Baby Shower Basics & Etiquette
With somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.75 million babies born per year in the United States (140 million worldwide) it’s no wonder baby showers are a ubiquitous part of our culture. But for those who may not have ever been to a baby shower, just had their own first little one and now really need to know how they actually work, or maybe as a first-time host, we thought it would be helpful to cover a myriad of baby shower basics. So, read through the essentials below in order or jump around from topic to topic to get up to speed on all things baby showers.
What Is A Baby Shower?
Let’s start with the most basic question there is - what is a baby shower? In its simplest form, a baby shower is a party or gathering to celebrate the birth or expected birth of a baby and to “shower” the mom and baby with gifts that are most often associated with babies and child-rearing. Baby-themed games and food are also common elements of a baby shower.
Baby showers are celebrated across a number of different cultures in various ways and without a doubt is ingrained in American culture. To point, while it’s hard to say what small percentage of the overall pie baby showers represent, the baby products industry has been estimated by some to be a 30 billion dollar industry! (custom onesies anyone!? :) )
Why is it called a “baby shower” or is that just another funny byproduct of the English language? It’s possible it is called a “baby shower” due to a 19th-century custom where gifts were placed inside a parasol and brides were “showered” with gifts at bridal showers. No matter where the term “baby shower” originates, there is evidence that similar celebrations have been held across cultures all the way back to ancient times. In the United States, baby showers started to become more popular after World War 2, as expectant moms during the baby boom and fresh off The Great Depression and the war were showered with baby-related items and household goods that they would need after the baby’s arrival.
So, at its very core, the purpose of a baby shower both anciently and in modern times has been at least two-fold: celebrate the advent of life and prepare the expecting mother and family for child-rearing. And if we were to add one more reason to the “what are baby showers for” list, it’d be to spend time and have fun with friends and family!
Types of Baby Showers
While different countries and ethnicities might have different names for baby showers there are also different types of baby showers. While most baby showers are the traditional type, these additional shower types often have small variations from a traditional baby shower. Here’s a quick rundown of what each means with more details for some of them further below.
(Traditional) Baby Shower - As noted above, a traditional baby shower is a party or gathering to celebrate the expected birth of a baby where baby-related gifts are given, food served, and games played with family and friends. Like almost all baby showers it is a female-only event unless otherwise noted.
Sprinkle Baby Shower or “Sprinkle Shower” or “Baby Sprinkle” - Similar to the diaper shower below, these showers follow the traditional baby shower mold but tend to be less grandiose (i.e. a sprinkle rather than a full shower of gifts) due to the fact that it is a shower for an expectant mother who has already had their first baby and has fewer needs. Often, these are thrown for a mom who is having their first girl or boy after having one or more of the opposite sex previously. Gifts sometimes just focus on diapers, wipes, and “need-based items”, as well as gender-specific clothing since it is the mom’s first boy or girl. Unless otherwise noted it is a female-only event.
Diaper Shower or Diaper Baby Shower - A spinoff of the traditional baby shower, all details are the same but all gifts (with inevitably some people still bringing other types of gifts) are diapers (sometimes these are done with the gifts all being baby wipes). This is more common in cases where the shower being thrown is for an expectant mother who may have already had previous children and/or showers thrown for them or has specifically requested this since the cost and usage of diapers are so high. We’ve also seen in a few cases that a “Diaper Shower” is the male version of a baby shower but in our experience, this is still a female-only event and just has reference to the fact that all the gifts will be diapers while still being a pretty standard baby shower.
Virtual Baby Shower - These are by and large the same as the standard baby showers but as the name indicates they are held virtually (i.e. by Zoom, Google Meet or another popular video meeting service). Popularized during the COVID pandemic it remains to be seen if these continue in the future with fewer lockdown measures in place or if far-away friends and family members will possibly be virtually invited in with the event returning to its more local-centric nature.
Drive-Thru or Drive-By Baby Shower - Similar to a virtual baby shower, these popped up during the pandemic as an alternate and adaptive way to continue the baby shower tradition while adhering to pandemic restrictions. In these showers, guests would literally drive by or drive-through and leave gifts while possibly receiving baby shower goodies or favors in a socially distanced manner. It is likely that these types of baby showers will mostly cease to be held as restrictions are lifted and the natural desire to associate with people in person returns in full force.
