Tips and Tricks for Getting Babies to Sleep – From a Professional Newborn Photographer

Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography

As a professional newborn photographer, I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of newborn babies. Many of the babies I photograph come for a studio newborn session, where I soothe, rock, and then pose the newborns in various ways to achieve beautiful images their parents love and treasure.

Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography
Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography

This job requires an interesting mix of skills. Not only did I have to learn equipment settings, professional lighting, styling, posing, swaddling (more on that in a moment), and camera angles, but I also had to up my game on a huge part of the job; soothing babies.

Most newborn studio poses require a baby to be sound asleep. I have to be able to not only get an infant to sleep but also keep them asleep while I say, roll them onto their tummy, tuck their fingers under their chin, and align their legs and feet in a way that makes the final image visually pleasing (see below). All babies are different, and some tolerate this better than others. However, in my years of doing this work, I’ve found a few things that work for almost every baby.

Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography


1. Embrace the Power of White Noise. 

Newborns are accustomed to the constant sounds they hear in the womb, so replicating that environment can work wonders for their sleep. White noise machines or apps can help mimic the familiar sounds of the womb, such as gentle rain or a low hum. The consistent noise can help mask sudden noises and lull your baby into a peaceful sleep.

I have a small white noise machine attached to my studio lighting, which means it is always close at hand (and turned on its highest volume setting). I have also been known to hum a single note very loudly, over and over again. While it sounds ridiculous, it soothes the babies into a deep sleep.

Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography
Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography

2. I Use Pacifiers During My Sessions.

While some parents choose not to introduce pacifiers for a variety of good reasons, I find them invaluable for lulling a newborn to sleep. Sucking is a natural soothing mechanism for infants, and a pacifier can provide comfort and relaxation. For obvious reasons, I pop it out as soon as I can to get the picture I want to take. But a pacifier 100% helps me get to that place.

Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography

3. Wrap, wrap, wrap! 

Swaddling is an age-old technique that mimics the snug feeling of being in the womb. For photography, I can wrap the baby in various ways that look pretty in pictures AND soothe the baby at the same time.

Wrapping a newborn securely in a soft, breathable swaddle can provide security and comfort. I use stretchy, jersey-knit fabrics (at least on the bottom layer) to get a snug but not-too-tight fit. If a baby comes to me and refuses to settle for any other pose, the wrapped/swaddled options always work. I haven’t yet met a baby who doesn’t like it, and I can swaddle them in a bunch of different ways for their pictures. There are a wide variety of options with velcro and zippers for at-home use, making them easy and convenient to use.

Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography

4. Gentle, Firm Hands. 

Similar to the point about swaddling, babies enjoy the gentle-but-firm pressure of my hands on their bodies as they drift off into sleep. Newborns are born with the startle reflex, which can often wake them up. Applying gentle pressure with my hands can help provide a sense of security and reduce their startle reflex. Once I get a baby into position, I always keep my hands in place for a few moments before I grab my camera. 

Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography

5. The Soothing Effect of Movement and Vibration.

There’s a reason parents for thousands of years have rocked, patted, walked, and gently bounced their babies. It’s no different in my studio. If a baby is super agitated (while not hungry; hungry babies go to their moms for food), I can walk him or her around and do a combination of rock/pat that usually does the trick before I try to pose them for pictures again.

I also use a Lullavibe, a small machine shaped like a ping-pong paddle emitting gentle vibration. It often provides the extra bit of sleepy mojo to get the babies to relax into a deep sleep. I place it where it leans on the baby’s back. In the image above, I’ll start with a pacifier in, Lullavibe on, and my hands in place. Then I’ll gently pull the pacifier out, gradually pull my hands off the baby, and the last step is grabbing the Lullavibe off and setting it nearby but out of the shot. While many newborn photographers use this same tool, it is designed to be placed under a crib mattress at home.

As a mom with three kids of my own, many of these skills were second nature to me when I started doing this work. However, I’ve tweaked them and added them to my arsenal of tricks for my newborn sessions. Before I go, however, I have one more thing to mention.

Photo Credit: JW Brown Photography

6. One Extra Tip.

For sibling pictures, I know you’ll be attempting to DIY at home (and yes, they can be a doozy sometimes!); embrace all of the above tips to get the baby solidly asleep, AND be sure to implement a swaddle. It’s much easier for an older sibling (especially toddlers and preschoolers) to be willing to hold/snuggle a sleeping, swaddled baby than it is for them to manage an awake newborn with limbs that move around.

What tips and tricks work for you when getting babies to sleep?


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