As soon as Sarah Ward started getting out and about with her newborn Luna, strangers stopped her to say how gorgeous her baby was.
"I thought she was a cutie, but I know all mums think that about their babies. But people kept telling me how cute Luna was, and not only that – they commented on her friendliness too," she tells Essential Baby.
Luna was signed with modelling agency Bubblegum Casting in Sydney and did her first shoot when she was just three-months-old. She is now 16-months-old and has modelled for the likes of Spotlight, Baby Bunting and Rafferty's Garden.
The owner of Bubblegum Casting in Sydney, Adam Jacobs, says that Luna's unique look is in demand right now. With a Samoan father and a Caucasian brunette mum, Luna has beautiful olive skin, curly hair and big brown eyes.
While most shoots typically pay a few hundred dollars, the most Luna has made in a single day's work is a mouth-watering $5000. Not bad for a baby.
"Most shoots take less than an hour, and the organisers are very respectful of nap times," says Sarah, who is 45 and lives in Melbourne. "But auditions are another story – you could be waiting two hours to be seen and that gets trying."
Photo: Baby Luna and mum, Sarah Supplied
Australia has strict rules in place around working babies and children. In New South Wales, for example, a baby is not allowed to travel more than an hour to reach a workplace.
This means that a baby cannot travel interstate for shoots, and babies in remote areas are unlikely to be able to work.
Luna's progression into modelling was a natural one, as her 12-year-old sister and 8-year-old brother are also models and actors with Bubblegum Casting. The whole family has done an ALDI commercial together too.
Adam says it isn't unheard of for mums and dads to wind up modelling too.
"There's definitely been some beautiful parents who have come in with their beautiful children. Sometimes we package them together for certain campaigns," says Adam.
Sarah is adamant that their family doesn't take modelling too seriously.
"My eldest daughter is really into netball and sees her modelling as sort of a hobby, which makes her some extra money. She actually went and bought herself a brand-new iPhone with the money she earned, though we put most out of it away into their savings accounts," says Sarah.
'She's not even one and she's got some savings'
Victorian mum Mariette Leighton, 23, also encountered an abundance of compliments about her baby girl Eleanor.
"I'm obviously biased, but people would stop me and my partner on the street. Eleanor has extremely long eyelashes for a baby. One day, another mum told me she should model and I didn't think much of it – until a second person said it. I decided to look into it," recalls Mariette.
"At the time, I was a stay-at-home-mum and thought it could be something fun that would get us out of the house. And I've been loving it. It's so much fun and Eleanor loves the attention," she adds.
Baby Eleanor. Supplied
Mariette chose the modelling agency carefully, checking online reviews and researching their clients.
"I wanted to choose an agency where I knew which clothing brands Eleanor would be advertising. I was not looking for her to model bathing suits or underwear. I don't want to see my daughter like that in a magazine like that until she can verbally say, 'I want to do this.'"
Mariette was also careful to avoid the dodgy operators who rip off parents. These fake modelling agencies charge around $15,000 plus travel expenses to take a child to the United States and meet supposedly big-name agents. The reality is that the agents are often paid actors and there are never any work opportunities.
"They have a really dirty reputation in our industry and we are always working to distance ourselves from them," says Adam.
Eleanor is now 11-months-old and she did her first shoot five months ago. She wasn't quite sitting up at that stage, so Mariette stayed very close by in case she tumbled. Since that first campaign for Bonds, Eleanor has modelled multiple times for Seed.
Victorian mum Mariette and her baby girl Eleanor. Supplied
"When she's on set, I can intervene whenever I want," says Mariette. "Eleanor has been upset a couple of times, just as babies do if they get a little bit bored or whatever. The photographers have always been happy to just say 'We'll work with what we've got.' There really is no pressure or stress."
Adam explains that three babies are often booked for the same shoot, as this provides a back-up if one of them isn't up to it on the day.
Every cent Eleanor makes goes into her own bank account, which she can access when she's 16 or older.
"Eleanor's not even one yet and she's got some savings. We're not touching her money and we want her to use it for her education, whether it be high school or university," says Sarah.
Photo: Baby Eleanor modelling.
Competition is fierce
While Luna and Eleanor make baby modelling seem easy, the truth is that getting work is hard because there's so much competition. Bubblegum Casting has hundreds of gorgeous babies and toddlers on its books, plus kids and adults.
"I think there's a misconception that we sign every child that comes through the door. Last year we received 16,000 applications, of which we represent less than ten per cent. We really are very selective," says Adam.
Adam's sister was the well-known child actress Jessica Jacobs, who was signed with Bubblegum Casting and starred in the Saddle Club TV show. She tragically died when she was 17, on Adam's 25th birthday. Adam later took over the company as a way of memorialising his sister, and he has set up a scholarship in her name.
He has grown Bubblegum Casting into a national modelling, TV, film and theatre agency and regularly works with clients such as Bonds, McDonalds, Toyota and Huggies.
The ugly side of baby modelling
Both mums have encountered hyper-competitive 'stage mums' or dads who take baby modelling far too seriously, and blatantly compare their child with everyone else's.
"We were at a shoot one day and a father was there with his six-year-old son," recalls Sarah. "His son was refusing to smile for the camera and his dad got really angry with him. He pulled him into a laneway and yelled at him for not being professional and embarrassing him. You don't do that to your child."
Both Mariette and Sarah say that they would never force their girls to continue modelling when they're older.
"It's totally up to Eleanor to decide whether she enjoys the spotlight," says Mariette. "And if she were to develop an unhealthy body image as a young teen, I'd probably lean towards pulling her out of modelling. I'm big on all body types being confident in themselves."
Do you and your baby have what takes?
In the world of baby modelling, friendliness is as important as looks. "If a baby is okay with being held by someone who isn't a parent, we will feel confident they will be okay on set," says the owner of Bubblegum Casting, Adam Jacobs.
Modelling agencies look for a unique look. "Diversity is super important. Brands now want to see a mix of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. It's no longer just about the blue-eyed, blond-haired baby."
Are you available on short notice? Babies are often with less than 24 hours until the shoot starts.
Leave your attitude at home to be successful. "We say no to parents that we don't want to work with – if they are chasing money or fame," says Adam. "Everyone is super proud of their baby, but some people are a bit more than proud than others. We want pride, not obsession."