Jessi Cruickshank on maternity photo shoots: The good, the bad and the naked

A comprehensive guide to capturing the beauty, love, femininity, sexiness, shirtlessness and creepiness of your pregnancy.

I don’t know how to be pregnant. Thankfully there’s an app for that. It uploads key dates into my calendar that notify me when I need to have ultrasounds, genetic tests, glucose screenings, anatomy scans… all the crucial medical requirements for a healthy pregnancy. Last week, an urgent notification popped up that said, in bold red type, “BOOK MATERNITY PHOTO SHOOT.” As if booking a photo shoot was a prenatal prerequisite.

Wait, was it? I sat up and clicked:

Now is the optimal time to photograph your pregnant body. Book a skilled maternity photographer to capture the beauty, love and femininity of your pregnancy.

First of all, it would take a VERY skilled photographer with impossibly soft lighting and otherworldly Photoshop skills to capture any kind of beauty, love and femininity behind my seven months’ worth of stretch marks, swollen appendages and varicose veins. Second, how is booking a maternity photo shoot presented with the same dire importance as booking a fetal heart rate exam? Is this really something a vast majority of pregnant women do?

One swift Google search showed me that yes, it really is. Since Demi Moore’s iconic Vanity Fair cover became the first mass-media image to openly celebrate a woman’s pregnant body, maternity photo shoots have not just become a part of our culture, they’ve become the norm. Just like you’re expected to take your prenatal vitamins, you’re expected to take your seminude photos.

Yes, I may have announced my own twin pregnancy with a playful homage to Beyoncé’s Botticelli-esque photo series and I can’t stop basking in the glory of Serena Williams’s Vanity Fair spread. But I’m still not convinced that a full-on, deeply earnest, third-trimester maternity shoot is for me.

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You see, if you’re not an international icon with Annie Leibovitz on speed dial, maternity photo shoots can go very, very wrong. I know this because I’ve spent the past five days tirelessly creeping on strangers’ maternity photos, all in the name of personal research. Allow me to present my highly scientific findings on the world’s top maternity photo shoot trends.

The I’m Blooming With Life maternity shoot

Pregnant woman surrounded by falling petals
Photo: iStockphoto

This is the most classic of maternity shoot themes. All it requires is a majestic landscape of your choosing; some kind of enchanted forest, glistening lake, crystal clear ocean, exotic desert, rolling hill or in this case, magically blossoming tree. Throw on a virginal-looking boho dress and flower crown, kick off your shoes, rub your belly and dance, dance, DANCE like no one is watching. (Except for every confused passerby at the park.)

The Majestic Winter maternity shoot

Pregnant woman skiing in the snow wearing only her underwear
Photo: iStockphoto

I get it, not everyone has a summer pregnancy. Nor do they have access to a midsummer blossom grove. But I would hope this woman has access to a COAT. Maybe even some pants. Furthermore, I’m no doctor, but I can’t imagine that skiing in a blizzard in your underpants is safe for anyone, let alone a very pregnant woman who appears to be on the brink of giving birth. I just hope she’s an expert skier, because it could be tough to tackle those slopes with a BABY COMING OUT OF YOU.

The Knocked Up and Sexy maternity shoot 

Pregnant woman sitting on a chair
Photo: iStockphoto

Yes, maternity should be celebrated as beautiful and empowering and even sexy. But there are ways to capture a woman’s beauty, strength and sexuality without making her look like she belongs on an amateur porn site. If you want to take a sexy maternity photo, I say go for it. Just save this pose for when you’re pushing in stirrups at the delivery room.

The Painted Belly maternity shoot 

Pregnant couple painted to look like cheetahs
Photo: awkwardfamilyphoto.com

Painting your pregnant belly with some kind of whimsical image is a trend that people seem to love. It’s also a trend that these people seem to have taken too far. Unless they’re giving birth to a small jungle cat, I’m not sure what’s going on here. But who am I to judge? I’m sure they’re a lovely couple who will bring their newborn into a stable, loving litter box.

The Shirtless Male maternity shoot 

Shirtless pregnant couple
Photo: iStockphoto

Your partner should absolutely be included in your maternity photo shoot. And if he is, he should also absolutely wear a shirt. This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen more topless dudes by Googling ‘maternity photo shoots’ than I have Googling ‘topless dudes’ (not that I’ve ever done that). While it’s sweet that so many of you want to stand in shirtless solidarity with your pregnant spouse, let her beautiful bare bump be the focal point, not your pale, hairy torso.

The “Sexy” Couples maternity shoot 

Pregnant woman lying on bed with husband kissing her belly
Photo: iStockphoto

A few additional pointers for your couples maternity shoot…

DO: Capture the love and bliss you feel for one another while pregnant. DON’T: Show us how you got pregnant.

The Unintentionally Creepy maternity shoot 

pregnant woman standing in a bedroom with a man behind her
Photo: iStockphoto

illustration of birds taking pictures of their egg hatching
The debate: Would you hire a birth photographer?
This last photo is less about a maternity shoot trend and more about my own fear for this woman’s health and safety. PSSSST—there is a strange man with a very low-cut shirt lurking behind you. For the love of your unborn child, hike up that negligee and GET. OUT.

So there you have it, a comprehensive guide to capturing the beauty, love, femininity, sexiness, shirtlessness and creepinees of your pregnancy. You have my full support if you do choose to ‘BOOK MATERNITY PHOTO SHOOT’ and I’ll completely understand if you don’t. For now, I think I’m just going book doctor’s appointments. But in 30 years, when I want to look back fondly on this incredible nine months of my life, I’m sure I’ll be disappointed when the only photographic evidence of my majestic pregnant physique is this:

Pregnant Jessi Cruickshank sitting on a doctor's table
Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank

Read more:
Jessi Cruickshank: I’m having twins and I feel completely out of control
Jessi Cruickshank: How I learned to stop body-shaming my baby bump

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