This Has to Stop: Hard Sales of Newborn Photography to Mothers Just Hours After Birth

This Has to Stop: Hard Sales of Newborn Photography to Mothers Just Hours After Birth

Morality and photography are two areas which usually only cross paths with photographic assignments to war-torn nations or tragedy. However, one photographic outfit in the UK is exploiting one of the most beautiful times in a person's life.

The birth of a child is a poignant and seminal moment in any person's life. However, it is not without its difficulties for the mother. The act of childbirth is one of the most physically traumatic events in the human experience, not to mention the emotional strain. At this time of complete vulnerability, a sensitivity is required. However, one company in the UK is allowed to approach new mothers, still in the hospital bed, and begin to sell photography of their newborn among other products. Not only that, but it's hard-selling too. This company is Bounty.

Horrified that any sort of photography was being pushed on anyone in a vulnerable position, I began researching the issue and spoke to NHS (National Health Service) midwives to learn the true nature of the alleged problem. First, allow me to summarize Bounty's practices with a quote from a document Lancashire Childrens Trust wrote outlining some issues for concern in public health, one being Bounty:

What is Bounty?

Bounty is a company whose primary purpose is to promote commercial products at a time when new parents are undergoing a transition in spending patterns. It uses the NHS to deliver advertising from a range of companies to target pregnant women, newly delivered women, and parents for up to a year after birth and beyond. It appears to sell on the database it develops to third parties.

Lancashire Childrens Trust

The aggressive sales tactics of trying to sell photography among other products immediately after birth has not gone unnoticed by patients or NHS midwives. One patient, Vicky Garner, even started an online petitions to the relevant member of parliament asking for Bounty (and companies with a similar approach) to be banned from maternity wards.

Profit-motivated parenting clubs such as Bounty are paying maternity units for the right to access their wards and approach mothers just hours after they have given birth. They are also allowed to take photographs of new parents with their babies that they then sell to parents. They generate a large profit both from the photographs and by selling the data they obtain from parents on to companies, who then shower parents with advertising and sales calls.

Change.org Petition

Despite this problem being recognized by most, no change to the policy has been made in the five years since that petition received 20,000+ signatures. I decided to speak to a current NHS midwife to test the credence of some of these claims. To attain the least influenced information possible, I asked the midwife whether she had an opinion on photographers selling to new parents on the maternity ward. The response immediately framed the conversation around Bounty, despite no prior mention of this company:

I always say to my women that the Bounty lady is a choice, it's not compulsory. Sometimes, if I'm there, I will ask the parents instead of them [Bounty] using their persuasive language!

— NHS Midwife

One part of this response that's particular jarring is the need to say "it's not compulsory" at all. To my surprise, one of the people to sign the aforementioned Change.org petition compounded the midwife's words perfectly.

A Bounty rep visited me just hours after the birth of my first child. She accompanied the maternity staff who had arrived to carry out initial health screening tests on my son, and I was led to believe she was a member of hospital staff. It was implied that it was compulsory for me to provide my personal details, leading me to believe that this was for hospital records/child benefit purposes. At no point was I told that my details were being taken by Bounty to be sold on for third party marketing, nor was I asked for permission to share my details in this way. Like many other new mums, I was grossly misled and experienced a serious invasion of privacy whilst at my most vulnerable. I want to see an immediate end to this dishonest, intrusive, unethical practice.

Amanda Stevens

The sentence that really rings in the ears is the last. The photographers for Bounty are involved in a patently dishonest, intrusive, and unethical practice that appears impervious to criticism. The photography of a newborn is a difficult and intricate task, and the photographer ought to be chosen carefully at a later date. Newborn photography has an advantage over many other genres with regards to sales, in that every day that passes sees the "newborn" look of the infant shift. It's not a phase that lasts particularly long, and to pair this with hard sales tactics to physically and emotionally vulnerable new parents is demonstrably immoral. This, paired with data collection under the guise of being part of the medical staff, only to sell it on to third parties, leaves Bounty and similar companies without a leg to stand on.

The deeper I dig, the more ethically vulgar behavior is uncovered. Many of the complainants speak of being harassed just hours after giving birth, with the representatives of Bounty demanding personal details and trying to sell photography and other commercial products. The experiences of these new mothers is shocking. 

I was literally naked attempting to feed my baby when the bounty lady was waffling on about photos when i had just had my baby!

I found the Bounty rep at my hospital rude and intrusive at a time when you are quite vulnerable. I was clearly upset in tears, and they were still trying to sell me a photo.

Although the rep was polite, I hadn't slept for three days, my baby was poorly, and I wasn't sure what she wanted my details for. Very pushy with the photos despite my son having jaundice and a tube in his arm.

I was approached by a rep from Bounty just eight hours after the birth of my baby boy. My bed was still bloody, and I was really too exhausted to be completely aware of what was going on. She picked up my son, took a load of photos, and then asked for £200 for a few prints. The next day, when I was a little more back to normal, I felt so angry that someone had tried to sell me something in my most vulnerable state!

I recently had a baby and saw how these reps exploit new mums, especially with the photographs. The rep on my ward was very short with me when I said 'no.' I had a 32-hour labor and was exhausted.

I, like many of my fellow photographers, have works of newborn portraiture. It's a special and nuanced subgenre and a type of work in which I turn off as much of my "salesmanship" as possible. That's not to say that full-time professional newborn photographers and studios ought not to promote their services or even try to convince interested parents that it'll be a worthwhile investment. The fundamental distinction lies in the timing and manner of the discussion — two areas Bounty appears to fail in time and time again.

