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When baby showers first became popular over 50 years ago, we didn’t have the internet or baby registries. Gender roles and rules have changed quite a bit, and the etiquette practiced by our mothers and grandmothers has evolved. Even though we are living in a different time, there is value in looking at the traditional etiquette rules for baby showers and how you can modify your baby shower to celebrate in a way that fits with your lifestyle and values.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly created challenges for celebrating in-person events. With recommendations to practice social distancing and everyone weighing their risks with COVID-19, you may decide that an in-person baby shower is not the best choice right now. Learn about the alternatives to an in-person shower and the pros and cons of each option. Ultimately, how you celebrate is entirely up to you. I hope you find your own unique way to celebrate.

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The History of the Baby Shower

Traditions celebrating pregnancy and a new baby vary all over the globe. All cultures have some type of celebration or gathering relating to bringing a new life into the world. In the United States, neighborhood get-togethers to celebrate a mom-to-be started in the 1930s with “stork showers.” By the 1940s and 50s, the baby shower was a common celebration. The term “shower” comes from showering the expecting mother with gifts. Baby showers are so much more than the presents. A baby shower is a celebration of becoming a mother, and the new addition you are adding to your family.

Over the years, there were many rules around the etiquette of what was socially acceptable for showers. Those rules have changed a lot. Today, you can choose to celebrate with all the prim and proper of a traditional baby shower, or you can opt for a get together that throws all of the rules out the window.

Traditional Baby Shower Etiquette

When baby showers first became popular over 50 years ago, we didn’t have the internet or baby registries. Gender roles and rules have changed quite a bit, and the etiquette practiced by our mothers and grandmothers has evolved. Even though we are living in a different time, there is value in looking at the traditional etiquette rules for baby showers and how you can modify your baby shower to celebrate in a way that fits with your lifestyle and values. Ultimately, how you celebrate is entirely up to you. I encourage you to do things your way and throw out any rules that don’t fit your idea of what a shower should be.

Timing Your Baby Shower

Typically, you celebrate a baby shower in the third trimester. This goes from week 28 until your baby is born. Ideally, you do not want it too close to your due date, in case your baby decides to show up early. The timing of when you have a shower is up to you. Choosing a date can involve coordinating your calendar, the schedules of key people you would like to attend, and taking into account the time of year and any upcoming holidays. As for the time of day, you can plan a shower at any time. Usually, this is during daylight hours and lasts 2-3 hours.

Should You Expect Gifts?

The majority of expecting parents expect gifts at a baby shower. The term “shower” comes from the idea of showering the mother-to-be with gifts. There are many things you will want to purchase for a new baby, and having your friends and family pitch in to help you can be a lifesaver.

If you are in a position where you don’t need assistance purchasing things for your baby or do not want gifts, you can still have a baby shower. The best reason for a shower is to celebrate you becoming a parent. If you do not want your guests to bring presents, please state it clearly and politely, on the invitation. Inevitably, some people will still get gifts. Even if you are expecting people to bring you something, someone may show up empty-handed. We don’t always know what people are going through. It would be polite to be thankful for people joining you, regardless of whether they comply with your wishes for gifts.

Registering for Gifts

If you are expecting gifts, you should have a baby registry for several reasons. First, many people want to buy you a gift, and a registry helps them figure out what you need and want. Secondly, it will be easier to return items if you have duplicates or end up not needing something. Third, most registries offer a completion discount, saving you money on purchasing any items remaining on your registry.

Traditionally, it was discouraged to add more expensive items like strollers or cribs on the registry. As you build your registry, keep in mind that everyone is in a different place financially. It is nice to have some smaller or inexpensive items available, so people do not feel obligated to spend more than they can. It is also possible that multiple people will pitch in and purchase a more significant item together. Even with a registry, you will inevitably get gifts that people purchased outside of your registry. The gifts are not the point of the baby shower; they are a bonus.

Many people advise that you never include where you are registered on the invitation. They view this as begging for gifts. The problem is that most people will want to know where you are registered. A common workaround is to include a separate piece of paper with a note on where you are registered. If you choose to send electronic invitations, you may decide to add a message about where you registered within your message. If you would rather not include that information, you are welcome to omit it.

Some hosts add a note on the invitation to “please include a gift receipt just in case we need to make an exchange”. This is a personal preference. While some will see this as tacky, others may view it as a useful reminder. Most people will include a gift receipt without this reminder.

