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What to Expect as Babypalooza Returns to the BJCC on Aug. 26

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By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For The Birmingham Times

Jemia Roberson-Storey is a repeat Babypalooza attendee, and there’s a reason. The Prattville, Alabama, resident, wife and mother described the expo, which many consider the ultimate one-stop shop for families expecting a baby, as “a snowball of information.”

“There’s a plethora of knowledge that’s given at Babypalooza,” she said. “The information you receive pertaining to children and planning for their financial future, [as well as] being able to ask questions, verbalize concerns, and connect with doctors, doulas, and experts in baby gear, … it’s a snowball of information. You leave there informed and with items you didn’t even know existed.”

Babypalooza makes its return to the Magic City, following a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Saturday, August 26, from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). The annual one-day baby-and-maternity expo is free to the public ((registration is required: https://babypalooza.com/event/birmingham-babypalooza-baby-expo/).

Sprawling the convention center floor, the event hosts local and national retailers; exhibitors from the health-and-wellness, childcare, and financial industries; and boutique baby and maternity vendors, in addition to offering swag, games, prizes, and fun for the whole family.

“A Celebration of Life”

Roberson-Storey, 41, attended her first Babypalooza in 2014 out of curiosity. As a newlywed gearing up for motherhood, she wanted to take a hands-on approach to scoping out the baby product market.

“It gave me a good idea of what was out there for babies,” she said of the event. “It made me excited at the hopes and thoughts of becoming a mother. It gave me something tangible to touch, see, and feel. It was fun to be in a space with people who were moms and parents. … I got a free booster seat, [a safety precaution for children who are too big for a front-facing car seat but too small for a seat belt alone], for my bonus son. It was a fun outing for him, and I knew I wanted to go the following year. By the next year, I was pregnant with my son Hampton,” Roberson-Storey said.

Aleeya Davis, who is 17 weeks pregnant, plans to make her first trip to Babypalooza.

“As a first-time mom, attending the expo and seminars presents an incredible opportunity to gather a wealth of vital information across various aspects of parenting and baby care,” she said. “I am excited to explore all the different areas, from breastfeeding and newborn care to potty training and postpartum depression. The expo will provide me with a diverse and comprehensive range of knowledge that can empower me to navigate the exciting journey of motherhood with confidence.”

Davis, 28, said she’s open to learning and “absorbing insights from experts and fellow parents.”

“The resources available at the event will undoubtedly contribute to my readiness and preparedness for the arrival of my little one,” she added.

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Cecilia Pearson, founder / CEO and organizer, said the event is “literally a ‘palooza’ because it’s a celebration of life. … [Attendees] can expect to have fun and to leave equipped, educated, and ready for the next stage of parenting.”

“[Babypalooza] is education-based, but I tell people I have to make it fun because nobody gets up on a Saturday and says, ‘Let’s go look at health care and see what we can learn,’” she continued. “When you say, ‘Let’s get up and go to Babypalooza and win some stuff, see the ‘Diaper Derby,’ and do the ‘Daddy Olympics,’ [it becomes] a big family affair. We make it fun and exciting, so the husband wants to come, grandma wants to come.

“It really does feel like a celebration, a party. We have music and cheerleaders as you walk in. When people walk out and I do my exit interviews, they always talk about what they learned, not about what they won.”

Babypalooza is in its 17th season as an annual expo. Even during its first season in 2006 at Brookwood Village Mall in Homewood, Alabama, 100 vendors and resources combined were in attendance—and the event has grown in popularity.

Cecilia Pearson, founder / CEO of Babypalooza, which includes events, magazines, social media and other services. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

“People come from all over the region,” said Pearson, a Hoover, Alabama, native.  “… In Alabama, we get rural real quick, and we have so many maternity deserts, where people are desperate for this information, so people are going to come from [places like] Oneonta and Tuscaloosa. They come from at least a 100-mile radius for this event. We’re the only baby expo in Alabama.”

She continued, “We pick cities where the birth rate is high and young couples are moving in. … We have health systems that ask us to bring the event there because they’ve tried to have these types of events but would never have a big enough attendance because that’s not what they do. So, we often will go and do the event for them.”

