For as much as we love to see cute, snuggly newborns on Instagram, we don’t always appreciate the hours of labor that brought them here. But maybe — just maybe! — getting an inside look into the birthing process could change that. Enter the beautiful world of childbirth photography, which has become an art form so in-demand that there’s an International Association of Birth Photographers, with a robust membership of talented photogs.
The IABP just announced the winners of its 2020 Birth Photography Competition, and we are in awe — of the beauty of these pictures, the actual reality of childbirth, and the ability of some families to trust a photographer to document this profound moment in their lives. This year’s winners comprise the first part of this slideshow.
Because there’s so much childbirth photography can teach people about the utter beauty of birth, whether it happens drug-free in a bathtub or while medicated in operating room during a cesarean section, we’re also including photos SheKnows has previously gathered, along with some great quotes from the photographers who took them.
“Birth photography is such an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to mothers processing their birth stories,” Lauren Jolly, a birth photographer in Winston-Salem, NC, tells SheKnows. “I think my favorite part of my job is delivering a gallery of images to a mom so they can see their strength, support, and love — it’s magical to be able to see that in photo form. I also love being able to share birth, in all its forms, with the world.” Why? Because “normalizing birth for women in our society is so important,” Jolly adds.
Please note: The following images show childbirth in all of it’s beautiful, messy glory. If you are uncomfortable seeing all parts of the female anatomy, do not click through.
A Moment of Silence
We can imagine this is a truly earned peaceful moment. This photo by Jessica Vink of VI Photography in the Netherlands won First Place in the IABP 2020 Birth Photography Image Competition.
The Best in Birth Details title of the IABP 2020 Birth Photography Image Competition went to Bree Garcia of J&B Photography, LLC. This is a body doing the most.
We don’t often see water birth from this angle, captured by Kristy Visscher of Kinship by Kristy. The IABP 2020 Birth Photography Image Competition named this Best in Postpartum.
Morning Light Creeps In
The light is so perfect, too. Canadian photographer Shea Long of Coastal Lifestyles Photography won Best in Labor in the IABP 2020 Birth Photography Image Competition with this shot.
Aw, every older sibling can totally relate to this big sister! This photo by American photographer Natalie Webber of Natalie Zepp Photography won “Best in Fresh 48” in the IABP 2020 Birth Photography Image Competition.
Unmasking The Many Layers Of Birth
There is so much going on in this photo by Alexandria Mooney of Alexandria Mooney Photography, but we can’t stop looking at the big brother’s face of wonder. This won Best in Delivery at the IABP 2020 Birth Photography Image Competition.
Ring of Fire
How freaking strong are mothers? Katie Torres of Your Story Professional Birth Services took this photo and won the Members’ Choice First Place of the IABP 2020 Birth Photography Image Competition.
The Look of Amazement
“I love this beautiful moment that shows the pride and gratitude this dad has for his amazing wife — she’d just given birth to their third baby,” Lauren Jolly, Winston-Salem Birth Photographer, tells SheKnows. “Soon after this, the family discovered that the baby they were told would be their third girl was actually a boy!”
You may remember the couple’s story as mom Nancy Ray’s shocked Instagram post went viral.
A Healing Experience
“This beautiful momma had a long and difficult birth with her first baby and had opted for a birth center birth the second time around,” Jolly tells SheKnows. “The moment she accomplished her water birth and finally held her baby girl in her arms was so healing and beautiful – her face says it all!”
Time Slows Down
“I love how this image shows that no matter what else is going on in the room where you give birth (note the doctor behind the drape), time almost stops when you first hold your baby,” Jolly tells SheKnows.
A Moment of Elation
“This incredible momma worked so hard to birth her baby and stayed so joyful throughout her entire labor,” Jolly says. “The moment he was finally in her arms was full of laughter and just the most pure happiness.”
“I adore this family,” Jolly says. “As they welcomed their fourth baby into the world, big sister finally got the little sister she’d been praying for. She was so excited to be part of her mom’s labor and birth!”
The Supportive Daughter
Jolly also captured this photo of that particular mom in active labor. Her eldest daughter joined her in the tub during active labor for support.