Who Should Host Your Baby Shower?

Traditionally, a baby shower is hosted by someone who is not the expecting mother or a family member. Some people view a shower hosted by the mom or other family as rude because gifts are often expected. From an etiquette standpoint, it is different if a friend hosts the celebration instead. You may already have the perfect best friend who takes the initiative on events like this and plans like a professional event planner. Traditionally, the person hosting the party picks up the cost and the planning. If you do not have the luxury of someone volunteering to host, you may want to consider asking a close friend. While traditional rules say that a family member should not host, you can always decide to bunk tradition and have your family organize it, or plan it yourself.

Being Considerate of the Host

If someone is hosting a baby shower for you, it is likely someone you know very well. You should have some idea about their budget and planning abilities. If you want something included or left out, you should speak up and let them know. Please do be considerate about the host’s financial commitment. You can always offer to help with covering some of the costs or assisting in planning. While a catered and professionally planned event may be nice, you can have an amazing celebration with a small group and a potluck. Since you know your friends and family well, it is up to you to navigate your relationships and expectations with courtesy.

If someone hosts a baby shower for you, please thank them after the event. In the past, it was customary to get a small gift for the host. If you want to get a gift, you absolutely can. It can be something small, like a bouquet or a decorative candle. A handwritten thank you note is also a great way to make sure they know you appreciate them.

Can You Have More Than One Shower?

Yes, you can have more than one baby shower. When baby shower etiquette was first established, most people lived in smaller communities, near family, and many women did not work full time. You may live far from family, have different friend groups, and be close with co-workers. If more than one person wants to throw you a baby shower, that is perfectly okay.

Can You Have a Baby Shower if this is Not Your First Baby?

The short answer to this question is yes. You can have a baby shower for your second or third baby. Traditional etiquette says that you should not only have a baby shower for your first baby. The reasoning behind this is that if this is not your first baby, you probably already have many things that you will be reusing. Some would say that having a second baby shower is asking for gifts and taking advantage of friends and family.

If you don’t want a full baby shower, you could have a sprinkle, which is a smaller version of a shower. You could also forego a celebration and host a sip and see after your baby is born. A sip and see is where you have an open house and invite friends and family over to meet your new baby. The name comes from guests having a drink (sip) and seeing the new baby. How you decide to celebrate baby #2 or more is up to you. Ultimately, you should celebrate this new adventure in your parenting journey how you want.

Who to Invite

Traditionally baby showers were female-only events. In recent years many couples have decided to have a co-ed shower and invite friends and family regardless of their sex. A shower with everyone is sometimes called a ‘Jack and Jill’ shower. This is a personal preference, and you are welcome to invite anyone you would like.

Someone you know may be offended not to get an invitation to a baby shower. If you have family or friends who live far away, you may choose to send them an invitation to be courteous. Traditional etiquette states that you should still send a gift if you are invited to a baby shower and cannot attend. While not everyone feels this way, many people will send a card or gift, even if they cannot come. It is generally frowned upon to invite people just to get more gifts. If you know people cannot attend, you may choose to send them a baby announcement after your baby is born, rather than an invitation to your shower.

How to Send Invitations

Paper invitations in the mail are the most formal way to invite your guests. Many people send electronic invitations these days, especially because you may not have everyone’s physical address. How you would like to send invitations is up to you. Your grandmother may be expecting a paper invitation, but an Evite would be fine for your friends. You know the crowd best and what would be most appropriate for sending invitations. Please be sure to be specific about who is invited, whether children are welcome, and any other details guests need to know upfront.

Serving Food and Drinks

Most baby showers include some form of food and drinks. You do not need to serve a five-course meal, and some small appetizers or snacks are perfectly acceptable. If you want to avoid having a more substantial meal, do not plan your shower when people typically eat lunch or dinner. What food and drinks to serve is up to you and your host. This can be extravagant with a caterer or be a potluck where you ask guests to bring a dish to share. Whether you choose to have alcohol available for your guests is up to you. You know your friends and family and what they expect and would like to drink.

Should You Open Gifts During the Shower?

Opening gifts in front of everyone was a long tradition of gift-giving parties. Now, some people opt to open gifts in private after everyone has left. This is a personal preference. You may be seeing more birthday parties where people are not opening gifts in front of everyone. Typically, gifts are still being opened during a baby shower when all of the guests are present. You should be aware that some guests will expect you open presents with everyone. It could be nice to give everyone a heads up that you want to maximize your time with everyone and wait to open gifts. That way, no one is offended if they are waiting around for you to open presents, and it never happens.

