As a professional newborn photographer, being able to soothe a crying baby is really 60% of my job. Posing, lighting, design, and camera settings all fit into the other 40%. Baby soothing is important for me to be able to get the adorable sleeping baby pictures that everyone loves. Here are my go to ways to calm a fussy baby.
1. Hungry, Dirty or Gassy??
Before trying anything else on the list, check if the baby is hungry, dirty or gassy. If your baby has one of these needs then the other tips will not be of much help. First try feeding, changing and burping your baby.
New babies like to feel snug and supported. They have been this way for the last nine months. I always start out a newborn session with swaddling and swaddle any fussy babies. This is probably my number one solution for a fussy baby in the studio.
The back and forth motion is calming and relaxing. I think it also helps to calm and relax the mommy or daddy doing the rocking.
4. Shh Shh Shh
Babies like white noise. They are used to continuous noise while being carried in your womb. I have the "Sound Sleeper" app on my phone that I use during my newborn photo sessions. This is a free app and there are many different app options for white noise. If a baby starts to wake up and fuss in the middle of a pose I will pat them, softly, on their bottom and got "Shhhhhh", again softly, in their ear.
I know the paci is controversial. I never give a paci to a baby during a newborn session with out the parents permission. Babies have a natural need to suck and if they are not hungry the paci can help to calm them. You can also try giving the baby their own hand or your clean finger to suck on if you do not want to try the paci. With my first baby, the pacifier was a life saver.
6. Hold their arms and feet in place
Babies have a startle reflex. If they are not swaddled their arms and legs may spring out and wake them up. If I am posing a naked baby and they start to startle I will gently hold their arms and legs in the place that I want. Holding them their gives them a since of security and they can fall back asleep. If they are on their tummy I will likely pat them while I hold them in place. If on their back I will hold their arms in place while slightly and gently jiggling them. I took a course once that said putting an infants hands to the middle of their chest is "organizing" for their brain. It helps them if they are over stimulated or stresses.
7. Sit the baby up
Moving the baby into a different posing can distract them. Sitting a baby up and putting their hands to the center of their chest can again be "organizing" to a stressed baby. The only thing that keeps me from doing this tip often during a photo session is that I want sleepy babies. But at home you might be happy with a happy baby :) If your baby has mottled skin they may be cold, stressed or over stimulated. You can try changing their positions or change their environment to see if you can take away some of the stimulation.
8. Walk around
This is always my last resort. When you are a sleepy mommy the last thing you want is to be stuck walking around all the time. For some reason babies can tell when you stand up or sit down. While I walk around I do a slight bounce and maybe even pats again on the bottom.
Going outside or going for a short walk outside always seemed to work on my own fussy babies. This is one action that was also helpful for me. Getting some fresh air always improved my mood as well.
9. Take a Break
If the baby has been crying for a while and you are starting to feel stressed out then give yourself a break. Pass the baby off to the other parent while you go in the other room for a few minutes. Or if you are alone you can put the baby in a safe place like their crib or strapped into their swing, while you take a break. Go into another room and take a five minute breather. Then you will be a little fresher to go and try again with your fussy baby.
In the studio, if I can't calm a fussy baby I will pass them off to mommy. A lot of the time the baby thinks they are still hungry and an extra feeding will do the trick. After a good burp we will go back to a swaddle and take more baby pictures.
Having a newborn is hard work. Be patient with your self, be patient with your baby, and be willing to ask for help when you need it.