One of the most essential items I use is a vinyl bean bag chair. If you had the budget I'd recommend a Shoot Baby or similar product. But for starters, it seems to work just fine.
Next, you are going to want lots and lots and lots of blankets. When buying blankets look for three things: texture, color, and size. You are going to want several large blankets that will cover your entire beanbag and be able to use the fabric behind the beanbag to stretch up high and wide. You can use masking tape to secure it to a wall or you can use a backdrop stand and clamps to stretch this fabric or an assistant if you're lucky. You are going to want several smaller blankets for swaddling and for stuffing around baby to get the perfect pose. When looking at colors remember that a baby's skin reflects color very easily, and unless you know how to correct this with post processing, I would stay away from bright colors and stick with the more neutral colors. If you shoot natural light only, have a good supply of white and light colored blankets, they are great for reflecting available light which helps avoid harsh shadows. Naked babies have been known to make a mess of a blanket so keep a good, clean supply always available.
When looking for other props, consider the stability of the product and the size. Have a good assortment of items. Baskets, luggage, antique soda crates, doll cradles... etc.
To make the most out of available light, use a prime lens. A 35 1.8 if you're on a tight budget... an 85mm 1.4 if your not (those are Nikon sizes... I'm not sure about Canon). An all around great portrait lens is the 50 1.4. This makes a world of difference. It really does.
Another way to make the most of available light is to shoot in RAW format. This will allow you to fix highlights and shadows in ways that JPEG just can't.
I like to start the session with an almost naked, freshly feed baby. I have the room extremely warm. I warm my beanbag with an electric heating pad underneath the blankets. I have a sound machine with White Noise and Heartbeat... either one, I have found, works. Crank it up loud. Trust me. Lay the baby on the bean bag and let them chill. Most will fall asleep under the magic spell of heat and noise. Some need a pacifier for a couple minutes but I try not to because it can leave red marks around their mouth that I have to fix later in Photoshop. Snap a picture of them. Whatever position they fell asleep in, just get it. Then proceed with the poses you want. If they are asleep on their back on the beanbag, lean them forward, supporting their chin with one had and the back of the head with the other, and slowly curl them forward. If they are new enough, they don't have any complaints about this. Some babies can hold that chin in hands pose without support, others need it and you have to do some photoshop magic afterwards. Make sure the light is washing over the baby, sometimes I find it helpful to hold a white blanket on my lap while I shoot... It seems like just enough reflection to fill in some shadowing on the face. With each pose change, take your time. Be patient. I have found that putting one hand on their head and another on their bum or holding their legs crossed in position really helps quiet them and keep them in the pose I want. If the baby is fast asleep and comfortable, try simple changes like adding a headband or hat. Be sure to change your angle frequently and get those macro shots of feet, hands, ears, etc while they are so peaceful. I often find myself laying on the floor to get the shot... or climbing a step stool to get above. When baby just won't sleep, that is a great time to include mom and dad. If they aren't prepared to be in the picture, drape them in a black blanket and just capture their hands supporting their baby. Or completely cover the dad or another assistant from shoulders to toes and have him cradle the baby with his arms beneath the blanket. Whatever you do, don't stress out about getting every prop used and every pose imaginable. Go with the flow. Adjust to the baby. Relax. Babies sense fear... and they can also smell mom's milk if she is near... so if a first time mom seems nervous, send her out of the room completely. Otherwise, make sure the mom is several feet away at least.
When shooting, you'll want to spot meter off the face. And you'll want your focus point to be the eyes. I like to shoot in manual mode when doing newborns, but shooting aperture priority mode seems effective as well.
The internet is full of resources and I find that most photographers are willing to share their tricks and tips.
If you do something differently, I would LOVE for you to leave a comment below and share what works for you. I am so thankful for this community of photographers. You are all so incredibly talented and such an inspiration to me!
Search for videos of behind the scenes Newborn Photography for great tips on posing, lighting, and more!!