World Prematurity Day | Photographing NICU Babies

I had the perfect pregnancy.

Both my OB and my high risk doctor had agreed to let me go full term and let me deliver my boys (they were both head down) on my own vs a scheduled c-section – that was Thursday.  They told me I had the perfect pregnancy.  But with twins (or with any pregnancy), you never know.  Yes, that was the case with me.  I swore I had the stomach flu that Sunday night.  Two days later (Tuesday AM), I had my baby boys.  I had gone into pre-term labor and they could not stop it with the Magnesium Sulfate (and the chemistry teacher in me had me figuring out the chemical formula).  I was rushed via ambulance from my hometown hospital to Philadelphia to deliver at Pennsylvania Hospital which had a Level III Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) – the highest in the nation.  I won’t bore you with the details … it was scary to say the least.  The details can be found on my personal blog.  But over the next few months, my life consisted of a 1+ hour daily trek to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.  I didn’t have my camera the day of delivery and honestly, with the volume of nurses and doctors in the delivery room, I wouldn’t have been able to get any pictures anyhow.  But I made myself a promise to detail every single detail and memory of their time in the hospital.  I didn’t just want to remember it.  I needed to commemorate their survival.

Why write about this now?  Every year, on November 17th, parents, family and friends celebrate World Prematurity Day.  You may wonder “Why have a special day?”. You may wonder who cares.  But moms like me do.  Once you have a child (or children) born prematurely, you feel a connection … to others out there who have journey the road you have.  You may honestly not realize but according to the March of Dimes website, one in EIGHT babies are born prematurely or roughly 13 million babies worldwide.  They say it’s the number one killer of newborns and not only costs a family financially but also emotionally – I know firsthand.

Whether you are a mother with a baby in the ICN or NICU or a photographer asked to document the journey, there definitely are milestones and memories to catch along the way.  It’s not a cheery happy place in my opinion.  It’s a dark and moody place – maybe not the actual area, but often times spent there.  I never used my flash.  I bumped up my ISO to 1600.  I had a Canon 5d classic at the time and learned to embrace the noise/grain rather than use a bounced flash which could disturb the babies.   Make note of the ICN rules regarding cell phone and camera use.  Pay mind that some babies are only allowed out of their incubator for small periods of time a day … so make it count!

So come journey with me as I celebrate World Prematurity Day and my little guys 2nd Birthday!

Capture The Room

This is their home for the first few days, weeks or months.  They are connected to various machines and monitors depending on their situation.  Document it and remember.  My guys never slept in a bassinet next to my bed.  I never had the crazy midnight feedings or the sleepless nights.   I missed out on all that.

Instead they first called this incubator or isolette their home.

Once the were able to manage their own temperature, they graduated to the open crib – one of the requirements for discharge.

Unfortunately, my sweet Asher spent almost an extra month in the ICN after his brother’s release.  He graduated from the crib above to what i called the metal cage – the only baby in the ICN to be in one during our 3-month stay!

Capture Their Size

Asher’s neighbor was born at 24 weeks.  My little guys were 29 weeks.  Regardless, they were super small at 3 lbs 6 oz and 3 lbs 2 oz.  Find ways to show their size.  Boden was so small compared to my husband’s hand.

I always look at these photos and remember how small he used to be – how Asher gripped my hand every time I held him.

Capture The Details and The Moments

So many things happen during their stay.  I tried to write about it in my personal blog … but I could never keep track.  Instead I found I was able to document their crazy journey in photos.  I guess you could use this as a checklist of must have photos in their stay.  You might not think about it at the time … but they are all moments worth catching!

Were they under phototherapy lights?   Here’s my little Asher under the lights due to elevated bilirubin levels.

Did you kangaroo them so they could feel the warmth of your body and learn your smell?

Did they have visitors?  Here’s my sweet Boden with my dad.

Were they connected to crazy wires?  Asher had the heart monitor, pulse oximeter and orograstric (OG) tube. Boden also had a PICC line.

Did they do crazy things?  Asher tried to rip out his CPAP and then his nasal cannula a few times every single day despite it being taped to his face.

Did you see their little fingernails or their feet?  The ICN would not cut their fingers … it was the parent’s job. But any parent can tell you how delicate and scary that is – so I let them grow a little too long.

Did you capture the tiny feet?  The first time they laid on their belly?  The first time they wore clothes?  Yes, this picture captured each of those milestones for my Asher!

Capture the End

Before you know it, they come home.  The ICN journey is over.  Their time at home begins.  Here’s the big monitor that you see when you visit the ICN.  I captured Asher’s discharge including the date and time.

Once my little guy was able to pass the car seat test, didn’t have any apnea episodes and got the OK to come home, I photographed him in his car seat with his apnea monitor attached (that’s the machine next to him).

