{Professional Insight} Documenting Your Baby’s NICU Journey Through Photography

September 27, 2013

Documenting your baby’s NICU journey can be an important yet difficult thing to do for parents. To many of us, it’s hard to put into words the magnitude of what goes on behind those NICU double doors, especially if visitation is strictly limited. It can be difficult for other family members and friends to comprehend what you’re going through, especially when your baby’s progress is measured in grams and oxygen saturation percentages. Taking pictures can be a way of helping them understand, and most importantly, can be a helpful way for parents to reflect on how far their little ones have come – years after discharge.

Things to Consider When Photographing in the NICU

1. Setting the scene. This is probably the most obvious but overlooked aspect of documenting your baby’s NICU journey.  A photo of the handwashing station outside the entrance establishes the scene, and every NICU parent knows the dreaded 3-minute scrubbing in routine. Another is a wide shot of your baby’s entire area, showing all of the equipment, machines, pumps, and wires. Somewhere beneath all that stuff is your tiny baby! Maybe even a good shot of your baby’s name plate on their isolette to remember their little “address” in their own corner of the NICU.

2. Use what you have. Not everyone has a fancy SLR camera with a slew of expensive lenses. Most of the time you just have your iPhone and that’s ok. Don’t forget to take video too if you can – recording the blips and bleeps and other sounds of the NICU may be important to you. Watching video clips of my son on my iPhone helped me when I had to pump milk in the middle of the night at home.

3. Ditch the flash. Use available light when you can. Not only is using a flash distracting to nurses and other staff, preemies’ eyes are extremely sensitive. Crank up your ISO if you can control it on your camera. I find it better to have somewhat grainy pictures than overpower the entire scene with direct flash. Open the blinds temporarily near your baby’s area if you can and open the curtains wide to get more light in. You may be able to use the small spotlight attached to your baby’s isolette to add light to the scene if you are shooting at night and the overhead lights are off. Using a small portable tripod may help with camera shake. Holding your arms close to your body, bracing yourself against a wall or chair, or even holding your breath as you take the shot can actually minimize blurry photos.

(photo: Michele Anderson)

4. Show scale. Friends and relatives have a hard time comprehending how tiny our babies really are. Take a shot of your baby next to a stuffed animal to show size. Your child can take another photo with it when he is older. Everyone loves before and after shots! If you have a micropreemie, you may even be able to take a shot with your wedding ring around their arms or feet. Still to this day I can’t believe how tiny my little guy was. Don’t forget to take a picture of their tiny diapers in the palm of your hand.

5. Details – shoot details of your baby’s body. Every parent is amazed at the beauty of their child’s features. Sometimes they are covered in so many wires, tubes, and blankets that all you see is one part. Focus in on just hands or just feet. A macro lens can help if you have a camera that has interchangeable lenses.

6. Creative angles – shoot through isolette doors, shoot from above, get creative! Preemies don’t move around much so take your time and find different ways to capture them in their environment. Use the bili lights or the spotlight on their isolette to set the mood if you choose to shoot at night.

7. The daily routine – Participating in things like bath time, feedings, and diaper changes brings a sense of normalcy to a NICU environment. Photograph your partner getting involved with these things and don’t forget to switch places so you can participate as well.

8. Document the quiet moments too. If you can hold them, have your spouse or partner get a shot of you kangarooing. If you can’t yet do kangaroo care, a simple shot of your hand on their head or chest through the isolette doors can be powerful images themselves.

9. Key players. Your baby’s nurses. These superheros care for our little ones day and night, and have the toughest yet most rewarding jobs on the planet. Photographing your baby’s nurses will help you remember the faces of the people who played a central role in your baby’s every day routine. Giving prints to your baby’s nurses when your baby is discharged is a wonderful way for them to remember your little one.

10. The milestones – Photograph your baby’s weight on the scale, your first time to hold baby, graduating to the open crib or step down unit, even the final car seat study. All of these moments are huge milestones in the NICU. Yes, there are times when the NICU rollercoaster is “one step forward, two steps back”, but focusing on the positive moments can help you reflect back and see your baby’s progress over time. Celebrate and remember each one as they come.

(photo: Michele Anderson)

11. Coming home – Shoot photos of your baby leaving the hospital, getting in the car, and arriving home. Their first breath of fresh outside air and the warm sun on their face is something to remember. Maybe even photograph them finally in the nursery at home, snuggled in their own crib that has been empty until now. This helps tell the final chapter of your NICU journey.

(photo: Michele Anderson)

12. Most importantly, get in the picture yourself! Have someone photograph you as well – it is your journey as a NICU parent too. There are several organizations such as Preemie Prints that offer free NICU photography for families of preemies. If there is none in your area, consider hiring a photographer just for the homecoming. You will treasure your first photographs as a family at home.

(photo: Michele Anderson)

All photos courtesy of Beverly Demafiles Photography unless otherwise noted.

Guest Blogger

Schulze, Beverly

Beverly is the mother of two amazing boys. Her first son Miles made his grand entrance at 28 weeks 5 days due to severe pre-eclampsia and stayed 69 days in the NICU. Her second son Eliot was born full-term via natural VBAC at 38 weeks. They teach her that every day is a precious gift. She supports birth choice via the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) and Special Scars~Special Women. She is a wedding/portrait photographer and production artist and can be reached at www.beverlydemafiles.com.