Maybe you’re expecting a baby soon. Maybe someone you know is. Maybe you’ve been put in charge of arranging a shower for a friend or family member and you’re feeling a little out of your depth. Don’t worry; we’re here to answer every question you could have about the tradition of holding baby showers and how to do it.
What Are Baby Showers?
Traditionally, the baby shower is a party to celebrate the impending birth of a new baby. The mom-to-be and the baby-to-be are the focal point of these parties. The purpose of a baby shower is to show emotional support for the mom, as well as to bring together a lot of the items needed to take care of a baby as gifts to the new mom. After all, babies come with a lot of accessories, and the list gets expensive! Baby showers can be complex affairs with activities and games, or they can be much more organic and low-key. It depends on the goals of the organizer and hopefully on the desires of the new mom.
Where Did Baby Showers Start?
The baby shower as we know it today is a relatively recent invention. It appeared in Emily Post’s book, “Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage” in 1937. Since it did not appear in earlier editions of the book (1927 and 1922), we can reasonably assume that the tradition was not in widespread practice at those times. At that point, the shower was known as a “stork shower.” and was only one kind of shower thrown; there were also larder showers, kitchen showers, and of course, bridal showers.
Back then, it was considered appropriate to hold the shower in the early afternoon, and only intimate women friends of the mother were invited.
This tradition of being surrounded by female family and friends was not new; in the American colonial era, women held “birthing parties” at the home of the mother-to-be. In these parties, women, including a midwife and close female family and friends, would gather with the mother as labor began, and stay with her, sometimes for days, until labor was complete. During these gatherings, the attending women would tell jokes, soothe and encourage the mother, and trade gossip and recipes. The intent was to support the mother in labor, and to strengthen the ties of community.
After labor was complete, there was a “Lying in” period. The lying in period lasted around three to four weeks, and during that time, female members of the community would come to the new mother’s home, have tea, and take care of household duties so that the mother could recover. The mother would later thank her community of women by throwing a “groaning party,” in which she prepared a lavish meal for those who had helped her.
In addition to the groaning party, new mothers knew they would repay the women who helped her by attending their birthing parties and lying in periods in return.
The gift giving traditions of modern baby showers actually came about during the Victorian era. Celebrations of birth happened after the birth, because Victorian women would hide their pregnancies as long as possible, and withdraw from public life once it could no longer be hidden. After the birth, female friends and family would hold a tea party for the new mother. When gifts were given, they were often handmade.
The advent of modern medicine took birth out of the hands of midwives, and eventually out of the home entirely. Modern medicine also reduced infant mortality and maternal mortality, and celebrations of birth before the child was born started to become normal.
Baby Showers Around the World
In India - Godh Bharai
The Godh Barhai ceremony in India is typically held during the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, since the mother and baby are considered to be safe at that time. The name Godh Barhai means “to fill the lap.” The mother to be is dressed in a special saree, and is anointed with oils by elder women in the family. The mother to be’s lap is then filled with gifts and fruit and sweets, and she may be adorned with jewelry.
Singing and dancing often occurs at the Godh Barhai. Here is a video of a Godh Barhai dance performance. In the video, you can see the expectant mother in a special seat decorated with flowers.
Gifts given at the Godh Barhai are only for the mother-to-be. Gifts for the baby are given at a celebration after the birth.
In Afghanistan - The Sixth Night
In Afghanistan, childbirth celebrations are held after the child is born, traditionally on the sixth night after birth. The celebration brings friends and family together at a lavish feast. Gifts are brought for the baby, like clothing, baby supplies, and toys. Celebrations for boy babies are more elaborate than those for girls.
The Dominican Republic - Baby Shower
In the Dominican Republic, baby showers are a big deal! They are big, lavish parties that include friends and family of both sexes. The planning of the shower is often kept secret from the expecting parents, and is thrown as a surprise party. There’s typically a lot of food served, and music and dancing are common.
