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In-hospital photographer service documents baby's first hours

For parents, the immediate post-pregnancy whirlwind of tending to their newborn while entertaining a slew of well-wishers can bump baby photos down their to-do lists.

But the photographers with Bella Baby Photography make sure no one who wants their child's first few days documented goes overlooked.

The company, with staff all over the country, specializes in photo-shoots taken in hospitals. Locally, 20 Bella Baby photographers offer services in St. Clair, Heritage Valley Sewickley and UPMC Magee-Womens hospitals.

"The whole goal is to capture the true newborn," says Scott Smith, the company's owner. "Babies change pretty quickly."

Bella Baby offers services in 150 hospitals nationwide. It employs only professional photographers, many of whom have their own businesses. A variety of packages are available with prices starting at $30.

"It's the perfect job," says Darla Petrich, Pittsburgh-area manager. "It's not 9 to 5, and you get to play with babies all day."

When expectant parents come in to deliver, the hospital staff informs them of the option to use Bella Baby's services. The photo shoots occur just hours after birth.

"When the mom gets home, she doesn't have to pack the baby up," Smith says. "It's all done in one day."

The service was ideal for Neena Reddy of Shadyside, who had son, Parker Reddy Nguyen, six months ago.

"They didn't do the kistchy 'put him in a cute outfit' nonsense," she says. "It was really plain and simple -- just about the baby."

The majority of parents decide to do a shoot, says Sue Pedaline, director of obstetric services at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

"It is very convenient," Pedaline says. "They don't take very long."

If moms aren't ready for their close-ups right away, photographers can come back another day. They avoid doing shoots on the day moms are discharged to minimize interference with the workings of the hospital. While the shoots are free when they occur in the hospital, home visits cost a fee.

"It's all about the mom," Petrich says. "She doesn't get out of bed, and in a lot of the pictures, you can't even tell."

Families are encouraged to bring the baby's siblings to the shoots, and special outfits and blankets.

Parents like that Bella Baby photographers avoid "mug shot" pictures and opt for more creative shots, Pedaline says.

"They take photos with the siblings and parents," she said. "They do close-ups of hands and feet. They bring little baskets."

Photographers then create a private online photo gallery. Families are given a password to share with loved ones so all can view the photos the same day they are taken. Parents can purchase shots while in the hospital or wait until they get home.

Michelle Panasiuk of Oakland says she and her husband, Dave, appreciated that out-of-town loved ones could see photos of baby Rosalie Patricia just hours after she was born in August at Magee.

"It was great," she says "We didn't have to do anything. It was very easy."

It was ideal for Merrette and Matt Dowdell of Carnegie, whose first daughter, Lane Isabella, was born in October at St. Clair Hospital. Their family members in the South didn't have to wait to see the baby.

"They were so tastefully done," Merrette Dowdell says. The new mom opted to not be photographed, but her husband is in a few of the shots.

Reddy and husband Vu Nguyen got all the photos on a CD-Rom. And when Parker was 4 months old, the couple opted to do an at-home shoot with Bella Baby. The photographer took pictures of him on the couple's white bed and on the white carpet, making for "very light and simple" images, Reddy says.

Bella Baby photographers also work with families who are dealing with "some of the sadder situations," like babies in the NICU who aren't expected to survive, and stillborns, Pedaline says.

"They touch a lot of lives that way," she says.

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