The photography industry is a huge part of my life, and like all industries, it has its positives and negatives. I don't think, however, it would be too dramatic to say that this brand of exploitative photography sales to new mothers is utterly unwelcome and sullies the good and moral work of newborn photographers, whom in my experience exercise sensitivity and a softness of temperament like few others can.

Lead image by Zach Lucero on Unsplash. Body images by the author (and taken at the client's house and at their leisure!)

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24 Comments

Alex Cooke's picture

Wait, one of these reps, who was not a medical professional or a member of the family, *picked up* a newborn? I can't even find the words to articulate all the ways that's not ok.

Robert K Baggs's picture

So many times while researching I said "wait, what?" That was certainly one of them. Along with selling the data they get to third parties. That always goes down well.

Rick Sweeten's picture

If anyone approached my wife hours after giving birth they would have gotten a bedpan across the head, hell I was scared to go near her myself ...

David Pavlich's picture

It's one thing to hire a photographer for such a personal experience, but to have a photo company just show up? Bad form, indeed!

Richard Neal's picture

They also give out free packs with nappies, wipes and other things.

Granted they make the money from the photos but a lot of mothers actually ask for them to come along and you don't have to have the photos to get the packs.

Jim Bolen's picture

This just happened to my Brother-in-Law's daughter right after birth. They hounded the hell out of her, even after they said they had a professional photographer in the family. They said she was pretty rude.

I did this for a company called mom365 very early in my photography career. We had to take 7(?) shots and immunizations and continued to do so regularly. We took baby handling classes, posing classes, and sales classes. We also wore gloves, and washed our hands on the way in and out of the room in full view of the parents.However, Nurses asked the patient if they would like to have photos taken and I only spoke to people who requested my presence. There was no obligation to buy anything and each parent got a free print even if they could not afford anything. For many low income families these might be the only baby pictures they ever get. I ultimately left because it was not very profitable but this story paints a picture very contrary to my experience with families of newborns at US hospitals. Apparently this company sucks.

That being said this data collection part is disgusting and it has to stop.

This happened to us in the US at the University of Utah health system. A pushy rep continually came in to the room and tried to get a 'free' photo session. My wife eventually obliged, thinking that we could just get the free photo and move on. After five minutes with a kit lens and an onboard flash, we were given the sales pitch for prints for (literally) several hundred dollars. This behavior was all done with the consent of the hospital and medical staff. I was appalled.

michaeljin's picture

I hate humanity...

William Howell's picture

Let me be the dickhead that is the devil’s advocate.
I think a lot of people probably love this service and would be very peeved that the newborn photography service is banned.
I say let business flourish!

I used to work for a similar company when just starting out as a photographer, and when mobile phones were banned in hospitals, and yes a lot of people loved it. I never used the hard sell approach and knew who and when to approach (I used to be a neonatal nurse).
The other thing which isn’t mentioned a great deal in the article is that a good deal of money is paid to the ward from Bounty making it almost silly to pass up on

Richard Neal's picture

While the hard sales techniques are disgusting, you have a point all the same.

A lot of mothers request these photos and use this service. To take it away would be a bad thing but perhaps the methods need to be looked at.

Marcin Świostek's picture

It's not that the company exists - it's how they behave is what is problematic here.
We have a free market and everyone can look up newborn sessions and book them. No need for aggressive sales and crossing boundaries like that.
In Poland no other than parents (or family if agreed) are permitted on the maternity ward.

William Howell's picture

I agree with you, that is an excellent point. Now I was just taking the counter view for argument’s sake.
And here is another thing I want to point out, we are all photographers that are enthusiastic about photography, so we know good equipment, right. I have 11 grandchildren and I have seen the newborn portrait people come in the maternity ward without any off-camera flash and cheap DSLRs, and I must say what they photograph is not worth the outrageous price of five hundred dollars, no way!
But, it is a good service to have at hand.

Arthur Morgan's picture

If the parents request this service it could indeed be a wonderful way to have a professional photographer supply top class record pictures, but only after the mother and child leave the confines of the unit.
Most maternity units that I know of around the world do NOT allow entry of anyone other than their staff and immediate family members. This would obviously exclude any photographer who is not the father. I find it very strange that this company is allowed into the maternity unit of a hospital in a first world country that is bound by red tape and RULES. The General Medical Council should be asked by some person who is involved to investigate, as should the equivalent Nursing authorities.
https://www.gmc-uk.org
https://www.gmc-uk.org/concerns

This is sickening.

Adam T's picture

I can only picture some bird in a 1920's suit and camera walking up to a lady in labor, speaking in a Mid-Atlantic accent.

"Hey doll, you wanna pic, it'll be the best ever, I'll make your baby look great."

Richard Neal's picture

This isn't consistently bad across the board. Our "rep" came in to drop the free bounty pack off and just asked if we wanted the photo package or not. No hard sales, no extra info. We declined and she happily went on her way.

It's terrible that some photographers are using hard sales techniques and it needs to stop but it's obvious they don't all do it and some mothers actually want this service

Andrew McCombie's picture

I used to get Indeed ads for this job - when I looked into the description of the role the whole thing sounded bizarre! Glad I didn't apply!

I dont think this is the companies fault at all. This is the hospitals fault. The companies job is to make money. Thats it. How they go about that practice is their choice. Its up to the hospital to protect the patients. Id love to see what percentage of income the hospital gets from these

Lorenzo Burbano's picture

Lets not cast a negative light on nb photography. This case is a reflection of their respective environment and upbringing. I was commissioned through First Day Photo in California, and they were very mindful and professional in their approach. We would ask politely if we can enter first, or with green light from nurses, then book an appointment. By no means did we ever handle the baby, even with a clean checkup, we needed full cooperation with the parents or super cool nurse -sessions ran about 10 min. I'd say 95% wanted the session. ~50% end up purchasing.