When Should I Hold a Baby Shower?
In the US, baby showers are typically held in the early afternoon, perhaps a remnant of the Victorian era tea parties. The baby shower is typically held around four to six weeks before the due date. This ensures that the pregnancy is well along and the chance of miscarriage is small, and that the shower isn’t interrupted by an untimely arrival of the baby.
This timing, of course, depends on the health of the mother, and her preferences regarding the timing. If your shower is not a surprise party, it’s best to consult the mother-to-be and see what she prefers.
Also, it’s becoming more common for people to hold dinner time baby showers, for example, or baby shower brunches. So the early afternoon rule doesn’t need to be followed strictly.
How Do I Throw a Baby Shower?
There are two ways to end up planning and throwing a baby shower. You offer to, or are asked to. Normally the baby shower is thrown by a friend or relative of the mother, and it is totally acceptable for the expectant mother to ask someone to throw a shower for her.
Typically, the person who throws the shower is not a member of the immediate family (this is seen as a gift grab by the family, and can seem tacky), but by a close extended family member or a close friend.
The Guest List
The planning starts with the guest list. Baby showers are often intimate affairs, involving the mother-to-be’s closest female friends and relatives. It’s best to consider which of the friends and family are going to be the most likely to want to celebrate the new baby, and also consult the mother-to-be about who she does and doesn’t want on the guest list. If you’re a friend of the family, there may be an estrangement within the family that you’re not aware of.
While baby showers have traditionally been all-female affairs, it’s becoming more and more popular to throw “co-ed” baby showers, including both male and female guests. Also, sometimes people throw multiple showers. This is because a large party can be difficult on a woman so late in pregnancy, and because the mom-to-be may want to separate different groups, say, a shower for friends, one for family, and one for coworkers.
Send out invitations four to six weeks before the date of the shower. This gives guests time to shop for gifts, and you time to plan the shower itself. Be sure to request an RSVP, so you know how many guests to plan for. Do not include registry or gift information on the invitations; this is considered rude. You can give out this information if people request it. You can send out invitations by email or by social media, but it’s always nice to send a paper invitation in addition to digital ones; some of the guests may want to save them as keepsakes.
If the family does not want guests to bring gifts, as may be the case in a shower for a second or third baby, or in the event of multiple showers, be sure to note this on the invitation. “No gifts please,” should be sufficient. Close friends and relatives will have other opportunities to give gifts. However, the reverse, a request for gifts, should never be included.
Shower favors are small gifts given to the shower guests. Giving favors is a good idea if it's in your budget, especially if the guests are bringing gifts. It’s a kind way to say thank you.
Shower favors are often small gifts. Sometimes they’re simple keepsakes. Sometimes they’re just a bit of candy in a fancy little bag. Since baby showers are traditionally all-female affairs, lip balms, candles, and bath products are also common. Even a small stuffed animal would make a thoughtful keepsake gift.
Match your favor to your budget! You don’t have to give a very fancy or personalized gift as a favor; just a small token will do.
Games and Activities
Due to the urbanization that marks modern life in the US, there are often members of different social groups that attend baby showers, so many of the guests may not know one another. This can be awkward, but planning games and activities can add structure and help break the ice for those who are meeting new people for the first time. There are lots of ideas for activities and games on the internet. Just pick some that match the personality and desires of the mom-to-be.
Food and Drink
Food for baby showers is often light and easy to eat; think snacks and appetizers. Tea sandwiches, veggie plates, cheese plates, pickles, and olives are popular choices. They’re also easy to make. For sweets, consider cupcakes or cookies. Keep the dietary restrictions of mom and guests in mind; pregnant women should not eat unpasteurized cheeses, for example, and some guests may be lactose or gluten intolerant, or be vegetarian or vegan. Make sure there are acceptable nibbles for all guests; you don’t want anyone to feel left out or uncomfortable.
