The baby whisperer
Years of newborn photography has turned Sarah into a baby whisperer with a magical skill to please even the fussiest of newborns. She is a mother of four, with a background in Nursing, so she has years of experience handling babies, along with having photographed over 1000 newborns in her career, and she wants to share some of her knowledge with you!
Everyone has an opinion, and at the end of the day it's your baby and your sanity at sake, so do whatever works best for YOU.
BUT if it's 3am and bub has been awake for HOURS and you could do with some help Sarah has put together some of her favourite settling techniques.
Your bub has just spent 40 weeks inside your body, nestled under your heart and surrounded by your digestive system. Have you ever laid your head on someone's belly and really listened to the noises a body makes?! It's noisy and it's constant. Once bub arrives, everyone assumes that a baby needs silence to sleep, but that's not necessarily the case. Sarah's own babies slept in the midst of noise, she vacuumed around them, their older siblings would dance and play noisily while they slept, and the youngest even used to sleep in a bassinet on the kitchen table in the centre of all the chaos.
During a newborn session we use an app on our phone called White Noise, using the Blue Noise or the Ocean Waves. You can also find white noise on YouTube and there are loads of Baby Shushers out there to purchase. This constant noise will also reduce the likelihood that bub will startle at any unintended sudden loud noises.
BUT the most effective noise for calming bub, is to put your lips right up to bub's ear and make a shushing noise, it needs to be rhythmic and fairly loud - try to imitate the heart beat. Sh Sh Sh Sh SHHHH, Sh Sh Sh Sh SHHHH, Sh Sh Sh Sh SHHHH. It really works!! (Although you do feel a little silly)
Effective wrapping mimics the tight, confined feeling of being in the womb and ensures babies can’t wake themselves up with their startle reflex. It's quite common that people assume their baby don't like being swaddled, many Mums will tell us this at the start of a portrait session, but more often than not, it's simply because the swaddle isn’t tight enough, the baby is already overtired or overstimulated, or they are too hot or cold.
Your wrap needs to have some stretch to be effective, while the muslin wraps look pretty, they don't really stay in place for very long.
If nothing else has worked with a bub, a nice firm wrap (and a cuddle) will usually calm them down very quickly so if wrapping hasn't worked for you in the past try a different wrap and persevere!
3. Confidence (fake it until you make it)
Babies can smell fear - well ok not really, but they CAN tell the difference between someone who moves with confidence, and one who is nervous, tense and yep, understandably exhausted. They also know exactly who feeds them, and will often settle better when handed over to dad, grandma or grandad, as they don't smell like milk. This is an awful feeling, but take advantage of it, go curl up in a dark room and get some much needed rest, or head outside for a walk in the sun.
Movement is really effective, especially if bub is overtired or unsettled. They are used to a lot of swaying and jostling in the womb, so replicating this movement is a great way to calm them down. This is why many babies find it so easy to sleep in the car or stroller.
We often assume that a newborn needs to eat and then sleep, and can spend HOURS trying to get a baby to go to sleep when all they want to do is to work off the kilojoules of energy that they just consumed!!
So unwrap bub, let them kick, fuss, and see the world for 30 minutes or so to work off some energy and THEN try again.
In another lifetime I photographed bubs during their hospital stays when they were just 2 or 3 days old. On this particular day I was due to capture a little boy with his family, and I could hear a baby screaming from the end of the hall. Sure enough, it was my next client. I knocked and walked in to find mum and dad sitting on the bed looking absolutely shattered, while bub was in his crib screaming unwrapped with arms and legs flailing.
I introduced myself and they both indicated that they had been awake for 36 hours and they had tried everything to calm their little boy down. I ran through what we normally did during a shoot, but realised pretty quickly that the parents would not remember the shoot fondly if I tried to push forward. So instead I sat down and listened. Mum was struggling with feeding and Dad was trying to help, but admitted to feeling useless. I asked if they wouldn't mind if I tried to settle their little man. They shrugged, but agreed that it couldn't hurt.
So I picked up bub, arranged the wrap across the crib and while talking to him constantly in a calm but firm voice, I swaddled him tight. Once he was wrapped like a burrito I picked him up, still talking (he could feel the vibrations of my voice where our bodies touched) and with one hand under is head and the other holding his bottom against me rocked and bounced from foot to foot. His crying gradually subsided, and very quickly he was fast asleep. I tucked him into his crib, turned around and both of his parents were also sound asleep on the bed. I tiptoed out of the room and let them be.
Moral of the story?! If help is offered, take it!
It won't be long, and you'll be a baby settling master, remember that every parent has been through the sleepless nights and exhaustion, so if in doubt ask for help!!
Once you figure out what works, do it like clockwork and when they finally asleep TIPTOE or CREEP OUT OF THE ROOM LIKE A HIGHLY TRAINED NINJA.
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