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This 2,000+ word article was written for a photo industry website in response to multiple requests from other female photographers about how I was able to handle my photography career during my two pregnancies.
Managing a Wedding Photography Career During Pregnancy and Nursing
The decision to have children is always a big one, but when you are a female wedding photographer and pregnant, you have a few extra decisions to make regarding what to tell your clients, when to stop shooting before the baby is born, how on earth you will pump during a wedding (if you choose to breastfeed), and even if you should try to conceive at a certain time so the baby is born during your slow season. I somehow managed to keep both myself and my two children alive and continued to shoot weddings, so a lot of my newly pregnant photographer friends have been asking me for advice lately. So, for all the women wedding photographers stressing about how you can continue to run a photography business and have a kid or two along the way, this post is for you.
First, a little about myself… I began shooting weddings as an assistant in 2002, became a main photographer for a studio in 2006, and opened my own business in 2011. I have two boys; my first was born in August 2009 and my second was born in June 2011. I nursed my first son for 14 months and never supplemented with formula, while my second had more severe allergies and was exclusively breastfed until five months old when we switched to expensive hypoallergenic formula, which helped him immensely.
A small disclaimer to my current and future clients: No, I will not be having any more children! This post is purely informational for my colleagues!
Continue reading for my advice on pregnancy and nursing from a wedding photographer’s point of view. What worked for me may not work for everyone, which is the case with nearly everything parenting-related, but hopefully it will ease your mind that it is possible to keep photographing weddings into the third trimester and then return to shooting shortly after birth, even while maintaining a good nursing relationship.
“Okay, I’m Pregnant…”
So the two lines came up on the stick, you told your loved ones, and now you realize you have ten weddings booked between now and your due date. When do you tell them? First of all, I would not tell a current or prospective client that you are trying to get pregnant. You just don’t know how quickly it will happen and I guarantee that you will add stress by “counting your chickens before they hatch.” Do you tell all your friends, family and acquaintances when you are trying? So why tell clients until it’s a sure thing?
As for when to tell, I waited until the 12-week / second trimester mark. Since statistically the highest percentages of miscarriages happen before then, it didn’t seem appropriate or necessary until that time. Your first OB appointment to confirm the pregnancy is not until you are eight weeks along, so this gives you about one month from that to start preparing. During that time I found several photographers available for those contracted dates and explained my situation to them, so when the time to tell the clients arrived, I had all my backup information ready to share.
In the meantime, inquiries that came in for the month before, month of, and month after I was due got an “unavailable for your date” reply and I referred them to several people I trust.
If I met with a couple for a date after my child would be three months old, I didn’t say anything. It really didn’t matter too much, I expected to have it all worked out by that point (which I did, fair assumption on my part).
So what about the ones you already have booked, who have an event in your last trimester or first two months after the due date? I was lucky in that I did not have to cancel any contracts during either of my pregnancies, and photographed into my seventh month both times. I had two booked for the month after my second child was due and I offered them two options:
1. I would refund their deposit and cancel the contract, and even give them a few recommendations of who to hire. I think if the client chooses this option you need to be polite and understanding and give them some names to start looking elsewhere, so you don’t look like the bad guy who left them high and dry with no photographer.
2. I would plan on shooting the wedding but would have a competent main shooter as my second shooter, so in the event that I could not be there, this shooter would be the main and I would only need to hire a different second shooter. I presented each client with at least two options of second photographers I trusted (who I had already talked to about their event) and let the clients view their websites to make a decision on which photographer they like best.
If your clients choose option 2, secure your second shooters and give your clients REALISTIC expectations that you may not know until a week or so before their wedding if you will be the main or not. I paid my seconds a higher rate than normal, and we had a “main photographer rate” secured in the event I was unable to make it, but I would still do the post production work. In the end, it worked out fine, and I was at both weddings, only three and four weeks after I delivered. I did not have a C-section and I don’t think it would be wise to do a wedding so shortly after a C-section, so take that into consideration. I do not feel the quality suffered on these jobs at all, and having a second shooter who is able to be a main gives great peace of mind that the event will be well documented.
