Your Baby Shower Etiquette Guide

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.

Multiethnic Friends Baby Shower Touching Belly of Pregnant Woman
Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Baby showers are a relatively recent phenomenon, rising in popularity during the baby boom of the 1940s and '50s. These parties are filled with joy but can also be fraught with uncertainty about expectations and etiquette. People often wonder about who to invite to a baby shower and who should plan and host it.

To ensure everyone—including the parent-to-be—will have a good time, follow these guidelines for planning the perfect pre-baby bash.

Planning the Baby Shower

Every baby shower will be unique, and yours should be adapted to the expecting parent's wishes and needs. However, here are some general suggestions for making sure everything goes smoothly.

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 custom is believed to have developed in order to avoid the appearance that the family was simply on a mission to collect gifts.

However, like many cultural traditions, this rule isn't strictly observed these days. In fact, it's usually considered perfectly acceptable for a sibling, in-laws, or even the guest of honor's parents to host or co-host a baby shower. It's still unusual for a parent-to-be to host their 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 the baby arriving beforehand and disrupting the party plans. However, some people prefer to have a shower after the delivery. That way the baby can attend, as well.

Some 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, baby showers aren't required to have games, a theme, or anything else. The baby shower host should follow guidelines from the parent-to-be in terms of what kind of agenda to follow. 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—or no theme at all! That said, many people enjoy playing party games or decorating with a theme. So, do what seems fun to the parent-to-be and guests.

Should you have a baby shower for a second (or third or fourth) child?

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 a traditional baby shower for second or third children. Instead, some people throw a "baby sprinkle"—a smaller party designed to make parents' lives easier once 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. You could also just plan a fun, celebratory social gathering that doesn't center on "showering" the expectant parent with gifts.

The Guest List

There's no right or wrong in terms of deciding who to put on the baby shower guest list. However, there are certain guidelines that can help you make these decisions.

Who should you invite to the baby shower?

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

What are co-ed showers?

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

However, people of all genders may enjoy looking at the new items for the baby and playing baby shower games. You and the expectant parent know your guests best and can decide on the guest list that will best work for the party dynamic you are hoping for.

Also, consider the personality of the other parent-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. Or the expectant parent may prefer the event to just center on them.

Ask the expectant parents about their preferences on the matter. Even at an all-female party, the other parent-to-be often makes an appearance towards the end of the shower to thank everyone for the gifts.

Baby Shower Gifts

Here are tips for everything relating to baby shower 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, catalog, 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 baby shower 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?

Guests who can't make the baby shower are 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. Also, it would be perfectly fine for the invitee who can't make the party to wait until the baby is born, and then send or bring over a gift to the new parent. But they certainly aren't obliged to give a gift at all. A shower invitation is an invitation to a party, not a demand for a gift.

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

Usually, it's ideal to send thank you notes within two to three weeks after the baby 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, a book, or a small piece of jewelry would make great baby shower hostess gifts!

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