Want to capture your birth experience? Here are some tips to get pics to cherish

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Capture beautiful moments
Capture beautiful moments

You're likely keen to capture the special moments that happen as you deliver your baby and meet them for the first time, but as a mom you'll be focused on other things on the day, and as a dad you'll want your attention to be on your family.

You might be tempted to ask a close relative to do the honours on the day, or perhaps you hope your doula or midwife will have a moment to snap a few special pics. 

Another option is to ask a nurse to help out with your phone at the big moment.

But the truth is, if photos of the day are important to you, you are running the risk of not getting good photos, or even no photos at all, as the birthing process and the new baby are the most important and need everyone's full attention. 

This is why many people hire a professional birth photographer.

In South Africa, the South African Birth Photographers Association (SABPA) is the place to find a reputable photographer, and the site offers not only a list of local photographers, but also tips on how to choose the right one for you. 

They suggest you make sure the person you choose is reliable, available, has access to the hospital you choose, and has experience photographing both natural and C-section births. 

You'll also need to check that the hospital and the doctor is on board with a photographer joining you in the room. 

Must see: Birth photography gone wrong, and how to avoid exposing yourself on social media 

Professional birth photography 

Local professional birth photographer Alyona Polovchenko-Smith offers some tips for parents considering inviting a professional to document the day. 

If you've decided to hire a professional, Alyona suggests hiring a trusted and a qualified photographer whose style speaks to your heart. She says you can find one through a birth photographers association like the SABPA, where all members have to pass an exam and sign a code of conduct, violation of which will result in immediate loss of membership. 

"Contact them, chat to them over a cup of coffee or a video call (consultation is usually free anyway!), see if you feel comfortable with their personality and the services they offer," she says. "Birth is such a private event, you want to find someone you can trust and whose work you admire."  

The photographs remain the intellectual property of the photographer. The right of sharing the images and the client's privacy policy is outlined in the birth contract, which is discussed and signed beforehand. It is one of the most important points to chat about with the prospective birth photographer. The reputable birth photographer will never violate their client’s privacy and share any image without client’s prior consent.

So how does it work? "Most birth photographers go on call when their client’s pregnancy reaches 37-39 weeks," Alyona explains.

"From that moment on our time does not fully belong to us, we need to be ready to go to the client's birth place at any hour of the day and night. It means that we can’t travel too far from the client’s location, we can’t go on vacation, we must always have the photographic equipment and other necessities packed and ready and always with us no matter where we go. Being on call also means that your sleep, family functions and other commitments may be interrupted by a sudden client’s call and you need to be ready to go immediately."  

The birth photographer usually arrives and starts to photograph when the active labour begins, or a couple of hours before a scheduled C-section, the exact timing may vary from photographer to photographer and will be outlined in the birth contract, she adds.

The photographer also usually stays with the client throughout the C-section or the whole labour (regardless of how long it may be), plus a few hours postpartum.

"When the photographer gets home the job is not done yet! The images need to be transferred to the computer and backed up immediately," Aylona says.

Within the next 24-48 hours the photographer selects and edits one or a few images from the gallery and delivers to the client for the birth announcement.

WATCH | 'I had to dig deep': Gigi Hadid shares what giving birth without an epidural is like  

DIY birth photography 

If a professional photographer is out of your budget, or you just don't feel comfortable with one, then Alyona offers some tips for a beautiful DIY birth photo session.

Sharing personal pics

First, Parent24 asked her about the etiquette around sharing these pics afterwards. Who can share the pics, and when? 

"It is up to the family to decide when to post and what images to post," Alyona says. "Usually the family prefers to make the birth announcement within 48 hours of birth, and it is usually the photos of the newborn and/or the mother with a baby, or the whole family with their new arrival."

She adds that if the mother decides to write about her birth, she may select the photos that would best illustrate her birth story, but in the event of a traumatic birth or the loss of a child, the parents, especially the mother, may need time to heal and recover before making any parts of their journey public.

Should dad take pics? 

Alyona says it is not uncommon for dads to take photos of the birth using their phones or even proper cameras.

"In the event a family can’t have a birth photographer present I would encourage dads to take the lead and take at least a few photos, because the labour (as long as it may be sometimes) passes so quickly and the moment is lost and when all is over, moms often want to look back and remember what it was like" she advises. 

The downside to dads playing the role of birth photographer is that he won’t be able to capture the full story from A to Z, or be in some pictures himself, and he may miss some important moments because the mom would need his full attention as a supportive birthing partner. 

"So if you want your husband to be 100% there for you, and you want to have a clear memory of the whole birthing story, and of course if there is a possibility to get a birth photographer, I would 100% recommend that instead!" she says. 