Drop-In or Come and Go Baby Shower - These are the same as a traditional baby shower except that guests don’t stay the entire time. Rather, guests can drop in and come and go as their schedule permits or for as short or as long as they prefer to socialize. In some cases, the baby shower host will ask specific people to come during specific time slots almost like an appointment but we’ve most often seen showers with a fixed duration with guests free to come at any point during the shower for however long they want. Gifts, food, and games are still a part of these events but can sometimes be more difficult given the fluid state of how many people are in attendance.
Sip and See Party - A sip and see party is usually just like a normal baby shower but is held after the baby’s birth (once mom is feeling up to hosting guests). It can also be one that includes couples and/or entire families in a more familial feel. Depending on the designed nature of the event, it can be just like a normal baby shower with food, games, and gifts or one that is less gift-centric and more of a “meet the baby” and check-in with mom type of feel.
Jack & Jill or Co-ed Baby Shower - These baby showers follow the traditional baby shower mold but include guests of both genders. Most often this means that couples are invited to attend and eat, play games, and give gifts rather than only female friends and family members. While far less common than the traditional baby shower this is ultimately up to the baby shower host and mom-to-be.
Grandma Shower - The least common type of baby shower, a grandma shower is sometimes thrown for first-time grandparents to help them (once again) prepare their home (portable cribs, toys, etc) for grandkids and the fun they bring.
What Happens & What Do You Do At A Baby Shower?
As noted above, a traditional baby shower typically includes a few main elements including food, games, and gift-giving. And, of course, plenty of socializing amongst family members and friends. But for someone asking how do baby showers work and what am I going to do if I attend one, a typical baby shower order of events might look something like this:
Guests Arrive + Socializing + Food (30-45 minutes)
Your guests aren’t going to all arrive at the same time nor even on time! Thus, most baby showers we’ve attended allow for a decently wide window for people to arrive, socialize, and eat some of the yummy food prepared.
Baby Shower Games (30-60 minutes)
Whether all your guests have arrived, or are able to stay, the first period of time of socialization and food typically moves into different baby shower games while guests can of course continue to socialize and eat and participate as they will. For example, baby shower bingo is a popular game we've seen played at many baby showers.
Gift Giving & Opening (30-60 minutes)
Most baby showers will include a portion of the schedule or order of events for the actual gift-giving and opening of said gifts. Typically the host or someone close to the mom-to-be will record gifts given and who gave each one so that the gift recipient can later send out thank yous. There are also a number of baby shower games that can be played in conjunction with the opening of the gifts.
Raffle Winner(s) (5-15 minutes)
If your baby shower has included a diaper raffle or other type of raffle then most often it is done at the end of the shower as the grand prize is typically something worth saving until the very end. We’ve also seen the raffle done just before the gift giving/opening. Either way, this portion of the shower doesn’t take more than a few minutes and typically marks an end to the shower.
The baby shower schedule above isn’t set in stone and quite frankly, there is no right or wrong way to do a baby shower. But most of the ones we’ve attended follow the rough outline detailed above with the baby shower host or hosts typically running the show.
When Do You Have A Baby Shower?
Like many other aspects of baby showers, there is no right or wrong answer with regards to when you should have a baby shower. That said, in our opinion, there is an ideal time to throw the shower and that is anywhere between 24 and 32 weeks pregnant. Or, in other words, it is most common to have a baby shower at 6-8 months pregnant. We suggest this time period, firmly in the second trimester or right at the beginning of the third trimester, for a variety of reasons:
Having your baby shower during this period means that the pregnancy is far enough along that the risk of a miscarriage has decreased significantly, the gender of the baby is most likely known, the mom-to-be isn’t so uncomfortable and tired that being the center of attention for 1-3 hours is going to be a problem, it’s far enough in advance of the due date that an early arrival of the baby shouldn’t complicate a carefully planned baby shower, it leaves plenty of flexibility to find a date that works for everyone, and maybe most importantly it’s early enough that it allows the parents-to-be enough time to finalize any pre-baby preparations with the gifts received before the big day.
How Long Should A Baby Shower Last and When Should It Start?
We know we sound like a broken record but once again these questions are ultimately up to the host and mom-to-be and there are no definitive answers to either of these questions. But in our research and experience, there does seem to be a general consensus on at least one of these questions.
