She thought to create the educational tool after noticing as a newborn photographer herself that babies could be placed in dangerous scenarios.

“They’re human beings, and they’re actually in their most vulnerable state,” Robin said.

To become an active member of the organization, you have to pass the course and the exam that follows. However, Robin notes it’s really only the complex poses to be concerned about. She says if any parent is especially worried, their best bet is to place the newborn in positions they would do naturally in everyday life.

When it comes down to it, the parent is the best advocate for their baby.

“You’re in charge of your baby, you’re in charge of your baby’s safety, and it’s ok to speak up and say, ‘I’m not comfortable with that, can we do something else,’” Kempsell said.


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NICU Neonatologist Dr. Susan Hwang (MD, MPH, PhD) with Colorado Children’s Hospital says the following information can be used as a guide for best baby sleeping practices:

1) Use a crib with no bumpers that allows for good circulation of air
2) Put a tight sheet around a firm mattress, and take out stuffed animals or items the baby can suffocate on (including blankets and pillows)
3) Swaddles are fine as long as they’re wrapped securely around the baby at the level of the shoulder, but a wearable blanket like a sleep sack is a great alternative
4) Make sure your baby’s back is completely flat, and the bed is also completely flat with no pillow (leaving the baby on its back is best even if the baby vomits)