Not one of my photos is perfect.  Not one is properly exposed or has the ideal shutter speed.  Instead, I edit and reedit them (this time around using the CM film art presets … it gives them character).   All I know is I captured three difficult months of their lives … and I would not trade it for the world.  Instead, I take pride that my sweet little guys have endured a rough road and have come out perfectly healthy boys.

About the Author:

Courtney captures her every day with a Canon 5d mark II and varying lenses in a classic yet modern style. Residing in Atlantic City with her surfer husband, princess-clad daughter, and firetruck chasing twin boys, Courtney is a “self-proclaimed science geek” spending her days as a Chemistry and Physics teacher and her off time as a photographer.


  1. Emmy Mom Nov 17 2011 at 5:53 am - Reply

    Thank you for this! My last was born 8 weeks early- and yes, those pictures I took in the NICU mean so much to me. I am just glad I was a pretty decent photographer when it happened as I don't think I would of emotionally thought of having anyone else come take pictures. Now as part of my newborn sessions, if a baby is born prematurely and the hospital they are in permits I will go to the NICU and take pictures for free.

    Attaching one on my favorite NICU pictures.

  2. Sarah Nov 17 2011 at 5:59 am - Reply

    I just started the process of becoming a volunteer photographer at our local hospital for babies in the NICU. This article is perfectly timed! Thank you for the post.

  3. Katrina Stewart Nov 17 2011 at 6:00 am - Reply

    Aww Courtney. Fab photos. What a journey! But look at them now. You would never be able to tell they had such a difficult start. Beautiful moments captured. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Amy Nov 17 2011 at 6:06 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this! My own twin girls were born at 35 weeks, one with a severe heart condition that kept her in the NICU of two different hospitals for over two months. All my pictures of that time are terrible, but they capture the important milestones and moments and I don't care if they're blurry because I didn't want to use my flash, or really yellow in color. They capture the love and care they received while there and that's what's important! They are seven years old and perfectly healthy now. What a beautiful post!

  5. Ashley Spaulding Nov 17 2011 at 6:13 am - Reply

    While I have not walked in your shoes, Courtney, reading your story made me feel like I have. Thank you for being so open and so real with us and for sharing your inspiring journey. You have a beautiful family, documented so beautifully in your photos, and I know you absolutely treasure them. Enjoy this special day!

  6. Vikki Nov 17 2011 at 6:13 am - Reply

    Oh, what a wonderful documentation of your sons' first few months. Thank you for sharing your (and their) story and pictures. They are perfect. So glad your boys are healthy now.

  7. Lynne Nov 17 2011 at 6:22 am - Reply

    This is absolutely amazing, Courtney! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I had a 35 weeker and I didn't see him for 18 hours after he was born because of the traumatic birth. I wish I could go back and capture his littleness as beautifully as you did.

  8. LaceyMeyers Nov 17 2011 at 6:27 am - Reply

    I'm completely in tears … my youngest was also born prematurely at 34 weeks and I too thought I only had the flu. But despite my perfect pregnancy, here he came on Christmas Eve. 🙂 Everything you've written about hits SO close to home. Thank you for sharing your story and your beautiful photos. This means so much to me. 🙂

  9. lisa harrison Nov 17 2011 at 6:28 am - Reply

    Courtney, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. I cried my way through it. You are courageous and so are your boys. They are so beautiful. That recent photo of them melts my heart <3 I know this article will help so many moms who have to take this journey. xo

  10. Kristin Nov 17 2011 at 6:29 am - Reply

    What great tips! Thanks for sharing the story of your amazing twins. So happy they are both thriving now. Those images are so powerful!

  11. Satakieli Nov 17 2011 at 6:44 am - Reply

    These are beautiful, thank you for sharing! Brought tears to my eyes.

    My son was a preemie, and although we have a few photos of him in the NICU my camera was actually stolen from the hospital on week 2 of his stay. So all of the photos I hadn't yet downloaded were lost. I treasure all of the photos I do have though, even though they're blurry and awful.

  12. Joyce Nov 17 2011 at 6:50 am - Reply

    Courtney, What a beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes <3

    I am blessed with 4 healthy full term babies. I can't even imagine what you had to go through…those heart wrenching moments! I love that your boys are little fighters even at 29 weeks! They are adorable!!

  13. jodi Nov 17 2011 at 6:58 am - Reply

    what powerful memories you captured, courtney… i am in tears over your story and your twins little journey to survival. thank you for sharing your experience and for the tips on how to document stories like this.

  14. Nance Heidemann Nov 17 2011 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story, Courtney! Your images are amazing and your boys are so adorable!!!

