If you’re tapped into the world of pregnancy trends, you’ve likely seen milk bath maternity photos.
This style of photography has grown in popularity in recent years, as mothers and photographers share stunning images on Instagram, Pinterest and beyond. Milk bath maternity photography features pregnant women reclining in ― you guessed it ― milk baths. Typically, the baths are also filled with colorful flowers, and the expectant mothers pose in lace or tulle dresses, lingerie, or even nude.
Photographer Daisy Beatty told HuffPost she first came across the photographic trend a year-and-a-half ago and immediately started offering it to her clients.
“Milk bath photography has become popular in the last few years, but milk baths themselves date back a lot further than that,” Beatty said. “Legend has it that Cleopatra took milk baths in ancient Egypt. They are a great way to moisturize your skin ― they are even offered by some spas!”
Although milk bath maternity photography is still relatively uncommon, Beatty said that of the photo shoot options she offers, it’s one of the most asked about and most requested styles.
It’s difficult to trace the style’s exact origins. Husband-and-wife photography duo Annie Zhou and David Zhang told HuffPost they first noticed milk bath maternity photos around 2015, and photographer Michelle Santiago said she came across the poses on Pinterest around the same time.
Google searches turn up milk bath maternity pictures going back to 2014, and a 2017 Women’s Day article said that some have credited photographer Tiffany Burke with starting the trend. The rise of milk bath maternity photography also seems to have come after the concept of postpartum herbal baths hit the U.S. photography scene.
Milk bath imagery without the pregnancy aspect seems to have earlier roots. Discussions of this style appear on photography forums going back to 2009. In 1984, Annie Leibovitz photographed Whoopi Goldberg bathing in milk, a take on her onstage bit about a little black girl trying to whiten her skin with Clorox.
The 2012 film “Snow White and the Huntsman” depicts Charlize Theron’s youth-and-beauty-obsessed character Queen Ravenna taking a milk bath. Actress Claudette Colbert (in)famously bathed nude in milk as Empress Poppaea for the 1932 movie “The Sign of the Cross.” Brigitte Bardot filmed a milk bath scene when she played the same character in 1956.
Milk bath imagery has appeared in the fashion world for decades. Today it is also a popular style for art and boudoir photography.
Santiago believes the style has taken hold in the maternity world for a few reasons.
“I think many people were looking to do something a little different than the traditional maternity portraits, and they are so peaceful and relaxing as well,” she said. “It’s a great excuse to be pampered for a little while. Just like any other trend, I think it will eventually plateau, but for now, I’m really enjoying this style of [photo] session!”
For Zhang and Zhou, their first milk bath client was Zhou herself while she was pregnant with their daughter.
“I felt like a million bucks when laying in the warm milk, surrounded by beautiful flowers, and I think every woman deserves to be pampered like this once in a while,” Zhou said.
Photographer Sarah McDaniel, who first started doing milk bath shoots to raise awareness around eating disorders and make women of all sizes feel comfortable and beautiful, said she believes the photo style flips the idea that pregnant women can’t be sexy.
“We as women are expected to only feel sexy before children, and then only feel beautiful when we are pregnant,” McDaniel said. “Why can’t we do both? Why can’t mothers feel sexy? We can feel powerful. We can feel sexy!”
Creating a milk bath is a fairly simple process, as it’s typically a combination of whole milk and water. Condensed milk and various coffee creamers can work as well.
“Many people use real milk, which studies have proven to have benefits for the skin, although you should always thoroughly rinse off the milk afterwards to prevent any yeast infections,” Santiago said, adding that she prefers other ingredients.
“I personally do not like using a large tub full of real milk as I find it wasteful for a photoshoot that will only last 30 minutes to an hour, so I use powdered creamer most of the time,” she said. “There are also milk bath soaps and bath bombs that can be used to create the same effect.”
Milk bath photography tends to involve bright lighting, and photographers experiment with different wardrobes and flowers, which are usually real, as fake flowers don’t float.
Many expectant mothers enjoy their milk bath photo sessions so much that they choose to take postpartum milk bath photos with their newborn babies. Dads have also gotten involved in the milk bath photography fad ― both earnestly and for comedic effect. Mothers have also parodied the trend.
As the style becomes more widespread, some people have questioned and criticized it for being wasteful or just plain “weird.” Beatty, however, said she’s never experienced any negativity. “I haven’t encountered criticism. People generally seem to really like the milk bath portraits,” she said. “The images are vibrant and unexpected, and get a lot of positive feedback and enthusiasm.”
Ultimately, Beatty hopes people who see her milk bath maternity photos see the beauty and strength in motherhood and femininity.
“I hope they enjoy the beauty of the female form and are awed by what women can do,” she said. “I try to imbue the images with many forms of natural beauty. I hope the portraits instill viewers with wonder and respect for women and nature.”
Santiago echoed this sentiment, noting that she enjoys the close-up image of a mother and child in a peaceful setting, in contrast to the “epic landscape” maternity photos that are also popular today.
“I love the basis of my photos to be about the natural beauty of a mother surrounded by nature. Whether that be in a pretty field or in a tub of flowers, I feel like a woman growing a child is the ultimate symbolism of Mother Earth,” she said. “It is one of the most beautiful things that happens in this world ― I mean, mothers are superheroes, and I feel it should always be celebrated.”