Some hospitals may have certain rules around taking photos in the birthing room and  theatre, as well as during certain procedures, so the number one thing to do would be to check with your gynae or midwife as well as the maternity ward what is allowed and what not. 

"Also be mindful of birthing staff being photographed, they may or may not want to appear in the photos especially if they will be shared publicly. Always ask for their permission first," Alyoma adds. 

Is it ok to ask a nurse to take pictures?

Some hospitals may have certain policies around that, be sure to check with the ward before approaching a nurse with such a request.

"If it is allowed but the nurse kindly refuses or seems uncomfortable with the idea, please don’t insist. Some people may not feel confident handling a camera or other person’s phone," she explains. 

While some nurses may agree to take a photo or two, you must remember that it is not their primary responsibility, and you can’t make them in charge of capturing a specific moment of your birth.

Their ability to perform their medical function should not be compromised; your and your baby’s well being may require their undivided attention especially during the last two stages of labour. 

What sort of photos are the most cherished afterwards?

Alyona says that among the most cherished, the ultimate number one is the image of your new arrival and the "I did it" moment when the mom takes the first look at her brand new baby.

"Every woman may have different preferences of the images that would be the most important to her. I had a client who wanted the 'crowning' shot (when the baby’s head is emerging from the birth canal), because she was curious what it all looked like down there," she says.

She explains that some women may need to remember the birthing space details, others - the support from their birth partner, or feel empowered through images of them handling contractions like a champ. 

"My best advice would be to take at least a few pictures of each stage of the labour to have a full story afterwards. If you doubt whether to take a photo or not - take it! You can always delete what you don’t want, but you won’t be able to go back in time and retake the picture," she says. 

And don’t forget about the details! The hospital room number, the baby’s weight, hospital bands, pregnant belly, and so on.

Also read: Here's how your baby's brain gets switched on during birth  

What sort of photos are ok to share publicly? 

There is no black and white answer to this question, Alyona says. Each family is different.

"I can suggest you run the images by the mother of the baby before sharing them with the family or with the public - women may feel vulnerable and self-conscious of the way they looked during labour. Always respect the privacy of the mother, never share any photos of exposed private parts of her body without her consent!" she stresses. 

Birth is not a glamorous process, it is hard and tiring,  the mother may not feel particularly pretty in some images, so be sure to check with her which images she is okay to share.

When sharing the images of the baby with family or posting in social media, be mindful of exposing his/her private parts. Ask yourself a question "Would I be okay if a similar image of me as a baby was shared?" 

Top birth photography tips

If you decide to go the DIY route the following tips may help dad, or your birthing partners, achieve better results, she says.

Use good quality equipment

...and make sure you feel confident using it. Try to find the best camera or the best camera phone available. Make sure you practice in both daytime with enough lighting as well as at night time with minimal lights to establish that you are happy with the outcome.

Be it camera or a mobile phone make sure you know how to operate it and how to make quick adjustments if necessary. Keep your devices fully charged and have a spare battery and a charger always at hand.

Control your lighting

If you are lucky enough to shoot during the day, try to position yourself with your back or side towards the window so that your subject (mom and the baby) gets as much light as possible.

When shooting in a low light situation make sure there is at least one light source falling over your subject. Never place the light source behind your subject and never ever try and use direct flash!

It will be disruptive to the labouring mother, will be harmful for the newborn’s eyes and will not produce pleasant looking results in photos.

Don’t forget the details

Details always help to make the birth story full and complete.

The room number, the hospital bands, the setting in the room, birth affirmations - these are first forgotten when the labour is over and the family moves on their new journey of parenthood.

Let the medical professional do their job

It is important not to interfere with the work or nurses, doctors or midwives. Let them focus on what is most important, and don’t ask them to step away or to pose for a specific shot.

If you’d like a medical worker to be in the photos discuss it with them beforehand and make sure you get their permission.

If they ask you not to photograph certain moments or procedures, be very sensitive to their request, and move out of their way when needed.

Ask the mother

...what kind of images she would like to have. The most important point to remember is to respect mother’s privacy.

If she doesn’t want you to take photos (or even look down there) of the baby moving through the birth canal, be sure to respect her wish. Ask her well in advance what kind of photos she wants and make a list for yourself to refer to during labour.

And don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t take them all, births are so unpredictable and the labour can often take a very unexpected route.

Keep enough space for the images and save them asap 

Make sure there is enough space on your device for hundreds of photos, have a spare working memory card just in case.

Transfer the photos to your computer or laptop as soon as you can, or upload them to the cloud while you’re still at the hospital.

Select photos for birth announcement

It will help new parents so much if you look through the gazillion of photos you took and give the parents a few images for sharing with family and friends.

The couple will be so overwhelmed after the birth that they may not have enough time to do it themselves.

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