  15. Marisa Nov 17 2011 at 7:08 am - Reply

    What a beautiful story – thank you for sharing it, and for getting the word out about World Prematurity Day! I'm the mom of a 25 week baby who passed away shortly after birth and a 35 weeker who's now a feisty little 3.5 year old 🙂 I hope there comes a day when premature birth is an extreme rarity…or never happens!

  16. April Nienhuis Nov 17 2011 at 7:15 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story and wonderful images Courtney! This is beautifully written and extremely touching.

  17. Stacey Haslem Nov 17 2011 at 7:19 am - Reply

    Courntey, this is a wonderful article. Thank you for being so open and real. It is very touching. Your boys are so cute! This really was beautiful!

  18. Kathleen Nov 17 2011 at 7:24 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your precious babies and their journey. I am so glad they are happy and healthy little boys, but oh my, were they tiny!!! Both my girls were over 9 pounds each, and whenever I see such tiny little ones, I just can't imagine!!

  19. Jessi Nov 17 2011 at 8:32 am - Reply

    These photos are beautiful. I so wish I could have captured it like you have. Our son was born at 23 weeks.

  20. Megan Nov 17 2011 at 9:52 am - Reply

    I made a similar post this afternoon. My daughter spent 80 days in the NICU being born at 26w 3d. Looking at her now it is hard to being where her journey started at 1lb 7oz. She will be 6 months on November 23. Thank you for sharing your story and pictures

  21. rachael Nov 17 2011 at 10:22 am - Reply

    great post! my daughter was not premature, but did stay for 1 week in the NICU. i wasn't a photographer at the time and so wish i had hired someone to take more pictures. her neighbor was a 23 weeker and i just couldn't believe how small he was. complete miracles!

  22. Lisa (Tout Petit Pix Nov 17 2011 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Oh Courtney… this is incredibly powerful!! Thank you so much for sharing. That tiny little hand gripping your finger… it is so deeply moving.

  23. sara Nov 17 2011 at 11:20 am - Reply

    courtney, your boys have come such a long way + i just LOVE how you captured all the tiny little details throughout their journey while fighting for their lives. these images are perfect in every way + you (and they) will be SO glad that you took the time to document their stay in the hospital.

  24. Leah Cook Nov 17 2011 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    oh Courtney, what a beautiful story to share. today is definitely a day of celebration and awareness. thank you for your words of wisdom, I have no doubt that this will make a difference in others' lives. your boys are perfect reminders of how precious life is. you've captured their little bitty baby-selves perfectly and the emotion in your images speaks volumes.

  25. christina Nov 17 2011 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    Courtney, you have me in tears! You captured your journey so beautifully.

  26. Zeniver Gavia Nov 17 2011 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. My son was born 28 weeks at 2.19 lbs, he stayed at the incubator for 21 days and we were released after 2 mos. at 1.5 kilos, your baby looks like my boy, he is now 2 years old, 10 kilos… Your story means so much to me……

  27. Carrie Nov 17 2011 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    I did not know there was a world Prematurity day. I had a 26 weeker and she weighed 1lb 13oz on Halloween. I took so many pictures of her in the hospital, wish I knew more on how to take beautiful pictures.

  28. Monica Wilkinson Nov 17 2011 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    This is so beautiful Courtney. I am so glad there is a day to celebrate your boys and your journey.

  29. Megan Cieloha Nov 18 2011 at 7:36 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing with us, Courtney. Your images and your words capture the beginning of your boys' lives beautifully and have given many the tools to do something similar in their own life, or the the lives of other.

  30. Laura Nov 19 2011 at 5:09 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing. I have shared the link to this article with a group of preemie moms who have recently had an influx of new members. At times during our experiences it feels inappropriate to take pictures, that the moment is so overwhelming we don't even think about it. One of my biggest regrets is that I'm always the one to take the pictures so there are very few of me holding my twins in the nicu, especially in the first few days. It has been a long journey and it is so cathartic to look back at the pictures and appreciate the experience because of the distance of time. Your images and suggestions on pictures to take are great, I wish I'd had someone tell me these things then. This is why I've shared your link with other preemie parents. Again, thank you.

  31. Jeanette Verster Nov 20 2011 at 2:11 am - Reply

    Love this post… I'll always cherish the photos I took when my youngest son was in NICU… it was a really horrible time in our lives, but so amazed at how he pulled through

  32. Michelle Halvorsen Nov 20 2011 at 6:59 pm - Reply


    Beautiful article and beautiful photos! I remember seeing the Christmas card you sent the unit…thinking how beautifully you captured my passion- caring for those lil guys! They may not all be memories you want to remember but what a beautiful gift for the boys…you have captured THEIR story! And in turn you have touched the lives of those who cared for them.

    Thank you for sharing your journey!


