Why you need Breastfeeding portraits
I will start this with why I began offering breastfeeding portraits in the first place.
I was first inspired not long after starting up my business as a newborn and children's photographer. I came across the wonderful Breastfeeding Together organisation through a childhood friend who is now a support worker for them helping breastfeeding families in the Wigan area. You can find out more information about them at www.breastfeedingtogether.co.uk
I love taking and sharing photos and when they illustrate such love and the amazing bond that families have I really am in my element so breastfeeding images seemed a natural extension to my business and are such an honour to shoot. I didn't have the breastfeeding journey I wanted and envisaged with my twins and was painfully shy when it came to feeding around ANYONE so photos were not something that were up there on my list of priorities. Do I regret not having beautiful images to look back on? Absolutely yes! These are all I have now to look back at. I love these images but I do wish I had taken the time to have professional pictures taken with my babies not just of my babies. I will never get that chance again.
I debated for quite some time over whether or not I was "experienced" or "qualified" enough to provide women with these images myself when I felt like I had failed as a breastfeeding mummy.
When I found out I was having twins in my head I immediately had images of a beautiful natural birth and perfectly healthy, breastfed twins who obviously slept through the night. Having twins I was classified as high risk and had lots of scans and It was around 20 weeks that it started to become obvious that I had placenta previa. This means that the placenta of one of the babies was covering my cervix making natural delivery impossible and going into labour extremely dangerous for my babies and I.
They would have to be born by caesarean section. After being told this I seemed more determined than ever that I would breastfeed my babies and stick to my plans for things to be as natural as possible. I then developed quite severe preeclampsia and my twins were delivered at 34 weeks exactly via emergency caesarian. They were both healthy and absolutely perfect.
In recovery I was able to start my breastfeeding journey. I was quite overwhelmed and the whole thing is a blur but the first few days didn't quite go as expected. It seemed my body wasn't quite ready for my babies to be here and my milk supply wasn't fantastic.
Despite my best efforts and repeated attempts at expressing it still just didn't work out and the twins needed formula to help with their weight gain. At home I would not breastfeed in front of anyone else and continued to formula feed as I was concerned about their low weight. I still breastfed in the evenings and through the night and expressed as much as I could manage but I couldn't shake the feeling I was failing them. In the end I found being at home all day alone with them along with expressing between their formula feeds and taking care of them was too much and I made the decision to stop. I found that I was feeling guilty when formula feeding for not breastfeeding, guilty when breastfeeding as I was convinced they were going hungry and guilty when expressing because that was time that I wasn't spending with them. Once I made the decision to stop and the pressure was gone I felt a big relief and really started to enjoy my babies. I did still manage to top up breastfeed in the evenings until around 3 months and now I totally understand that I didn't fail. I also had a breastfeeding journey it just wasn't as straightforward as some. I did the best I could for my babies which is all that can be asked from any mummy. Coming to this realisation made me 100% sure that I am perfectly experienced to offer this kind of session to other breastfeeding mamas.
Why do mum's want breastfeeding portraits and why they are so important?
Every family is different and there are lots of reasons for why breastfeeding photos may be desired. For some of the wonderful mamas that visit these images show the success at the end of what can have been an extremely difficult up hill struggle. Not every breastfeeding journey is easy and those who have faced just about every obstacle that could have been thrown at them can look back at their beautiful images and know that they made it through and are absolute queens. Some of my ladies have had a very straightforward journey and just want to look back on this beautiful time in years to come and have the feelings of being a breastfeeding mummy come back to them. The feel of the child in your arms, the smells, the sounds....
For others they know they are coming to the end of their journey and they want to mark this chapter in their life, this can be particularly so if the decision has been made not to have any more children.
