Newborn Safety Week 2015 with Stephanie Robin

While LSI does not have a full week of information prepared for newborn safety week this year we are hoping to have a couple other newborn safety posts later in the week. We hope the industry will support newborn photography safety education this week by spreading awareness globally throughout the industry. You are welcome to share the LSI posts as well as your own. 

Happy Newborn Safety Week!

I’m excited to be back yet again for Newborn Safety Week to spread safe baby handling knowledge to the community at large and encourage you all to do the same! Newborn safety week began way back in 2011 and though much has changed in four years, we all still have areas to learn and grow with respect to newborn safety. I know that I’m always striving to improve upon my work and methodology and have always been open to safety suggestions and I hope you will read this post with openness, curiosity and a willingness to learn as well.

This year, I’d like to focus on a trendy pose that I’m seeing a lot of lately – The Potato Pose.


The Potato Pose

There has been much debate in the community at large over safe methodology for this pose and I’m so happy to be able to offer suggestions and clarifications based on medical recommendations and newborn physiology.

This pose can most often be described as a pose in which a newborn has been swaddled in multiple layers of fabric creating support for the baby’s upper body and head and sat within a depression on a beanbag. Depressions can be created by placing a bowl, rolled towels, posing rings or other such supports below a flokati rug or other posing blanket. Babies are sometimes supported by wrapping extra fabric under the area of the elbows and leant against a support at the front of the posing surface. Other times they are wrapped multiple times and propped upright within the depression with support around their bottom under the posing surface. Regardless of how babe has been wrapped or propped, they are just that… wrapped with fabric and propped upright.

You might be wondering if it’s okay to leave a baby to balance themselves in this pose and some of you might adamantly answer YES! Let’s break this down and talk about what’s going on under all that fabric shall we?


Firstly, let’s talk about the number of wraps most photographers use to attain this pose. The potato pose typically requires 2 or more wraps surrounding the baby. Since our newborn studios are usually kept upwards of 25 degrees Celsius you’ll definitely want to be on the lookout for signs baby is overheating in this pose. Redness in baby’s face will be your first clue. Wetness in the hair lining the back of baby’s neck also indicates overheating since this is one of the few places baby has sweat glands. For this reason, you should also aim to leave this area uncovered as much as possible during this pose. Airflow over the back of the neck will help to keep baby’s temperature in check while wearing so many layers. Leaving the area exposed however will also leave the head vulnerable to tipping back violently should baby exhibit the startle or moro reflex. More on this later.


Wrapping baby can do more than warm them up. For some, this pose requires tight wrapping of baby’s upper body. This ensures that the arms stay within the wrap and also lend support to the upright positioning demanded of this pose. Tight wrapping can also restrict full airflow into baby’s lungs. Think of it as a tight hug. We’ve all received one of those a time or two! It’s tough to take a full breath of air with someone’s arms wrapped tightly around you. Babies are the same. Ensuring your wrapping is loose enough to allow full expansion of the lungs is key! You might be wondering how baby will support themselves if not wrapped tightly. We’ll get to that in a bit.

First let’s talk a little about baby’s trachea. We know by now that baby’s head accounts for much of their weight. In this position the baby’s head is often lined up on top of their hands or wrists with the chin angling forward and down. Emulating this position on your own body doesn’t feel great as your hands and wrists push back into the throat. It’s easy to imagine how the weight of baby’s head resting on the wrists or hands could cause decreased airflow and result in the baby desaturating. (Desaturation occurs when oxygen levels decrease below 90%). This position can be quite dangerous and is often referred to as positional asphyxiation and is the same reason you should never leave a baby to sleep unattended in a car seat. Puffy lips can be one indicator that pressure is being applied along the underside of the baby’s jawline and throat. Forcing the tongue upwards and outwards often causes the lips to look voluminous or pouty.


Not only can the weight of the head resting on the baby’s hands cause compression of the throat, it can also result in decreased circulation to baby’s hands. Like many other poses, you will want to monitor the coloration of baby’s hands and fingers ensuring the colour doesn’t change or deepen to a dark red or purple.


Rather than risk the above complications, not to mention the possibility your newborn may startle or lose balance, you can opt for the very simple method of compositing this pose. Done correctly, compositing offers support to the baby through human handling. Of course, this will require a few extra minutes of editing in software such as Photoshop to remove your assistant’s hands but I honestly feel it’s time well spent.

Offering support through human handling does more than ensure your baby stays put throughout this pose. Human handling means baby is not reliant on fabric supports to hold them upright thus decreasing the number of wraps necessary to achieve the pose as well as the risk of overheating. Providing support through handling also alleviates the need for tightly wrapped babies decreasing the risk of lung compression through tight swaddling. Handling supports the head against any sudden exhibition of the startle reflex. Further, hands supporting the baby result in less of the baby’s head weight resting on the hands and wrists decreasing the chance of partially closed airways or positional ashyxiation while simultaneously relieving pressure on baby’s hand circulation.

I have consulted with paediatricians, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, OBGYNs, Midwives, and paediatric physiotherapists reviewing imagery, techniques and behind the scenes looks at how to achieve the potato pose and all agree it is unsafe under any circumstances to leave a baby in an upright position without the support of human hands holding the baby regardless of the supports that have been put in place.

As a teacher of newborn photography I feel an added responsibility to teach photographers to conduct themselves as safely as possible. As a studio, we are constantly reevaluating our methods to stay current with available safety recommendations.

If I were to say: “You know, I believe that this method of handling is relatively safe but there’s also a safer alternative. Which do you prefer I use for your newborn baby?” I don’t think anybody would have to think very long to come up with their answer.

‘I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.’ – Maya Angelou


Happy Newborn Safety Week fellow photographers!

Now go do your part and post about newborn safety on social media, your blog or your website. There are plenty of safety concerns when working with newborns that are certainly not limited to the potato pose so if you have a safety message you think is important or needs to be heard, get on out there and post!

About Stephanie Buckman

Stephanie Robin is a registered physiotherapist who is fully versed in the anatomy and physiology of newborns and has an innate understanding of their reflexes and effect when posing newborns. She is a multi-award winning and world renown photographer who was credited “Photographer of the Year” in 2011 by the NAPCP. Stephanie was also a member of the judging panel on the 2013 NAPCP International Image Competition. She has been a guest speaker and instructor at numerous international photography conventions, has recently done work for Canon Canada, and is LSI’s newborn safety instructor.

Links: Workshops, Online Workshop, Pro Member Listing, Website