On Bravo's Pregnant in Heels, maternity concierge Rosie Pope helps her uptight clients select baby names and takes moms who are turned off by breastfeeding to lactation education classes. While her clients' demands, and her own approach, are extreme enough to warrant their own show and a Saturday Night Live skit, there is a real and growing baby planning industry, and it's not just for wealthy people starring on reality television.
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"My clients are not like [those in] Pregnant in Heels," says Ingrid Prueher, baby planner and founder of SavvyMomOnCallBabyPlanner.com, based in Fairfield, Conn. Her services start at $15 for email consultations, and she offers free how-to videos on her website for people who can't afford one-on-one help. Most soon-to-be moms (and dads) are so overwhelmed by decisions about everything from car seats to child care that they are desperate for assistance.
Even Pope herself, the queen of baby planners, offers plenty of assistance off-air to people who are in lower tax brackets than her co-stars on the show. Her New York studio offers pre- and post-natal classes on breastfeeding, baby CPR, fitness, and other baby-related training, starting at $15. She will also soon offer more free video guidance on her website, RosiePope.com.
Pope attributes the explosion of interest in the baby industry to her "grandma theory." "My mom was a working mom, so when I had my first baby and expected her to come and look after me, she had no idea, because she was doing business … We're missing that 'old nana' generation," she says. In other words, no one's around to teach us how to be parents because our own parents are living full lives of their own. So we turn to professionals instead.
For new and soon-to-be parents who are still on the fence about splurging on assistance, here's a guide to the services most worth their price, as well as tips on finding the most affordable versions of help.
The website mealtrain.com allows friends and relatives to organize a meal delivery schedule for new parents, and creator Michael Laramee says it's already helped arrange about 7,000 "meal trains" to families with newborns. "The concept is old, but this helps make sure the meals are spread out and not overlapping," he says. New parents can also let people know where to leave meals, as well as food preferences and allergies. (The site is free for users.)
Heng Ou, founder of MotherBees, a Los Angeles-based provider of holistic services to expectant and new moms, prepares traditional healing foods such as Chinese seawood soup, thought to help with lactation and restore the body, as well as other types of green soups filled with herbs and vegetables. She also uses fennel seeds, carob, ginger, and herbs from local farmers' markets. (Meal delivery starts at about $20.)
Another option: DIY. Pleasance Lowengard Silicki, founder of Lil Omm, a yoga studio for families in Washington, D.C., made a lot of meals while she was pregnant to store in the freezer. "It was simple and I really enjoyed making healthy food for my family and preparing for the baby," she says.
Coco Peate, founder of the website VidaCoco.com , which focuses on multicultural parenting, urges parents to stock up on pantry mainstays as well, so quick meals are easy. She recommends keeping items such as beans, rice, and frozen mixed vegetables on hand before giving birth—something she did herself before welcoming her fourth child home a month ago.
Professional baby care services:
Baby nurses have also played key roles on reality television shows lately, with star turns alongside Tori Spelling and Bethenny Frankel. But plenty of non-celebs take advantage of their services, too, especially in the South, where hiring baby nurses tends to be more common. Loulie Scharf, author and mother of two in Wilmington, N.C., says her mother gave her two weeks' worth of baby nurse services after the births of both her children. The first time, the help was invaluable: "She was an absolute angel, and very respectful of our wishes that we wanted to do it ourselves but we wanted her guidance," says Scharf. In addition to helping the couple care for their baby, the baby nurse cooked and took care of household chores.
But the second time, Scharf says, she hired a different baby nurse, with disastrous results. "She was more concerned with what we could do for her, like sightseeing and a spa day. We knew within the first five minutes that it was not a great arrangement," she says. Her advice: Get multiple recommendations and try to interview the baby nurse in advance, so you know what kind of baby nurse you're hiring.
