- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008

In our plan-ahead society, organizing baby accouterments can be as big a production as a lavish wedding:

Let’s see, I’d like a winter baby and I want to fit back into my pre-pregnancy clothes by spring. I’d like the same pram Gwyneth Paltrow uses, and I want a nursery free of BPA plastics and disposable diapers. I’d like a handmade quilt and a nanny who speaks Italian.

A lot of moms know what they want and have the money to decorate the nursery of their dreams and outfit their progeny like a star. What they don’t have is time.

Enter the baby planner. Just like a wedding planner can direct the bride and groom to a divine cake, a sweet deal on a catering hall and the cutest party favors ever, a baby planner can gather everything from bottles to crib bumpers for parents-to-be.

Overwhelmed at the aisles of car seats at the big box store or the 587 entries for strollers and accessories on the Babies R Us Web site? A baby planner can tell you what will suit your needs. Not sure how you are going to juggle twins? A baby planner can map it all out for you. Want an environmentally friendly nursery, from the birth announcements printed on recycled paper to a rug free of chemicals? Again, see your baby planner.

And bring your checkbook, their services start at about $75 an hour.

Oregon baby planner Melissa Moog, president of the National Baby Planner Association (28 members and growing since its founding in March), says the amount of stuff new parents need to sort through is overwhelming. If those parents would rather spend time, say, working or reading parenting books, then why not consult someone who knows whether you really need the crib that converts to a toddler bed?

“You go to a place like Babies R Us, and you are overwhelmed with a myriad of choices,” Mrs. Moog says. “There is so much stuff. Our goal is to sort through it all and save you time and money. Some of my clients want to spend time with their husbands and go to birthing classes and not spend five hours deciding on a stroller.”

Laura Lafayette, a 33-year-old human resources professional from Portland, Ore., consulted with Mrs. Moog and her company, Itsabelly Baby Concierge, before her son was born last year. Itsabelly (www.itsa-belly.com) started less than two years ago and now has offices in Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and Toronto.

“As a first-time mom, I was overwhelmed with the amount of products out in the market, and I desperately needed help to understand what was really necessary to have for my first baby,” Mrs. Lafayette says. “The choices are too many and the majority of the products you don’t really need.”

Mrs. Lafayette says she talked to some girlfriends, but felt they were more concerned with what was cute rather than what was practical. Mrs. Lafayette and Mrs. Moog met at a big-box store and spent about 90 minutes going over products and their pluses and minuses. Mrs. Lafayette paid Mrs. Moog $225 for three hours of her help.

“It was very valuable,” says Mrs. Lafayette, pointing out that Mrs. Moog helped her pick the lightest infant seat and great books for follow-up reading.

“Another tip that she gave me that was very valuable was that the cotton flannel receiving blankets don’t work as well as the thermal receiving blankets for swaddling,” she said. “The cotton blankets come apart easy and will unravel during restless sleep.”

Kelly Glorioso of Salisbury, Md., founded Wednesday’s Child Baby Planning (www.wednesdayschildbp.com) last year. As a mother of four, she was already the go-to friend for new baby advice. When her youngest child was born with a health condition and Mrs. Glorioso was not able to return to work, a business idea was born.

In fact, Mrs. Glorioso says, baby planning has become a business because in our fragmented and highly mobile society, many expectant parents don’t have those kinds of relationships to look to for advice. Young parents are busy working and often live far away from their own relatives.

If they are the first in their crowd to give birth, perhaps that crowd is more concerned with doggie day care and happy hour specials. Friends who do have babies may be busy with their own chaos and probably don’t have time to discuss the pros and cons of the Diaper Genie.

Linda Kerr, a Reston mother of two preschoolers who writes about having children close in age on two blogs (https://monkeybusinesskids.blogspot. com and www.babybunching.com), says she doesn’t know if she would pay for such a service. Mrs. Kerr read books and talked to friends when she was expecting her first child. However, she sees how there can be a market for such a thing.

“I have often thought it would just be fun to lurk at Babies R Us and tell people what to buy,” she says. “I didn’t know you could get paid for it.”

Most of Mrs. Glorioso’s business is helping create registries for the right baby products and offering advice on how to create a green environment for baby. She says she uses her own experience, as well as reading the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association Web site to keep apprised of safety issues. She got her start in the business by purchasing Mrs. Moog’s “baby-planner-in-a-box” kit ($289), which helps prospective baby planners work on such things as a business plan and a pricing structure.

Package deals from Wednesday’s Child include the $750 nursery design plan, the $450 registry prep plan and the $950 ultimate plan, which includes all sorts of services, including mailing birth announcements. Wednesday’s Child also can pull together pampering services for new moms (house cleaning, personal chefs and spa visits). There are also a la carte services, payable by the hour.

In the era of French tutors for toddlers, preschool waiting lists and the pressure to be the best and the brightest, it is kind of a no-brainer that one can hire a consultant to get help avoiding a high chair full of toxins. Saving time, to some, is worth the money - just ask anyone who has a cleaning service or pays someone to mow the lawn.

“It’s a sign of the times,” says Devra Renner, a Washington-area parent and co-author of the book “Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most and Raise Happier Kids.” “If you are working long hours, this can be useful. However, other parents shouldn’t feel this is a requirement for being a good parent.”

Ann Douglas, mother of four children and author of “The Mother of All Baby Books,” says that for most people, money could be better spent elsewhere - like in baby’s college fund.

“In this economy, only a tiny fraction of the population can afford something like this,” she says. “Probably just the elite celebrity mom who is going to have a nervous breakdown if she buys the wrong sheets. For the rest of us, it is probably a service you don’t really need that hits a lot of guilt buttons. All babies really need is a car seat, a place to sleep, some diapers, clothes and a changing pad. They are not going to cry themselves to sleep if you get the wrong color sheets.”

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