Thank You Notes

Proper etiquette states that anytime someone gives you a gift, you send a handwritten thank-you note. If you decide to go this route, there are a few tips for sending thank you cards. You can prepare by buying a box of thank you cards and stamps before your baby shower. The goal is to send cards as soon as possible after the event, preferably within a week or two. When you open gifts, you need to keep a list of who gave you what gift to thank them specifically. If someone attended your shower but did not bring a gift, you may still want to send a thank you card and thank them for celebrating with you.

If you prefer to communicate your gratitude another way, like via email, you are welcome to do that. An email is less personal than a handwritten thank you card but more convenient. You know your friends and family best. If you feel like it is appropriate to email someone, you are welcome to do that instead of sending a physical card. The most important thing is that you acknowledge them for celebrating with you and thank them for any gifts.


The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly created challenges for celebrating in-person events. With recommendations to practice social distancing and everyone weighing their risks with COVID-19, you may decide that an in-person baby shower is not the best choice right now. Like everything involved with your baby shower, this is entirely up to you. Please do understand that people have different views about this virus and are taking different levels of precautions. If you are holding an in-person event and someone is not comfortable attending, you should respect that. On the other hand, if your friends and family are comfortable getting together and you are not concerned about the risks, you are welcome to have an in-person shower. For more information on COVID-19 and pregnancy, check out these articles.

Due to the financial and economic impacts of COVID-19, some of your friends and family may be more conscious about their spending. Due to health risks, some people may not be comfortable traveling or attending an in-person event. Everyone is going through their challenges, and we should all be understanding.

Alternatives to an In-person Baby Shower

It can be so disappointing to feel like you can’t have the dream baby shower you always wanted. It is okay to feel disappointed. Yes, there are people with more significant issues right now, but that doesn’t mean that your feelings are not valid. There are some alternatives to a traditional in-person baby shower for you to consider. Typically, an invitation for one of these alternatives has some cute wording about wanting to celebrate even though you can’t be together in person. Please clearly state the details on the invitations so your guests know what to expect.

Virtual Shower

One option is a virtual baby shower. This is held online via a platform like Zoom or Facebook. This tends to work best with smaller groups of people.

Pros: You and everyone attending doesn’t have to worry about potential exposure to COVID-19.

Cons: Navigating online meetings can be difficult for people who are not tech-savvy. Be prepared for multiple people to be talking at once and working out some technical difficulties. It could be helpful to have a dedicated person to run tech support if anyone runs into issues. If you have older friends or family who need assistance connecting virtually, please plan to have someone help them.

Drive-Through Shower

You could also have a drive-through baby shower. This is best if you don’t live on a really busy street and many of your guests live nearby. You can have some decorations put up outside, and you and your partner can hang outside as your friends and family drive by, say their congrats, and drop off gifts. You could even encourage guests to decorate their cars for the occasion.

Pros: You and your guests still practice social distancing to be safe, but you get to see people in person.

Cons: This doesn’t work for people who live far away or anyone who does not have transportation. If you live on a high traffic street or in an apartment building, a drive-through shower may not be ideal.

Shower by Mail

You could also have a shower by mail. An invitation to a shower by mail usually states where to mail gifts or cards, and there is no virtual or in-person meet up.

Pros: Other than the invitations, there is no other time or money involved in planning.

Cons: This is the most informal way to celebrate and may be seen as purely a request for gifts since nothing else is involved.

The Downside to the Alternatives

The biggest downside to any of these alternatives is that they are not the same as getting together with close friends and family to celebrate you becoming a parent. Some people feel like these alternatives are purely an excuse to ask for gifts. Others see it as an opportunity to celebrate mom and baby despite all of the craziness going on right now.

Dealing with Criticism

Ultimately how you decide to celebrate is up to you. No matter what you do, someone is going to disagree on how you choose to celebrate. That is okay. We all have that one friend or family member who is critical of everything. It isn’t their journey that you are celebrating. Part of being a parent is doing what feels right for your family, not everyone will agree with you. Please do not let one person’s opinion dictate how you celebrate. Whether you follow the old school etiquette or throw all the rules out the window, I hope you find your own unique way to celebrate.


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