Baby Shower: The Etiquette Guide

Updated: Mar 31, 2019

Invited to a baby shower or celebration? Get the lowdown on what's expected at these baby celebrations

Baby showers are filled with joy—and fraught with expectations. To ensure a good time will be had by all, here are some guidelines for hosts, guests, and parents-to-be.

Baby Showers

Baby showers are a relatively recent phenomenon—they became common only after World War II, during the baby boom of the 1940s and '50s. Still, they've developed their own traditions and etiquette.

Who should host a baby shower?

Tradition states that a shower should not be hosted by a close family member of the parents-to-be, but instead by a friend or more distant relative, such as a cousin or an aunt. This rule was meant to avoid the appearance that the family was simply on a mission to collect gifts. However, like many 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 shower. It's still unusual for a mother-to-be to host her own shower, though.

Second Baby Shower? When to Shower? Theme Needed?

Can a shower be given to celebrate a second baby—or one even further down in the birth order?

Every pregnancy deserves to be toasted and cheered. But, since the true purpose of a baby shower is to help new parents acquire the gear and supplies they'll need, it's probably not necessary to give a traditional baby shower for parents who have a basement full of baby clothes and equipment. Instead, consider throwing a shower designed to make their lives easier when they've got a newborn and another child or two to juggle: a "stock the freezer" shower, for example, or a "Mom and Dad" shower, with gifts like their favorite movies on video or DVD or promises for baby-sitting services.

What about the dad-to-be and male guests?

It's becoming more and more common to include men—friends, spouses, relatives—on the guest list. But it 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 coed 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. The mom-to-be should be able to give you a good reading on this. Even at a "girl power" party, the expectant dad often makes an appearance toward the end of the shower to thank everyone for the gifts. And if you opt to include male guests, take a look at some of our coed-friendly shower ideas.

When should the shower be held?

Showers are typically given four to six weeks before the baby's due date—late enough so that the pregnancy is well along, but early enough so that the baby is unlikely to arrive before the party day does. Sometimes, for religious, cultural or other reasons, parents-to-be prefer not to receive gifts until after the baby is born (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.

Does it need to have a theme, and must there be games played?

No. The hosts should take their cues from the style and tastes of the expectant parent. There's no rule stating that games must be played, or that the color scheme must be pastel. The shower should be designed for the delight the guest of honor. (On the other hand, the guest of honor should maintain a sense of graciousness and good humor if she finds herself at the center of a party that's not precisely her style).

Gift Registration? Gift Obligation? When to Send Thank-Yous?

Is it considered proper to register for gifts?

Opinions vary on this issue. While it strikes some as mercenary for parents-to-be to make up what is essentially a shopping list for friends and family, this practice is increasingly common. Registering at a store or with a catalogue or online service is certainly practical and time-saving for the guests of honor, who can avoid duplicates and returns, and, as with wedding registries, it can be a time-saver for guests, too, who don't have to spend much time selecting a gift. Of course, you may feel that registering takes some of the charm and spontaneity out of the event. In any case, there are two hard-and-fast rules about registering for gifts: never include the registry info on the invitation (put it on a separate slip of paper or let interested guests inquire with the host), and never insist that guests use the registry (they should always have the option of giving whatever they like).

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

No. If they wish, they may send a package to the home of the host, who can have it on hand to be opened at the 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, such as a bouquet of flowers, a batch of cookies, or a small gift.

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