Despite the risks, Eileen Wolter, blogger behind asuburbanstateofmom.com and mother of two, recommends that new parents explore all their options. "Even though you think it's going to be easy and magical, the first two weeks post-delivery are traumatic," she says. That's why she paid about $1,000 for two weeks of nighttime help from a baby nurse, who also showed the new mom how to bathe, diaper, and dress her newborn. "It was worth every penny," Wolter says.
The more affordable option, of course, involves convincing family members to help. "You can get a pediatric nurse with a degree for $30 to $40 an hour, or you can get your mom on a plane for a $200 or $400 plane ticket," says Adam Cohen, founder of dadarocks.com, a site for new dads.
"My mother stayed with us for a week, helping with nighttime feedings, cooking, laundry, cleaning, and helping us get on a schedule as a family. Her wisdom from raising three kids was invaluable," says Beth Anne Ballance, founder of the popular Heir to Blair blog on being a new mom.
Chelsea Gladden, co-founder of breezymama.com and mother of five, says an even better option for new parents is taking baby-care classes before birth so they feel more prepared to care for their infants. She used a home doula after her first child was born, but says it just delayed the inevitable process of learning how to care for her baby. "Having a doula with me in the beginning was nice, but really I needed to figure out how to do it all on my own eventually, so hiring one ultimately prolonged that for me personally," she says.
Baby development guidance:
After Sara Lise Raff, an educator in New York City, led a workshop on how to "connect and play with your new baby" for a new moms group, she found herself faced with requests from other moms for more individualized help. Moms invited Raff to hold one-on-one sessions as well as "mom salons" for groups of friends, to help explain milestones in infant development and what types of games and play help them most. While private lessons range from $165 to $250, groups of moms can split the cost and pay far less.
Parents' interest in activities to help them engage their newborns is one reason Elaine Fogel Schneider, psychologist and author of Massaging Your Baby, created massage techniques for babies and toddlers. As a therapist working with children and parents on communication skills, Schneider asked herself, "How can I really help parents connect with their babies?" Her answer was to develop massage techniques for babies and toddlers. "It's so simple … you need to be present with your baby and your own fingertips," she says. She also suggests using a natural oil so fingers glide smoothly over the baby's skin.
Massage benefits include greater understanding of babies' cues, bonding, and possibly even boosting babies' immune systems, she says, since massage releases "good" hormones. Her technique starts with what she calls the ABCs: First, being "attune" to your baby and asking if he or she wants a massage, then "breathing," and "communicating." She recommends starting a daily massage routine as soon as the umbilical cord falls off after birth.
Susan Mandel, a marriage and family therapist in Encino, Calif., created First Attachments, a program that helps moms respond to their babies to help create a "secure self." She describes her program as similar to a playful "Mommy and Me" class with the latest on child development thrown in. Babies, she explains, need to feel safe and understood, and responsive moms can help foster these feelings. The groups talk about common issues, such as sleep deprivation and feeding, as well as "how including conversation and playfulness can enhance attachment security and the lovely closeness between them," says Mandel.
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Interactive games focus on observing babies and how they might be feeling. "Moms learn their baby's language for 'too much,' 'too little, and 'just right' amounts of stimulation, and find a way to respond to soothe and help regulate his emotions," she explains. It's important, she says, because a baby's interactions with caregivers during the first year of life deeply impact his feelings of safety, trust, and security going forward. The groups cost $75 for each 90-minute session and meet weekly.
Some cities offer free developmental workshops for new parents, says Jen Jamar, who blogs at LifeWithLevi.com. Her town, Robbinsdale, Minn., provides free in-home visits from licensed child educators to families with children under the age of one. By taking some of the local classes on child development, Jamar says, "We were able to connect with other moms and dads with children at similar developmental stages."
Sure, you can always ask your mom for help, but sometimes a trained lactation consultant can assist with more complicated challenges. "I noticed on our second night home from the hospital that my daughter was crying during and after nursing, and I could tell she was hungry. I was terrified," says Mariam Katz, 33, life coach and author of the forthcoming The Other Baby Book. At her pediatrician's recommendation, she met with a lactation consultant for about $120—the approximate cost of a month of formula feeding. One year later, she and her baby are still happily breastfeeding.