  33. Indigo Nov 21 2011 at 8:23 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I lost a daughter when she was 22-days old. She would have turned 18 this week. I am grateful for the 50-pictures I shot of her during that time. Five years ago I gave birth to a stillborn daughter… It was difficult, but I took my camera to the hospital and got some pictures of Aidan. This is Aidee with her older brother.

  34. Alicia Gould Photogr Nov 21 2011 at 11:05 am - Reply

    Courtney, what an amazing touching journey! I do believe that these images ARE perfect. I feel blessed to have met your beautiful boys (and you) in person!

  35. John Dec 22 2011 at 6:41 am - Reply

    I genuinely really like it!

  36. Ney Dec 29 2011 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    I wish I had read this before my twin girls were born at 34 weeks (1524g and 2020g) – I'm so glad for photos as those first weeks are just a blur! One of the most precious moments for me was when we got the girls together at two weeks …

  37. Raeann Wages Jan 20 2012 at 6:44 am - Reply

    I'm curious to find out what blog platform you are using? I'm experiencing some small security problems with my latest site and I'd like to find something more safeguarded. Do you have any recommendations?

  38. Nat Bottacin Feb 02 2012 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    I´m a level III neonatal care nurse so I know what you´re talking about. Unfortunately where I work, parents are not allowed to take pictures of their babies. I personally disagree with that because I strongly believe parents should have pictures of their babies from day 1 no matter how ill they are. Thanks for sharing yours and your babies journey!

  39. Kristen Apr 25 2012 at 11:16 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story. My best friend, miles away in Florida, gave birth last Friday, just shy of 34 weeks. Both her son and daughter are healthy, but still need to stick around the NICU for a while. I wish I was able to be there to help them document these moments in photos.

  40. fkawau Jul 30 2012 at 10:54 am - Reply

    I’ve been surfing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours World Prematurity Day | Photographing NICU Babies | ClickinMoms. It’s pretty worth enough for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

  41. Lucy goodwin Aug 25 2012 at 2:54 am - Reply

    Such a lovely post, your boys are beautiful x

  42. Becky Sep 24 2012 at 6:20 am - Reply

    This is great. My son was born at 29 weeks and have these photos it, like many others, only on an iPhone. It can be such an overwhelming process for parents at the time, but it is wonderful years later to be able to go back and remember and share with you child.

  43. Tammy Forrest Oct 26 2012 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. I had a little boy born at 32 weeks. We lucked out and the hospital that our little boy stayed at took some pictures. I also took so many pictures. I also collected anything that they would let us keep. Hats, sunglasses for the elevated bilirubin levels and even his little blood pressure cuffs.
    I am sure that this article will help a lot of people understand what a preterm parent goes through and all the memories that we have of our “little fighter”. It also helps to remember all those little moments where you are so busy worrying about your little one. And remember to document all those moments.
    Thank you again.

  44. Lisa Nov 04 2012 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    I just came across this & I too had a baby born early. My 2nd child was born at 26 weeks- 1 lb. 13 oz. & 13 1/2 inches long. I lost my journals from that time but did manage to save my pictures. We took a photo of our little miracle baby every day she spent in the NICU. I wish I had this 3 years ago

  45. here Feb 12 2013 at 3:49 am - Reply

    It really is a brilliant assortment of information you mentioned there, I honestly think we could be expecting a great deal more very soon.

  46. Heather Vizza Mar 07 2013 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Thank you All for these posts! I had twin girls on April 18, 2012! They were 24 weeks , clarissa was 1lb 1 oz and maddison was 1 lb 5 oz! They will be a year in April and are still in the NICU unit. Clarissa just got off of CPAP and is now on the canula while maddie had to get a tracheostomy. Although we didnt get to hold them until they were 3 1/2 months old and didnt get to do the kangaroo care we take alot of pictures holding the girls! It is nice to know there is other parent out there like us! These pictures are amazing!

  47. Lori Sep 01 2013 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this great article. I have a grandson in the NICU right now and have been taking pics weekly for the 5 weeks so far. Today the delayed bath time just for me. They call me Nanaratzie because I never come without my camera. I also take pics of the babies and families that give birth and are in the NICU of the hospital where I work. They always appreciate it. Especially when their baby has to be transferred to another higher level of care. I have photographed families standing next to the heliport watching as their babies leaves and in the transport unit get ready to go ground. These pics are so important to them.

  48. Sarah Nov 19 2018 at 8:10 am - Reply

    Stumbled across this post from a preemie parents Facebook group. Clicked because the ICN looked like my son’s, and it is! My little one spent nearly 6 weeks in Pennsy’s ICN last year / the beginning of this year. I’m almost positive in the exact same room. Your photographs are beautiful, I wish I would have done the same for my son.

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