When should you have a baby shower? Who should plan and host a baby shower? Who should be on the guest list? We’ve got answers to all of your most pressing questions.

By Debra Jo Immergut
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Baby showers are a relatively recent phenomenon, rising in popularity during the baby boom of the 1940s and '50s. Nowadays they’re filled with joy and fraught with expectations. To ensure everyone—including the mother-to-be—will have a good time, follow these guidelines for planning the perfect pre-baby bash.

Planning the Baby Shower

Who plans and hosts a baby shower?

According to tradition, baby showers should be hosted by a friend or distant relative (like a cousin or an aunt) instead of a close family member. This supposedly avoided the appearance that the family was simply on a mission to collect gifts. 

However, like many antiquated traditions, this rule isn't strictly observed these days. In fact, it's usually considered perfectly acceptable for a sister, mother-in-law, or even the guest of honor's mother to host or co-host a baby shower. It's still unusual for a mother-to-be to host her own shower, though.

When should you plan a baby shower?

Baby showers are typically held four to six weeks before the baby's due date—late enough that the pregnancy is well along, but likely early enough to avoid an untimely arrival. 

Sometimes, parents-to-be prefer not to receive gifts until after the baby is born for religious, cultural, or other reasons (in certain traditions, it's considered bad luck to acquire baby items beforehand). In that case, you could begin some preliminary planning, but wait until after the baby is born to set a shower date. 

For parents adopting a child, you might set a date once the child has arrived in their home.

Do baby showers need games and a theme?

No. The baby shower host should follow guidelines from the mother-to-be. There's no rule stating that games must be played, or that the color scheme must be pastel. Some of the most memorable baby showers have unique, non-traditional themes!

Should you have a baby shower for a second child—or one even further down in the birth order?

Every pregnancy deserves celebration, but since the true purpose of a baby shower is helping new parents acquire gear and supplies, it's probably not necessary to host one for second or third children. Instead, consider throwing a baby shower designed to make their lives easier when they've got a newborn and other children to juggle. Consider, for example, a "stock the freezer" shower or a "Mom and Dad" shower, with gifts like movie passes and promises of babysitting. 

The Guest List 

Who should you invite to the baby shower?

Naturally, close friends and family members should be at the top of the guest list. Beyond that, only choose guests who would gladly celebrate the mother-to-be and buy her a gift. You should certainly consult with the guest of honor and let her invite whomever she wants (keeping in mind any limitations on space, of course).

What are co-ed showers?

It's becoming increasingly common to include men—friends, spouses, and relatives—on the guest list. But inviting men does change the chemistry of the party. You need to decide whether you want that traditional "female-bonding ritual," with lots of oohing and aahing over adorable baby clothes and exchanging of labor tales, or whether you're looking for a more co-ed experience. 

Also consider the personality of the dad-to-be; some may relish sharing in every aspect of the pregnancy, while others may be uncomfortable with the idea of being a guest of honor at a baby shower.

Ask the mom-to-be about her preferences on the matter. Even at an all-girls party, the expectant dad often makes an appearance towards the end of the shower to thank everyone for the gifts. 

Registering for Gifts

Should you register for gifts?

Opinions vary about registering for baby shower gifts. Some people think it’s greedy to create a “shopping list” for friends and family, while others love helping parents-to-be stock up on essentials. If you do decide to register, you can do it through a store, catalogue, or online service. These options are practical and time-saving for the guest of honor, who can avoid duplicates and returns. Registries are also helpful for guests who may not know what to give.

Here are two rules to follow for baby shower gift registries

  • Never include the registry information on the invitation (put it on a separate slip of paper, or let interested guests inquire with the host)
  • Never insist that guests use the registry (they should always have the option of giving whatever they'd like)

Are invitees who can't attend the baby shower obliged to give gifts?

They’re not required to give gifts. If they wish, they may send a package to the home of the host, who can have it on hand for the baby shower. But they certainly aren't obliged to do so—a shower invitation is an invitation to a party, not a demand for a gift. It would be perfectly fine for the invitee who can't make the party to wait until the baby is born, and then send a gift.

When should the guest of honor send thank-you notes?

Usually within two to three weeks after the shower—unless, of course, the baby's birth intervenes. In that case, it's fine to wait until after the hectic postpartum period is over. It's nice to thank your hosts with a special token, too. A bouquet of flowers, a batch of cookies, or a small piece of jewelry would make great baby shower hostess gifts! 

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