A Complete Guide to Baby Shower Etiquette: Your Top Questions Answered

Who hosts a baby shower, and can you purchase off-registry? We've got expert-approved answers to your baby shower etiquette questions.

Baby showers celebrate one of life’s most joyous occasions, and they have come a long way from their humble origins. Bestowing baby gifts and baby shower wishes upon a mother-to-be began in the early 1900s, and naturally, baby shower etiquette has shifted and changed over time.

“The initial purpose for a baby shower is to support the future mother and baby through gifts and needed items,” says etiquette expert Maryanne Parker. “Today, the baby shower can have a different aspect beyond the financial and economic support. Sometimes, the main reason is gathering, celebrating and simply having fun.”

If you’ve recently been invited to a baby shower (or are about to host one), you might be wondering what new customs surround the traditional pre-baby get-together. Below, we’ll answer the most common questions about modern baby shower etiquette and what you should expect.

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Who is supposed to host a baby shower?

Traditionally, baby shower etiquette says that family members, such as aunts or cousins, should host the shower. Sometimes, co-workers might host something if the mom-to-be is lucky enough to have an office baby shower. Surprisingly, back in the day, it was not considered appropriate for immediate family to host a shower, but modern baby shower etiquette now dictates that it’s perfectly acceptable for a grandmother-to-be or aunt-to-be to assume hosting duties. “Today, baby showers can be hosted by anyone—although, hosting your own baby shower is not appropriate,” says Parker. “And based on the modern society we live in, baby showers can be attended by men as well.”

When should a baby shower be held?

In the U.S., baby showers are typically held before the birth of the baby. “The traditional time frame is four to six weeks before the baby is born,” notes Parker. However, in other cultures, it’s not uncommon for showers to be held after the mom-to-be gives birth.

Who should be invited to a baby shower?

This is truly a personal preference, but usually, immediate and (sometimes) extended family and close personal friends are invited to a baby shower. Co-workers can be invited as well. “We need to make sure the energy of the entire group is positive, excited and happy for the occasion,” Parker says.

When should baby shower invitations be sent?

Baby shower invitations should be sent four to six weeks in advance of the shower. Like wedding invite etiquette, you want to give your guests enough time to clear their schedule to attend or politely decline the invitation and appropriately send their RSVP to the host.

How long should a baby shower last?

Baby showers typically last a few hours and include a light meal, games for the guests and gift opening. “We have to be mindful not to overstay our welcome,” Parker notes. “And the host needs to make sure that the party is appropriately long because of the condition of the future mom-to-be.”

Who pays for a baby shower?

Baby shower etiquette dictates that the person (or group) who hosts the shower also pays for the shower.

Are gifts opened during a baby shower?

A mother opens a gift from her friends at a baby showerAnchiy/Getty Images

While it’s been customary to open gifts at the shower, it’s not always expected anymore. “The mom-to-be can open the gifts at the baby shower,” Parker notes. “But these days, it’s not necessary for the gifts to be opened at the shower. It is strictly an individual decision.” If the guest of honor would prefer not to open gifts at the shower, but would still like guests to be able to see them, an alternative is letting guests know it will be a display shower and they should “display” gifts or wrap them in clear cellophane. This way, gifts can be viewed easily and the mom-to-be can skip the long gift-opening session, if they prefer.

Are favors required for a baby shower?

Party favors are a thoughtful (and fun!) way to show appreciation to your guests for attending your gathering, and baby shower favors are no exception. “The favors don’t need to be expensive and big—even the smallest, cute little thing from a baby shower can bring a smile to the guest even after the party,” says Parker.

Should a baby shower have a theme?

While not mandatory, who doesn’t love a good party theme? “It is a personal choice,” Parker says. “A theme is very helpful for the guests, for the host and for the mom-to-be to navigate the party.” It might be helpful for guests choosing items like stuffed animals or color-coordinated non-registry items that might match a nursery or party decor.

Should you always purchase from the registry?

Similar to a wedding registry, a baby shower registry is a guide for loved ones looking to buy the parents-to-be a gift. It is very considerate to take the registry into account—after all, the gifts have been researched and included for a reason. But you can always go off-registry, Parker says. “Many people will tell you that the most appropriate thing is to consider the registry, but only a certain percent of people truly go through the registry. Any beautiful and thoughtful gift will be appreciated.”

Need some gift inspiration? The most needed gifts tend to be diapers and wipes, bath supplies, on-the-go gear and more. If you’re buying baby clothes, consider purchasing in larger sizes—you don’t know how big the baby will be at birth, and little ones tend to outgrow clothes quickly. And of course, don’t forget gifts for the mom-to-be! A spa session or postpartum recovery kit could be a nice option.

What’s a sprinkle, and who can have one?

A sprinkle is a “term we use when hosting a smaller and less formal gathering for a pregnant person who is expecting their second or third child,” says Parker. “It’s a less elaborate celebration with family and friends with a casual flair.”

About the expert

  • Maryanne Parker is the founder and executive director of Manor of Manners, a company that specializes in luxury etiquette teachings. She has almost a decade of experience in helping the interests of luxury brands, businesses and individuals. She is also the author of two books, The Sharpest Soft Skill and Posh Overnight.


  • HuffPost: “Baby Showers, Now and Then”

Alexandra Kelly
Alex Kelly is a writer and editor based in New York's Hudson Valley. She has been an editor for U.S. News and World Report, Reader's Digest and The Huffington Post, covering everything from lifestyle to commerce content. Alex graduated with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Religious Studies from New York University. When she's not writing or editing, Alex loves to practice yoga, run after her toddler and bury her head in a good book.