Here are Abi's reasons for having a breastfeeding photoshoot;
"I chose to have a breastfeeding photo shoot as a birthday present to myself after a friend recommended it and how beautiful the pictures are. I had my first son at 24 and breastfed successfully until weaning but I was shy and embarrassed and in a way ashamed to admit that I was breastfeeding him to family, friends and strangers. In reflection I am sad that I felt like that. Feeding him was the most wonderful bonding experience I have had and I had no photos to remind me of that special time. So.... this time around I am not ashamed or embarrassed, I am proud that I have been able to nurse my little baby girl. Its a hard and challenging at times and definitely not easy to start off but it is also something that is a lovely bonding experience with my baby girl and I'm so lucky to have the chance to be successful again. In a way I want to remember every bit of it (both good and bad). My photo shoot was a fantastic experience and I felt relaxed and comfortable with Vicky in her studio, I will definitely be booking in more sessions to record our breastfeeding journey as she grows."
There are such varied reasons but the one thing these wonderful women will have in common is that from time to time they will look at these images and have a wealth of emotions come flowing back to them.
Why not just take the images yourself?
Taking your own images at home is a great thing to do. It is a fantastic way to document every day life however it cant offer the same experience as a professional portrait session. On a practical level the photograph will be of much better quality but on a deeper level as a professional I can offer you a different perspective, one from the outside looking in. A trained eye can pick up the details that you may miss and can document the raw emotion of the moment.
Any concerns you may have.
The main concerns mothers seem to have around booking a breastfeeding session are what to wear and that they wont know how to pose. Nobody needs to have modelling experience to come to me and some of the best breastfeeding images are when mum and baby are perfectly comfortable feeding in the exact way they do every day at home. You can't get this wrong! You are doing something that is perfectly natural and this will always shine through in your images. In terms of what to wear any mummy visiting my studio is welcome to use one of my beautiful dresses but if they prefer not to then I recommend loose clothing for feeding sessions in neutral colours. As with any sessions I suggest avoiding anything with a logo or strong pattern. You don't want anything to distract from the emotion of the image. Nudity is also an option for those of you who are feeling brave and is always discrete.
Another worry mums can have comes from those bringing a toddler. Sometimes they can be much more interested in "discovering" my props but fear not. They always come round to the temptation of milk eventually.
How to prep for a shoot
Should your child come hungry, freshly nursed or somewhere in between?
When booking your session it is best to try and stick to your normal routine if you have one and book your session for a time when your child would normally nurse. It is best if your child isn’t super hungry as we don’t want them to be grumpy. We want the session to be a pleasant experience for you and them and a grumpy baby can make an anxious mummy. For children who nurse on demand, feeding up to an hour before the session should be absolutely fine. If however your child does arrive too full to nurse again don’t worry, I have LOTS of patience. When your little one does nurse I work quickly to capture as much as I can.
If you aren’t comfortable showing skin your portraits can be extremely discrete. We can still capture that amazing bond without showing too much skin. You are welcome to bring your own scarves, shawls or blankets but remember that neutral colours work best as they don’t steal the focus. It is also a good idea to bring along your babies favourite blanket or a teddy bear that they use for comfort to help them settle into the studio if you feel they may need it.
If you are used to giving cuddles to an older sibling at the same time as nursing your youngest or feeding is part of your family time then we can also include your partner and other siblings in the session.
If your child is a little older then please avoid telling them to look at the camera. Don't try and force your child to pose as we want the images to be as natural as possible.
When you join me with a newborn (once your baby is latching well) or baby that isn't yet mobile the session is usually quite straight forward. If your baby is fussy don't panic. I am very patient and encourage you to feed however you and your nursling are comfortable whether that be lay down or having skin to skin. I will simply observe and capture candid images as you feed.
For those joining me with an older baby or a toddler who will be a little more interested in exploring my advice is to let them. I am happy for them to become familiar with their environment and never rush this part of the session. We can also capture some beautiful images during this time too and I find that once nursing does start the session goes rather quickly.
I would love for you to join me in making memories, you can book your session online at www.victoriavarnamphotography.co.uk/book-online
Hopefully see you soon.
Bye for now, V xxx
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