Pregnant Moms Primp for Cameras, Smartphones

Pregnant women spend more time on hair and wardrobe for delivery photo shoots.

BySusan Donaldson James
November 17, 2010, 2:42 PM

Nov. 18, 2010— -- Dr. Kristina Collins, a resident in dermatology at Harvard University, answered the frantic phone call from the hospital maternity ward. A new mother in her 30s had an emergency acne outbreak -- would the doctor come and treat her?

"She had basically delivered that day and was worried because of all the post-partum photographs she was expected to take," said Collins. "She was worried about her appearance, really worried and distressed."

"We usually get more serious, life-threatening things," said Collins.

Her patient is one of a new breed of expectant mothers who are delivering their babies in the age of the Internet. Social networking has turned what once used to be private moments of joy into worldwide events.

Comedian Joan Rivers once joked, "Just knock me out and wake me when the hairdresser gets here."

Now pregnant women are paying attention.

They primp and preen for the smart phones and digital video recorders that will broadcast the child birth immediately to sites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Cameras came into labor and delivery rooms along with the fathers, beginning in the 1960s and especially in the 1970s, according to Judith Leavitt, author of "Make Room For Daddy" and University of Wisconsin medical historian.

"But I didn't find women worrying about how they looked for family pictures," she said.

"I think it's probably due to the advent of social media," said Erica Schietinger of The Spa at Chelsea Piers in New York City, which has a prenatal massage package that includes a facial, manicure and pedicure. "You have a baby and the photos are up on Facebook before the baby is even clean."

Talk about the posh push. A new generation of beauty-conscious women, many of whom have planned Caesarians, begin well before delivery day.

Besides the designer layette, they will stuff their Vera Bradley diaper bags with eye shadow, mascara, foundation, concealer and bronzer. Some will even arrange to have a hairdresser accompany them to the hospital.

"Moms want to absolutely look good for the delivery," said Dr. Toni Golen, medical director of labor and delivery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

"They have wanted this for a long time, but with social media, it's become more public and it's not enough to look great for one snapshot in a family album but you want to good for the whole world."

The phenomenon has evolved over time, as has the digital camera, according to Golen.

"A generation ago, a woman expecting a child was alone in a hospital room," she said. "Now, she is surrounded by family and friends. Today those friends are virtual."

Photos on Facebook for Family n Norway

"When Facebook and Twitter really become part of people's lives, childbirth is really just one of those major events in a woman's life. Just as their grandmother would send a telegram, new moms are sharing the happy news over the Internet."

One of her patients, Britt Days, bought an iPhone expressly for the event. She delivered her daughter Erika on Tuesday and photos immediately went online.

"All my extended family is in Norway," said Days, 36, who is a first-generation American.

"I just think it's great to be able to get news of her out so quickly to everyone I know," she said. "I didn't have to make a call, talk to someone for 10 minutes and then talk to someone else. I just put her picture of her on my Facebook page and a video of her looking around."

Days made sure to blow-dry her hair before delivery, but Golen has seen much more elaborate preparations.

"I don't see any down side," she said about primping.

Just this week on television's "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," pregnant reality star Phaedra Parks packed up her glamour hospital bag.

"She had 10 grand worth of pre-labor ensembles, labor ensembles and post-labor ensembles," said Monica Bielanko, who is a contributor to the "Being Pregnant" section of Babble online. "All of it was matching and she had a make-up artist."

The 33-year-old Salt Lake City mother, who is expecting a son in February, said the fanfare was "ridiculous."

"Honest to God, they have these birth plans and they have photographs. It's comparable to a wedding," she said.

When Bielanko was expecting her daughter Violet, now 2, she bought into the mindset.

"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I can't wear my hospital gown, I have to have an outfit when I give birth and am nursing.' It was supposed to enhance my experience, what you had to do to have a great birth," she said.

After labor, Bielanko said that she wasn't lip-glossed and looked like she'd "had 10 rounds with Mike Tyson."

But she admits, "If you try so hard to be beautiful, you ruin the beauty of the moment."

As for the wardrobe she'd bought, "I didn't wear a damn thing," said Bielanko. "I stayed in my hospital gown and sent someone home to get my giant sweats and a big T-shirt."

Babies Should Come First, Say Doctors

Doctors say there is no harm in the trend, as long as babies comes first. And, they add, most women have no idea how unflattering a real delivery can be.

"The nine-month buildup is like planning for a big event," said Dr. Jason Baxter, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. "They want to look their best, like they would for a wedding party. But the difference is that the labor and delivery process is not a pretty one. The pedi and manicure may be intact, but the hair isn't in that great shape afterwards."

Even the babies are not so pretty and camera-ready, according to Baxter.

"They come out a little wrinkly," he said. "They have gone through a full day of stress themselves."

At Thomas Jefferson, photography is delayed until the day after delivery when babies are cleaned up and mothers have had some sleep. By then, both "look their best," he said.

"We put the well-being of moms and babies first," said Baxter. "We let the mom put the baby skin-to-skin after delivery for bonding and let the mom breast feed afterwards."

As for photography during labor, the hospital welcomes it, within limits.

"It's pretty standard if the support person has a phone with a camera or an actual video camera," he said. "But you don't want to see repairing of the vaginal laceration or the woman's bottom in the photograph. You'd rather have the picture of the baby swaddled in her arms on the Internet."

And women can always "reserve the right not to be photographed," said Dr. Donnica Moore, a obstetrician and president of Sapphire Women's Health Group in Far Hills, N.J.

"The other alternative is to look like a real woman and look happy, relieved and exhausted."

Moore also warns that even with all the advance primping, things can go wrong.

"I personally delivered two babies when the camera died," said Moore. "The baby was fine, but there were no pictures."

And as for the woman with the skin outbreak, Dr. Collins, her dermatologist, was unable to make the acne go away for her photo shoot.

"There was nothing I could do because when you are talking about dermatology treatments, you have to avoid them during pregnancy and nursing," said Collins. "I could only reassure her."

"Pregnant women are feeling more pressure to be presentable leading up to and after the birth," she said. "For these pregnant women, this is the most out-of-control situation that has ever happened to them, and their appearance is the only thing that is within their control."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events