Staying Comfortable While Shooting With a Big Belly
Bring an assistant to hold your gear if the weight bothers you. Rolling bags are the best, but avoid overfilling it so when you lift it in and out of your car it doesn’t strain you too much. GET COMFORTABLE SHOES. And then get another pair. Switch shoes right before the reception- just putting on a different shoe helps so much with the pain from standing all day. And don’t buy cute shoes, make sure they are comfortable. Flip flops are not shoes.
If you do portraits as well as weddings, follow your body, but I felt comfortable shooting them up until the week before I delivered. Engagements especially-- two adults who can stand still and smile on command is always easier than a toddler and a new baby session.
Oh, the Places I’ve Pumped
I cannot express to you the amount of stress I had before my first baby was born about how I would be able to successfully breastfeed when my August baby would be without me every weekend for at least one 8-10 hour shift starting at about six weeks old. What if I couldn’t pump? How would I pump on a schedule when every wedding has a different schedule--and they usually run late? Where would I even do the pumping? Oh, the stress. I would lie asleep at night worrying about it.
My first piece of advice on pumping is to buy a good pump that does both sides at once. Do not expect to use a single hand pump in any quick amount of time. I had the Medela Pump-in-Style and a complete extra set of pump parts for it (the flanges, bottles, etc.). It comes with a little cooler in which you can keep the milk fresh for up to 12 hours, which was always enough time for me to get them to a fridge, even on the hot summer days when it sat in my car. Speaking of sitting in my car, the toughest part about pumping is finding a private and clean place to do it. I can’t tell you how many gross church bathrooms and floors I have sat on while pumping during a wedding. When possible, I went to my car. I sat in the back seat (the windows are tinted back there) and used the battery-operated pump in peace. For city weddings, or places where the car has been taken by a valet, or if it’s not parked close to the venue, I would often just set aside my pride and ask the maitre d. I would wait until there was a break in the formalities and ask where I can go for a private spot to pump. Honestly, it embarrasses some people to the point that they’ll go very out of their way to find you a good spot! Hotels often let me step into a vacant room for 15 minutes and I have sat in many conference rooms. That is the best and most comfortable option. For churches, it’s the bathroom, usually. It’s not pretty. The rhythmic noise of the pump and the fact that you’re standing in a stall with nowhere to sit makes it very awkward, but it’s only for a short period of your child’s life that you’ll have to pump twice at a wedding. After mine were four or five months old I was able to go down to pumping once, at cocktail hour (and of course I would nurse or pump right before I left and right when I got back home). When I had to do it twice per wedding I did it during communion (remember, I have a reliable second shooter with me) and at cocktail hour or right after the first dance and toasts. I always would let the DJ or band leader know I had to step out for 15-20 minutes, and I often disclosed why because I felt that it let them know I wasn’t out screwing around on Facebook or something like that and having that “intimate” information, they are more likely to wait for my return before announcing the next event.
One other thing I worried about was if I could possibly have enough milk for me to leave my son for 10-12 hours. If you start pumping a few weeks before you need to go back and just aim for an extra 2-3 ounces total throughout the day, that’s fine. A young baby won’t need more than a 3-4 ounce bottle at a time (warning- new Dads tend to overfeed when you leave!) so you need one of them for every 2-3 hours you are gone. Kellymom.com is a good resource for all things breastfeeding. Also, when you are nursing, you need to drink SO MUCH WATER. You have to really keep on top of yourself to keep drinking. You will not be able to produce enough milk if you are dehydrated.
One thing I definitely did not see coming was food allergies - both my boys were allergic to dairy, which meant since I was nursing, I could not have dairy. It was very difficult to shoot and avoid cheese or milk! They are in nearly every dinner. Most places are happy to work with people on allergies but be sure to let the venue manager know as soon as you can so they don’t have to rush and prep a special meal while they are serving the guests. It also gets the idea in their head that you are going to be fed, which we all know can be forgotten sometimes!
Your New Normal
“Once I have the baby, I can get work done while he/she is sleeping, right?”
In the end, things fell into place and worked out. I remember being so worried that I would fail miserably, but I actually managed to have two amazing boys and my business has grown each year. I wanted summer babies, but plenty of people try to plan their pregnancies to deliver around January so they have a built-in maternity leave of sorts, at least in the Northeast US when few people are getting married January through April.
No matter what, I promise you this: you will adjust to the new normal, and you are going to have a million photographs of your new baby. In fact, you should probably add some external hard drives to the baby registry right now.