For drinks, tea and coffee are traditional, as are fruit juices and punches. Since the mother-to-be is likely abstaining from alcohol, it’s best to avoid alcoholic drinks.
In the past, it was normal for the mother-to-be to open her shower gifts at the party, but that’s changing. Especially with large parties, sometimes it would take too long and be too boring for guests to sit and watch mom open all her gifts. If the mother-to-be doesn’t feel comfortable opening all those gifts, definitely don’t make her.
It’s best to have a table or other area designated for guests to drop off gifts and packages for the mom-to-be, so that she doesn’t have to deal with receiving each gift one at a time.
When to Stop
A very long party may be tiring and stressful for mom. The early afternoon baby shower should start after lunch and end before dinner. It’s fine to put an ending time on the invitations, and to enforce that time when it comes up. Simply saying, “thank you all for coming,” can get the message across.
Remember, the mother-to-be is the guest of honor. If she’s reached her party limit, then the shower should end soon.
When the party is over, if you’ve hosted at your own home, be sure to help the guest of honor out with any gifts or packages. If you’ve hosted at her home, be sure to stay and clean up. Don’t leave a mess for the mom-to-be; collect dishes and trash, pick up decorations, and put any leftover food away.
Dos and Don'ts for Baby Showers
- Do RSVP. The person planning the shower has to plan food, games, and drinks, and it’s impossible to do that well without knowing how many people they’ll be hosting. RSVP in a timely manner, within a week of receipt of the invitation.
- Don’t RSVP with a “maybe.” This helps no one. Consult your calendar and make a commitment. If you don’t want to go, that’s fine. RSVPing with a no may open up a spot for a guest who really wants to go.
- Don’t forget to go. If you RSVP with a yes, make sure you do what you can to show up. Sometimes things come up, of course, and they’re often unavoidable, but if you can go, go.
- Do respect requests on the invitation, especially if they request “no kids” or “women only.” Women-only baby showers are often traditional in families. Your host may not be able to watch or entertain young children. If this means you can’t go to the shower, then RSVP with a “no.”
- Do respect the mother-to-be’s request for no gifts at the shower, if it’s specified. It would be awkward for her and the other guests if you’re the only one to show up at a shower with a gift.
- Do ask for registry information, if it hasn’t already been provided. This is totally acceptable, and will help you find an appropriate gift if you’re not sure what mom needs. It’s also okay to shop off the registry if you have something special in mind.
- Do include the gift receipt with your gift. Tuck it discretely in the package when you wrap it. It’s probably embarrassing for the guest of honor to have to ask you about returning the gift, so make sure she can do it on her own.
- Do buy clothing in multiple sizes. Mom will only need so many newborn outfits. Including some 3-6 month size clothing, or 6-9 month size clothing will help keep kiddo clothed for longer.
- Don’t forget that the seasons change! If you’re getting multiple sizes of clothing, either get staples that kiddo will wear all year, or get some clothes appropriate for the next season. Baby won’t be wearing these clothes very long; they grow fast!
- Don’t get drunk. If alcoholic beverages are served, remember that they’re there to help people relax a bit and have fun, not to get people plastered.
- Don’t tell birth/infancy/breastfeeding horror stories. This is not the time to increase the guest of honor’s worries. You’re here to support her and celebrate her. Share your experiences if she asks, but definitely not at the shower.
- Do offer to stay and help clean up. Throwing a party is a big job, and it doesn’t end when the guests leave.
- Don’t stay if they tell you they don’t need help. Especially if it’s at the expectant mother’s home, she may want alone time. Respect that.
Modern Trends in Baby Showers
Co-Ed Baby Showers
It’s becoming more and more popular to include male friends and family members on the baby shower guest list. After all, the men in the community will be excited about the new baby too! This is a decision that the guest of honor should make; they may want to keep with tradition, or they may be embarrassed about discussing pregnancy with men.