If you’re planning and hosting a baby shower we’d recommend that it should last somewhere between 2-4 hours. For showers planned to be two hours, we’d highly recommend that you carefully plan out what games and activities you will and won’t be doing as two hours can go by in the blink of an eye! If you consider that guests aren’t all likely to be on time, with some arriving intentionally in a fashionably late manner, your two-hour shower could easily be down to 1.5 hours or less by the time everyone arrives, socializes a little bit, and settles in. With the opening of gifts bound to take up at least 30-60 minutes (depending on the number of guests) a two-hour baby shower would leave another 30-60 minutes for games, raffles, and more socializing.
On the other hand, if there are many guests we’d advocate that a baby shower last closer to 3 or 4 hours. Again, while this might seem like a very long period of time we can’t count how many times we’ve heard and seen the host(s) bemoan how little time they have left or have to make adjustments on the fly as activities move slower or take much longer than originally planned. While this might seem like a long event, most guests when among friends and family will likely feel like it has passed far too quickly despite having been there for several hours. For these reasons and more we always recommend that hosts give themselves extra time than what they think they will need and strongly suggest that a 3 or 4-hour baby shower party is likely to be more successful than trying to do a very short one.
Since baby showers tend to last multiple hours, it is worth noting on the invitations as well as at the party itself that there is zero offense taken if guests are unable to stay for the entirety of the event. While most will enthusiastically stay for the duration, this takes the social pressure off those who are either on the fence about attending or who are nervous about leaving early due to time constraints. This way, everyone’s schedules are considered and as many people as possible are able to attend.
Given the longer time period required to host a baby shower, both the day and time of the shower is somewhat limited. We have most often seen baby showers thrown on weekdays starting around 6 or 7 pm and run until 9 or 10 pm. This day of the week and start time combination allows for husbands arriving home from work to watch other little ones, enough time to do dinner and prepare oneself to arrive on time, while also still respecting bedtime routines and those that may not be night owls. We’ve also seen in some cases Friday night used but this really depends on your potential guests and what that might look like for them.
Weekend baby showers have a bit more flexibility with at least one and in many cases two nearly complete days to host a shower. The most common times we’ve seen on both days is a mid or late morning (10 or 11 am) or early afternoon (1 or 2) start time. Once again, this allows for some sleeping in on either day, breakfast to be done with, guests to be up and ready for the day, or in the afternoon start time on either day for guests to attend church, sports games, and more while also having large chunks of time both before and after the shower so that they still have plenty of their own weekends available to themselves.
With all that said, we’d recommend that a baby shower last 2-4 hours, be held on a weekday night in the rough 6-10 pm window, or even better on a weekend day in a 10 am - 2 pm or 1 pm - 5 pm type of window.
As a baby shower host, choosing the duration, the time to start, and the best day of the week for a baby shower really depends on your guests. Is the group of people attending largely single and without kids? Is the group fellow moms with multiple children and busy “soccer mom” schedules? Are Saturdays or Sundays off-limits due to religious observance? Do most have babysitting options or support in the form of a spouse or local family members? All of these questions and more will go into the decision of when might be best to throw a baby shower.
Do Men Go To Baby Showers Or Are They Only For Females?
While there is nothing formally spoken or written about whether baby showers are for guys too, in our experience, they are almost always female-only events. Quite frankly, most guys really don’t have much desire to attend a baby shower and would rather watch a sports game or participate in their hobby of choice. Or, for many, it is their duty to watch the kids and play mom so that their better half can attend and enjoy herself without worrying about her kids.
Nonetheless, as noted above there are Jack and Jill or Co-ed baby showers that are specifically designed for a mixed group of guests and/or couples. In these cases, it sometimes turns into two separate large groups of people doing very different things or, as intended, the food, games, gift-giving, and all other activities are participated by all guests regardless of gender. There are, of course, also some rare instances where showers are thrown specifically for the men. Whether this can be called a “baby shower” is up for debate but we’ve definitely seen a “guy gathering” that may be thrown in addition or concurrent to their spouse's gathering as an opportunity to have fun and play games!
For most showers, delivering invites to specific people will make it clear that it is a female-only event. Significant others would do best to not assume they are invited unless the invitation clearly denotes that it is a co-ed event. On a similar note, we’ve attended many baby showers where daughters and nieces are invited to attend along with their moms. If you have a strong preference one way or the other regarding the attendance of younger female guests make sure to note as much on your invitations.
