Baby planners help parents-to-be navigate a life-changing event

Special to the Los Angeles Times

In Los Angeles, red carpet treatment is not just for celebrities. Here, mere mortals can find specialists — medical concierges, cat whisperers, image consultants — for almost everything.

And that includes experts who are hired to help families prepare for their newest members.

Enter the baby planner.

Before the advent of the current expert culture, it was a role that used to be filled by mothers, grandmothers and best friends, doling out advice, shopping lists and favors. But in the last few years, professionals have stepped in to grab the attention — and money — of busy, freaked-out mothers-to-be. They are referred to as baby planners or baby concierges or maternity consultants. And if you doubt that baby planning is truly an industry, just remember that Bravo's "Pregnant in Heels," a "docu-drama," follows "maternity concierge, fashion designer and pregnancy guru Rosie Pope as she guides expecting mothers through the joys and perils of preparing to have a baby." (The show returns for its second season Tuesday.)

Services provided for expecting families include setting up baby registries, finding doulas and lactation consultants and kitting out a nursery. "We once had clients who were obsessed with keeping their dog — their first baby — in the style to which he was accustomed," says baby planner Ellie Miller. "They had us find a stroller [for their newborn] with a big enough basket for the dog to fit in. The dog's name is Monkey."

Most of the time, however, Miller and her partner, Melissa Gould, focus on tiny humans and their entrance into the world.

Miller and Gould were among the first to market themselves as baby planners when they founded Ellie & Melissa, the Baby Planners in Studio City almost six years ago. Since then, they have expanded their business to include product research for corporations, preschool placement services and producing videos for DisneyFamily. But the core of their business remains setting up registries, particularly for clients — mostly working moms — with specific needs. "We have had clients who adopted, used surrogates, lots of parents with twins, single parents and, yes, celebrities, but our core is working couples," Miller says.

"Our motto is 'We take the labor out of your delivery,'" Gould says. "People use wedding planners for the same reason — to pick off some of that anxiety, to be reassured that you're doing the right thing."

Hiring a baby planner can cost anywhere from $85 an hour to sky's the limit. Most planners offer personalized packages that start in the neighborhood of $300.

"Our clients fill out a lifestyle survey that asks everything from whether or not your neighborhood has hills to where you park and what kind of car you have," Miller says. "What we're ultimately trying to do is save you money. If you are living in the hills, you don't need a big Bugaboo stroller. Maybe a City Bob is a better option for your lifestyle."

Like a wedding planner sifting through bad '80s cover bands, baby planners do the legwork and narrow down the options.

"When I was pregnant, I knew this huge change was about to happen and that I needed to be getting my act together, but I didn't know what questions to ask," says Vanessa Karubian Saxe, who is 38 and lives in L.A.'s Carthay Square area. "I had so many questions: What's going to happen in the hospital? How will this affect my marriage? Do I need to know infant CPR? Wouldn't it be great to have a one-stop shop where pregnant moms could get all that information?"

To that end, Saxe founded Babytalk LA, a Beverly Hills-based concern that offers expecting parents a $400 eight-week course with experts who talk about baby gear, birthing, infant CPR,breast-feeding, bringing baby home and dealing with family. "Think of it as a primer that distills down the key information," Saxes says.

Some say the baby planning industry had its birth in Los Angeles, but the market has since gone global — and institutional. In 2009, for example, Mary Oscategui founded the International Maternity Institute near San Francisco, which offers a 16-week online certification process for baby planners and has an international network of graduates. The program, which costs $1,900, includes courses in maternity stress management, sleep consulting and baby-proofing. The institute also offers specialized à la carte courses focused on environmental concerns for new parents.

"When I was pregnant with twins, I was trying to do things as green as possible," says Jen Benson, 40, a social media marketing consultant who lives in Laurel Canyon. "There is so much information and so many products out there, it's overwhelming, especially with twins. Most eco-friendly cribs will run you $1,000, and I needed two. I knew there had to be better options, but as a working mom I didn't have the time to research."

Benson hired Miller and Gould to do the legwork. They found the Babyletto Modo three-in-one crib for $380, as well as green options for cloth diapering, mattresses, cleaning products, strollers, car seats and more. "Using a baby planner was definitely money well spent. The money I saved was my time."

Time — or lack thereof — is something of a recurring theme with new parents. When an adoptive mother approached Ali North of Sweet Expectations last December about preparing to bring her baby home, the mother had only a couple of weeks notice to get ready.

"It was very sensitive because the couple had gone through the adoption process through delivery once before and the biological mother ended up keeping the baby," North says. "My client was very guarded as she knew it could happen again, but she wanted to be prepared for newborn care, bottle feeding, what to expect if the adoption went through. She wanted to have the key things to bring baby home from the hospital, and we kept it very basic. I'm happy to say that it all worked out, and Mom and baby are doing great."

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