Baby Showers for Dads
This is not exactly new, but it’s relatively new in the US. Holding a baby shower for Dad often looks a little bit different than the traditional baby shower; less frills, more grills. If you’re throwing a shower for an expectant dad, you may want to consider throwing the party at a local bar or restaurant, taking him bowling, or having a backyard barbecue party. Consult with dad and see what he wants!
Baby Showers for Grandparents
Today we have more and more moms in the workplace, so grandparents often find themselves being secondary caregivers for their grandchildren. Because of this, baby showers for grandparents have become more popular. These parties help the grandparents collect the things they’ll need to help care for their new infant grandchild.
Some good gifts for grandparents include things that are difficult to move from home to home, like cribs, strollers, and car seats. Things that are always needed, like bottles and wipes and diapers are always good. Keepsakes are wonderful for grandparents, especially personalized lovies or personalized stuffed animals.
However, there is some controversy here. Some view the grandparent baby shower to be a tacky gift grab, or believe that it competes with mom’s own baby shower, both for gifts and guests. It’s important to be careful with how these are planned and executed; often the grandparents’ own social circle will throw their shower independently of the mom’s social group, and that helps reduce conflict.
Baby Showers for Second or Third Children
Traditionally, baby showers are only for the first child; it is assumed that future children will be able to use hand-me-downs from the first baby, so the financial burden on the parents is less.
However, it’s becoming more popular to throw baby showers for second or third children. Usually, these showers don’t involve gifting, but are to celebrate and provide emotional support for the mom.
Virtual Baby Showers
Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual baby showers are very popular right now. One of the great things about virtual showers is that people can attend no matter where they are in the country (or the world!). A little bit more planning goes into these; you’ll need to select a video chat service to use, and make sure to send the link out to the guests. You can have snacks delivered to the guests’ homes to make sure that you’re all munching on the same goodies. There are even virtual baby shower games you can use. Guests can send baby shower gifts directly to mom’s home, and if she wants, she can open them on camera!
Baby Showers After the Birth
Holding baby showers after birth is common in some cultures, but is a relatively recent addition in the US. We used to throw these parties after the birth due to infant and maternal mortality rates being so high, but now, we usually throw showers before the birth to make sure mom has all she needs to take care of baby from day one.
There are reasons for the modern post-birth baby shower, though. If mom is having a particularly difficult pregnancy, she may not want to hold a baby shower before the birth in case anything happens, or she may be too sick to attend her own shower.
This is something that you can figure out with the mom-to-be, if you’re organizing the shower. Some families keep these things discrete, so it’s best to honor her wishes.
Post-birth baby showers are also a great way to introduce the family and friends to the new baby in person. There are lots of reasons to throw a baby shower after the birth, and they’re just as fun as a pre-birth shower!
Sip and See Parties
Sip and See parties can be held as an alternative to a baby shower, or as an additional celebration. Sip and See parties are held after the baby is born, and is an opportunity for friends and family to come by, sip some light drinks, and see you and your new addition. These can be small, intimate gatherings, or something more akin to an open house, where the community or neighborhood is invited.
It’s best to plan a Sip and See party after the baby has been born, because you want to make sure the mother has recovered from childbirth and is up to company. Typically the family of the newborn plans and hosts the Sip and See.
Gifting is absolutely appropriate for a Sip and See party, but if you’ve already had a baby shower, don’t expect the same level of gifting as you experienced at the shower.
Some families will hold a baby shower for close friends and family, and hold a Sip and See party for more casual acquaintances and coworkers.
Baby Sprinkles are a smaller version of a baby shower. If this is not your first baby, you might choose to hold a baby sprinkle instead of a baby shower. Low-key or no gifting is common for baby sprinkles, though you might encourage guests to bring gifts for the big siblings.
So that’s it! Everything you need to know about baby showers, from the organizing to the attending to the clean-up. Do you have any questions, or know anything we missed? Be sure to let us know in the comments.