Who Plans and Hosts/Throws The Baby Shower?
Many of the other baby shower questions we’ve answered as part of this post are, at the end of the day, largely up to the baby shower host or mom-to-be. But when it comes to who throws the baby shower the etiquette is a bit more tricky and sometimes formal.
Let’s start with whether you can throw or plan your own baby shower. In almost all cases you should not throw your own baby shower. Not only is this a ton of work (and can cost quite a bit of money!) but it is mostly frowned upon from a social norm perspective. It’s just a bit off to invite a ton of people to a party to shower you with gifts. And this makes sense when compared to its closest comparison - birthday parties. Even with birthday parties, it is almost always the parent, a spouse, or a good friend that organizes and hosts a birthday party. So we’d recommend that you not throw your own baby shower.
If you’re not supposed to throw your own baby shower, but the gifts you would receive would be a huge - and in many cases, a needed - help, the next tricky consideration is whether you should ask someone to throw you a baby shower. Again, speaking from a social norms perspective, this can be a delicate thing to do since you’re approaching someone and asking them to throw you a baby shower that will take many hours of careful planning, cost them a decent amount of money, and then take another full day to pull it all off. If no one approaches you about throwing you a baby shower but you’d really like to have one our recommendation be that you only ask someone to do one for yourself if there is a very serious need for the gifts, you have a very, very good relationship with the person knowing they can keep it discreet that you initiated the request, and you know that the time and cost commitment won’t be too burdensome to them personally. If you can definitively say that these three things are good to go then you could ask that person, but if you want to strictly adhere to social norms we’d suggest that you not ask anyone to throw a baby shower for you.
Of course, the best-case scenario is that someone voluntarily approaches you and asks if they can host a baby shower for you. The only complicating factor in this best-case scenario is that there is some debate about who that person can be. There are some that contend that this person cannot be a family member in any way. If this is the case it is viewed much like hosting or planning your own shower and can be viewed as self-serving. To muddy the waters even more there are also people in the exact opposite camp who believe that it should only be, and would be the special privilege of, a family member (most often a sister, mom, or mother-in-law) to throw or host the baby shower for the mom-to-be.
Our opinion and suggested advice would be that if someone approaches you about throwing a baby shower and there is a real need for one then it shouldn’t matter if it is a family member, close friend, or otherwise. So long as you have not promised it to someone else, are not breaking a family or cultural tradition, and can navigate any tricky relationships with those who might also want to host/throw it if there are more than one, then the family vs. non-family debate is a non-starter in our opinion.
If you are approached by someone about having a party thrown for you and can navigate any special considerations the most important part is making sure that those who need a shower get one and time with loved ones is a priority in your busy schedule. Mission accomplished!
Who Pays For The Baby Shower?
As we’ve outlined elsewhere, baby showers can cost quite a bit of money (a big reason why asking someone to throw a baby shower for you is mostly frowned upon)! With the cost of baby showers well known, who pays for the baby shower? Is it like weddings where the accepted societal norm is that the bride’s parents are on the hook for the tab? Or other events across cultures where there is a clear precedent of who is paying for everything? In the case of baby showers, yes and no. Simply put, the person who volunteers to throw or host the baby shower is also taking on the responsibility to pay for all the costs associated with doing so. This is why the internet is full of articles and blog posts on the topic of affordable baby shower ideas, games, food, etc!
The most common approach we’ve seen to hosting or throwing a baby shower is for someone to take the lead but before approaching the mom-to-be to see if there are 1, 2, or multiple other people who want to help put on the baby shower. By doing so, the costs are then split across multiple people with one person taking the lead as the primary host of the baby shower. Likewise, we’ve also seen the host ask their close friends and family members to help in various small ways (contribute food, decorations, etc) to accomplish the same thing in defraying or splitting up some of the cost of paying for the baby shower.
Like weddings, we’ve seen everything from very simple to outright extravagant and unnecessary. Thus, we’d recommend that if you voluntarily step forward to throw or host a baby shower that you do so with the ability and willingness to take on the costs in a manner that fits both the mom-to-be and the guests that might attend.
Baby Shower Joy
We hope that these baby shower basics have been helpful! While this event can be a lot of work for the host(s) they are extremely helpful for the mom-to-be and always so much fun for the guests that set aside the time to spend with family and friends to celebrate the imminent arrival of a sweet little baby!