As a specialist newborn baby photographer it is part of my job to advise my clients on how to prepare for their session and provide guidance on how to achieve the best possible images from their time with me. This is especially important for my newborn clients, many of whom are first time parents, are sleep deprived and adjusting to life with their beautiful babies!
So these are my top tips for soothing babies, which I use during every newborn session. They come from my experiences as a Mum, the collective experiences of the many parents I meet through my work, my connections with baby specialist businesses such as the wonderful Estelle at MamaBabyBliss and Hannah Lindahl at Little Signers Club.
However, please bear in mind that I am not a qualified medical expert and all of these tips are based upon experience with babies who have no medical conditions or concerns... which leads me nicely to Tip 1....
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
There are so many reasons why your newborn isn't settling. They may be too warm, too cool, need changing, hungry, need winding or just wanting to be cuddled!
The NHS website has a great check list that goes through all of these common reasons - just click here
But sometimes your baby is crying because it is in pain or unwell.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCT! No one knows your child better than you, so if you are concerned there are many sources of professional medical guidance - Google is not one of them!
The NHS website has a list of general signs to look out for which may indicate illness - click here
Call your Midwife, Health Visitor, GP or 111
If it is life threatening do not hesitate to call 999
As a Mum to a baby that suffered with colic I got a great deal of support from Cry-sis, who offer lots of information on reasons for and managing baby crying. They have a helpline so you can talk about your concerns 0845 228669 and you can click here to go to their website.
Do not ever think you are troubling your health professional or being a paranoid parent. They are there to help and support you.
It is the cause of the majority of unsettled babies I see. Sometimes parents are worried about harming their babies when they wind them, sometimes parents don't realise that their baby still has wind, even though they may have already burped!
Things to look out for;
Drawing legs up
Pain coming in waves
Babies may also prefer an upright position rather than lying down if they have wind.
The NHS Start4Life website has some great guidance on winding positions, click here
Sometimes a combination of positions can dislodge stubborn wind e.g. going from 'across the knees' to the 'on the shoulder position' or gently cycling legs. One of the more bizarre solutions I found with my child was placing him in the 'on the shoulder position' and walking carefully up and down the stairs! It is worth a try!
Scientists believe the only fear we are born with is the fear of falling. When babies don't feel secure in their physical location or position they will trigger a 'startle reflex'. When the startle reflex triggers, a baby's arms and legs will rapidly lift into a starfish type shape and they will generally wake from sleep.
One of the best ways to calm a baby and help it feel secure is by swaddling or wrapping a baby. The thinking is that it mimics the comfort and warmth of being confined in the womb. Mothercare have a handy video on how to swaddle a baby safely - click here
Swaddling or wrapping is also a technique used by many photographers to help settle a newborn and create interesting colour and texture combinations within client galleries.
TURN UP THE NOISE
One thing I use for all the newborn babies that visit my studio is a white noise app. You can get these apps for free from both Google Play and The App Store. White noise is a noise that is familiar to a baby and helps them to drift off as they focus on it. It could be a hoover, rain, hair dryer or a heart beat. Babies can hear from 15 weeks gestation, so it is a sense that your baby relies upon from a very early stage of life. The womb is a noisy place to be, there is all the external noises as well as all the noises the Mother's body makes (heart beats, digestion, placental noises). To be placed in a quiet environment can be unsettling for a new baby.
One noise I am a real fan of is mimicking the sound of the placenta. This is a long, loud shhhhhhhh sound. Avoid a shh shh shh staccato sound, as that mimics the sound of interrupted blood flow within the placenta and babies may find this unsettling.
ROCKING AND ROLLING
Sometimes babies become more agitated with their Mothers, which sounds odd as it is Mum that performs many of the soothing activities with a baby. However, smell is one of the first senses to develop and Mums smell delicious to their babies! Babies will want to feed and be cuddled, feed and be cuddled, feed and be cuddled and repeat and repeat... especially when going through growth spurts (read more about growth and feeding spurts here).
If this pattern of feed, cuddle, feed, cuddle occurs during a session and we are sure that baby has been well fed and winded I will take the baby from Mum and carefully hold them in my arms so their tummies are against mine, ensuring arms and legs are comfortable and the head is well supported. I will then use my long, loud shhhhhh and sway in a slow semi circular motion. This allows baby to feel supported and secure tummy to tummy, they hear the comforting sound of a heart beat and the shhhhhh and are warmed by body heat. The continuous movement means their developing eyesight struggles to focus, which makes them feel tired and want to close their eyes. Sometimes I also add a gentle rhythmic pat to their bottoms, as I believe this mimics the heart pulse on the bottom when the baby was head down in utero. I also find gentle stroking down the forehead and nose can encourage little eyes to close and sleep.
It is important not to make eye contact as this can stimulate your baby and make them less sleepy.