Accessible for All

“If you’re a very first-time parent, you don’t know what you don’t know. And a lot of times there’s anxiety and fear because you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know what to do or where to go, so we bring as many resources as possible under one roof,” said Pearson, adding that sponsors absorb the costs for admission to make the expo accessible for all.

Like Roberson-Storey, many parents are repeat attendees.

“Eighteen years later, we’re still adding resources for our parents that follow us from year to year,” Pearson said. “At this expo, we now have a section called ‘Toddler Too’ because we have a lot of parents that want to come back. They come when they’re thinking about having a baby, they come when they’re expecting, but they want to keep coming back for a few years [after giving birth] to keep getting resources. There’s still a lot of information parents need even after the baby’s born. … In the ‘Toddler Too’ area, they can find out about preschools, pediatricians, day and night camps, after-school activities, area attractions, and birthday parties.

“We have a Celebrations Expo because baby showers and birthday parties are a big deal. We’ve set up vignettes [that provide] ideas for baby showers, balloons, cookies and cakes, and decorations. We try to bring everything under one roof.”

Another new addition is the integration of technology, such as the Babypalooza app.

“[Attendees] can play Baby Bingo on our app, [which also includes] a baby registry area, where they can use their phones to scan QR codes and add items directly to their Amazon baby registry or even buy them,” said Pearson.

Focus on Education

Education is a primary focus of Babypalooza, said Pearson, adding that this year’s event comes with an extra attraction: the Black Maternal Health Expo.

“Black moms are three times more likely to die [from pregnancy-related causes] than white moms, and a lot of that is because they don’t feel seen or heard,” she said about the focus on unique health concerns and needs of Black mothers. “We even have people like [tennis phenom] Serena Williams, one of the biggest celebrities in the world, who almost died after childbirth. … [This year’s event will also include] a class on advocacy because there are issues.”

Because education and health services go hand in hand, the Alabama Department of Public Health, Children’s of Alabama, Ascension St. Vincent’’ Hospital, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, and other health-focused organizations will participate in the event.

“Our primary focus is to educate and save lives, to teach moms how to care for themselves postpartum, to give them the skills to take care of their baby, and to get the other caretakers involved, too, so that the husband can learn to recognize the signs of postpartum depression,” said Pearson.

“[Attendees] tell us, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to turn my baby on their back to sleep [to avoid sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)]. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to put their coat on before putting them in the car seat. …We’re going to have those seminars and [vendors] and teach all of that,” she added.

Sharing New Experiences

Roberson-Storey, mother of Hampton, 7, twin girls, Lola and Langstyn, 4, Ellington, 3, and bonus son, Aiden Storey, 15, said her past experiences at Babypalooza were “bustling with excitement and anticipation. People are really happy and excited to be in the space. It’s high energy.”

“It’s kinda like being in a sisterhood,” she added. “There are dads floating around, too, but it felt like a sisterhood of mothers. It felt like I’m going to this expo because these are my people. The giveaways the [vendors and exhibitors] are handing out … is stuff you can actually use. I got a Mamaroo, [a multimotion baby swing] one year. I got a Boppy [nursing pillow]. … They even do dad games, and my husband won something one year.”

Davis, the expecting mom, can’t wait for her first visit, especially with the Black Maternal Health Expo making its debut.

“Babypalooza plays a role in fostering a supportive, informed, and empowered birthing community,” she said. “It contributes to the ongoing conversation about improving maternal- and infant-health outcomes, while also providing a space for celebration, learning, and connection within the journey of parenthood. With them adding the Black Maternal Health Expo, I feel like Black moms have an opportunity to be a part of the Babypalooza community with a place to share and discover new experiences.”

Babypalooza, Saturday August 26, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex [BJCC], 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North, Birmingham, AL 35203. Free to the public [(registration is required: https://babypalooza.com/event/birmingham-babypalooza-baby-expo/). For more visit www.babypalooza.com.

Updated at 4:09 p.m. on 8/24/2023 to correct spelling of Langstyn.