A Brief Moment of Repose
“Mothers are warriors,” Jolly says. “I love this image of this dad as he supported his wife through labor; birth stories are love stories.”
A Mother’s Determination
“Capturing raw emotions is what I love the most about being a birth photographer,” photographer Liliana Leahy tells SheKnows. “The connections between the mother, father, siblings, nurses, doctors and every single one [involved] in that birth creates their birth story. Every smile, painful contraction, laughter, gaze of hope, or tears of joy from finally holding your little one. That’s the connections I strive to capture through my lens.”
A Grand Entrance
“So many times parents told me they didn’t even remember this moment or that moment happened but when they look at the images, they realized it did happen,” Leahy tells SheKnows. “And they’re grateful that I was there to capture it. There is no greater reward to know you did a little something good in another person’s life.”
Lean on Me
Leahy captured this quiet moment between a laboring mother and her partner.
The First Hello
Photographer Ashley Marston snapped this amazing shot of mother and baby gazing upon each other for the first time.
A Show of Strength
A mother pushes through the early and active stages of labor as she anticipates her new arrival in this photo from Ashley Marston Photography.
An Elated Introduction
Skin-to-skin contact with newborns promotes heat regulation, bonding, and breast milk production, according to Unicef U.K. In this photo, Marston captured the pure joy it brings, as well.
A Look Into the Operating Room
Cesarean sections make up 32% of all births in the United States, according to the CDC. Here, photographer Liz Jennings shot a special moment between father, child, and mother as a doctor completes the surgery.
The Final Push
A new mother gets a glimpse of her child in this stunning photo from Liz Jennings Photography.
The First Cries
The first sounds from a new child are memorable and magical — and Jennings captured the moment forever.
A Dedicated Doctor
Parents are the real stars during delivery, but we can’t forget the wonderful doctors, doulas, midwives, and nurses who help usher in new life. Here, Jennings spotlights the life-changing moment a doctor guides an infant into the mother’s view.
A Labor Surprise
Labor is often messy and unpredictable — and that’s precisely why it’s so beautiful.
The Perfect Moment
This new mother was all smiles as her baby’s head emerged. Birth Blessings Photography snapped this serene photo at just the right moment.
A True Partnership
Photographer Robin Baker caught the incredible moment this twin mama gave birth to her second child while nuzzling her first.
Twice the Blessings
Approximately 128,000 twins were born in the United States in 2017, the CDC reports. These are just two of the gorgeous babies to join the club.
From Womb to Water
Water births can help reduce tension during delivery, as well as create a soothing environment for an infant, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports. Here, photographer Laura Eckert of New Creation Birth Photography caught an infant’s first moments under water.
A Supportive Partner
Water births can also help increase a pregnant parent’s flexibility, allowing more movement and opening in the hips, according to the AAP.
This dad couldn’t contain his excitement.
The Sweetest Hello
Baby and mother lock eyes for the first time after a C-section in this gorgeous photo from New Creation Birth Photography.
Tears of Joy
The labor process often isn’t easy, but this mama’s face — captured by Breathe Birth Photography — demonstrates why the hard work is worth it for so many.
The Magical Placenta
The placenta provides fetuses with all of their oxygen and nutrients throughout pregnancy. While not the prettiest organ, it is vital for healthy development and growth. Here, Breathe Birth Photography shows an image of a placenta still attached to an infant.
A Caul Birth
In extremely rare cases, some babies are born with their amniotic sacs still intact. Breathe Birth Photography snapped this breathtaking image of a baby born with the sac lightly covering their head.
An Incredible Introduction
A mother smiles and gently holds her newborn as they take their first breaths.
A newborn returns to a fetal position after a water birth in this powerful image from Leilani Rogers.
A Well-Deserved Rest
An infant holds onto Mama after a long journey to the outside world.
A Father’s Joy
A new father lights up as he sees his child for the first time in this beautiful image from Megan Bowen at Snap Life Photography.
Overwhelmed by Emotion
Tears, awe, excitement. These are just some of the emotions new parents might feel while greeting their child for the first time. Even without words, this photo from Snap Life Photography says it all.
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