Pregnancy expert Robin Elise Weiss says moms on a budget can usually find free assistance through their local hospital or birth center after birth, or through a mother's group. You can also contact your local La Leche League or visit the dozens of websites and blogs devoted to the subject, such as kellymom.com. The federal government also offers breastfeeding support (in English and Spanish) through a hotline and free guide sponsored by the Office on Women's Health (1-800-994-9662; www.4woman.gov).
Some 20 percent of health insurance claims are handled incorrectly by carriers or health administrators, which means new parents, who are faced with bills from the birth as well as pediatrician visits, can soon find themselves drowning in paperwork. That's why Amy Keohane and Jeff Pressman of OffYourDesk.net say more than 70 percent of their clients are young families. For $65 a month, the company handles appeals, payments, and other paperwork dilemmas on behalf of their clients, who need only mail in their forms after they arrive in the mail.
Pressman and Keohane say they save the average family close to $3,000, as well as about five to 10 hours a month. (Friends and relatives can give new parents The Stork Special for $595, which includes a year's worth of services.)
Lynn Sudlow, founder of The Complete Errand, which runs errands for people in New Hampshire, says friends give new parents gift certificates for her services, since new moms and dads can find it difficult to do their routine household tasks, from getting a car inspection to arranging hotel accommodations for visitors to going to the grocery store. "Parents use me at the very beginning, when they're completely overwhelmed," she says. The hourly cost for this type of help usually ranges from $20 to $100.
Special treats for mom:
Amanda Moore, a doula based in Houston, says she advises new moms to rest and let their bodies recover by staying in bed for the first three days. Then she encourages them to develop routines, such as time for a cup of coffee, yoga, a short walk, massage, nap, or swim. "They are often completely overwhelmed, so I say, 'Let's focus on your body, how you handle stress, and what your needs are when you're feeling stressed and fatigued.'" (Moore charges clients a flat $1,200 fee, which includes prenatal support, childbirth class, and post-partum assistance; many insurance providers cover at least some of the services provided by doulas.)
New moms can also turn to technology to help establish those new routines. "The Fisher-Price Lamb Papasan Swing was a lifesaver," says Ballance. "I buckled my son in there while I drank a cup of coffee and checked email every morning—just having those five minutes to myself while he happily sat in the swing helped me feel normal and ready to face the day," she says.
Exercise isn't usually the first priority after bringing home a newborn, but after six to eight weeks, it can be. Jenny Skoog, a post-natal coach, doula, and founder of SkoogFit, says many new moms feel self-conscious and out of shape: "My job is to offer emotional support, reassurance, and comfort." Plus, she says, "One of the best ways to air out their anxieties is to exert their bodies … They leave my hour-long sessions feeling refreshed and rejuvenated." For the first three months after birth, Skoog says, she doesn't push them too hard, but offers customized guidance, especially if the mom experienced a challenging birth. While one-on-one sessions cost $125, moms can get together for semi-private lessons or group training to reduce those costs.
New-mom classes can also provide a much-needed outlet, says Peate. She took Mommy and Me classes with her oldest daughter when she was six months old. "I needed an outlet to meet other moms because I was getting very lonely at home," she says. After meeting other moms through the classes, she formed a regular playgroup.
Of course, some self-care tips don't require any money. Suggests Jennifer Louden, author of The Life Organizer. "Give yourself permission to let go of as many things in your life as you can, especially if your child isn't sleeping well or has colic," she says. Louden suggests creating a "do-not-do" list instead of the traditional "to-do" list, to remind yourself that you can skip responding to email or folding the laundry.
For new parents who are overwhelmed by their new responsibilities, a little assistance can make those early months easier—even if you're not famous enough to warrant your own television show.