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Nancy Mattia
Contributing Writer

How To Plan An Awesome Baby Shower

Throwing a baby shower? With our guide to shower planning and etiquette, it’ll be a piece of cake.

Your pal is inching closer to her due date, which means it’s shower time! Even if you’ve never decorated in pink or blue or bought anything with little yellow ducks, you can totally pull this off. Get organized with our guide to planning the perfect baby shower, including tips and tricks for invitations, venue, decor, menu, games and activities. Think of this as your ultimate playbook for creating a customized baby shower with all the right personal touches. Let’s get this party started!

What is a baby shower?
This tradition, which became popular during the postwar baby boom of the 1940s and ’50s, is an opportunity for you and the expectant mom’s community of close friends and family to celebrate new beginnings, share parenting wisdom and help make a dent in the haul of essentials that the new mom will need once baby arrives.

Who should throw the baby shower?
Anyone who’s close to the mom-to-be can host the baby shower. That means a friend, coworker, neighbor, sister, sister-in-law, aunt or even mom. Feel free to break that old baby shower etiquette rule that a family member shouldn’t host because it might look like a grab for gifts—it won’t. It’s still considered uncool for an expectant mom to host a shower for herself, though. If it’s too much for one person to take on, team up with friends or coworkers to share the planning and expenses.

When should you have a baby shower?
Hosting a baby shower when the mom-to-be is 28 to 35 weeks pregnant is ideal, because she’s still feeling energetic and has a cute, manageable bump. The later the party is held, the bigger the belly, the more uncomfortable she may feel, and the greater the risk of her water breaking just as dessert is being served! An earlier date also gives her time to exchange duplicate gifts (no one needs four mobiles), fill in what’s missing and organize the nursery with all her new gear.

How long are baby showers?
A baby shower usually runs two to three hours, with the meal and opening of gifts taking up the bulk of the time.

Where should you hold a baby shower?
Popular spots are private homes, restaurants, church halls and tea rooms. A private home has the advantage of keeping costs down, especially if you use your own dishes, says Los Angeles party planner Mindy Weiss. That’s a significant consideration, since the host(s) will be picking up the tab for the shower. One place to avoid is the home of the expectant mom, because she’ll invariably end up answering the door and checking that everyone has a drink. Let the guest of honor truly be a guest, and host the party elsewhere.

When should the mom-to-be register?
Suggest that your friend wait to register until she’s about 12 weeks pregnant, when the risk of miscarriage drops significantly (it’s hard to hold out that long, we know!). This also gives her plenty of time to figure out which items are essential (crib sheets, a diaper bag, bibs) and which she can skip (wipe warmer, tiny sneakers). If she wants some items to fit the baby’s gender but doesn’t know it yet, she can always add them after learning the sex of the baby at the 20-week ultrasound. At Registry.TheBump.com, she’ll find all her favorite retailers in one place and can browse through over 1,500 baby items as she puts together her registry. Plus, you can conveniently share a single link to all her various registries in the invitations to your party guests.

Who do you invite to a baby shower?
Who you invite to the baby shower depends on the type of party you want: a female-only affair where the women can be raunchy and honest (labor stories! Anecdotes involving poop!) or something more like a cocktail party with men and women? Also, think about the father-to-be: Would he enjoy socializing and opening baby gifts in front of his guy pals, or would he rather just show up at the party’s end to haul the loot home? Assuming the party is not a surprise, ask the guest of honor to supply an invite list with names and contact info. (Make sure to get email addresses even if you send printed invitations, so you can follow up easily on late RSVPs.) If you have to cap the guest list for space or budget reasons, ask the mom-to-be to stay within that number.

When do you send baby shower invites?
Baby shower etiquette calls for sending invitations four weeks before the get-together, which gives guests plenty of time to shop for a gift and, if necessary, get time off from work and make travel and child-care arrangements. The baby shower invite should include the name of the mom-to-be and host(s); party date, time and venue; RSVP contact; and registry info. It’s perfectly okay to skip the formal card and go right to a digital invite like Paperless Post or Evite, but if you do, assign someone to get in touch with any guests who don’t use email (there’s always one!). There’s no need to send a save-the-date since it’s not a formal occasion. And it probably goes without saying, but never publicly post an invitation on social media. You can use a private Facebook message to get an email or snail mail address as long as you follow up with a proper invitation.

What are some good themes for a baby shower?
Generic pastel pinks? Snore! The best theme has a personal connection to your guest of honor, whether she’s into horses, woodland creatures, polka dots, purple, Dr. Seuss or Taylor Swift. Some ideas for inspiration:

Classic children’s books are a favorite among celebs. Jessica Simpson had a Charlotte's Web theme, complete with a picket fence and carnival tent, for her shower when pregnant with daughter Maxwell. Her sister Ashlee’s theme was Winnie the Pooh when pregnant with son Bronx. “We had an amazing beehive at the entrance to the party,” says Weiss, who planned both baby fetes. If your theme is based on a book, consider asking guests to bring a children’s book with a handwritten message inside in place of a card.

Motifs from nature—safaris, owls, birds, ducks or elephants—offer a lot of options. At Alyssa Milano’s floral-themed shower, guests wore flowery crowns and ate cupcakes decorated with butterflies. Blake Lively’s shower had a rustic fall theme with metallic-coated apples and an Into the Woods–type outdoor setting. Check out other celebrity baby bashes for more A-list baby shower theme ideas.

A favorite film, play or TV show can make a shower classic or contemporary. Kevin Jonas’s wife, Danielle, celebrated impending motherhood at a Mary Poppins–style party, complete with centerpieces shaped like umbrellas. Another popular pop-culture theme is Disney faves, especially classic characters like Mickey and Minnie. Or just go all Hollywood and make the mom-to-be feel like a red-carpet-worthy star.

Color alone can carry the theme. But instead of the usual pastel hues, try bold yellows, black and white, or lavender and green for a sophisticated twist on tradition.

A theme based on a hobby or special interest of the expectant mom’s shows you know what she loves. Think nautical, world travel, eco-consciousness, exotic flowers, yoga, country music, modern art or whatever piques her interest. For more decorating inspiration, search “baby shower decorations” on Etsy, Pinterest and The Bump.

What do you serve at a baby shower?
Since most showers are afternoon affairs, keep the menu light and flavorful. Savory tarts, quiches, salads, soups and pasta dishes go over well, as do finger foods such as crudités and dip, bruschetta, stuffed mushrooms and deviled eggs. Since the guest of honor (and any other pregnant women at the shower) won’t be drinking alcohol, consider serving a mocktail that’s just as appealing as the real thing. Think light, fruity and colorful.

What do you do at a baby shower?
Yes, eating, drinking and opening gifts are the main event, but games and activities give your shower personality and make it more meaningful and fun. You might ask guests to bring a piece of advice specific to this shower—for example, about having a boy, having twins or having a baby in the city. Or maybe each guest brings in a bucket list for baby’s first year. A big trend these days is a gender-reveal surprise, where the mom-to-be opens a box filled with colored balloons and everyone gets to watch the pink or blue balloons float into the air. Then there are games like baby bingo, where guests fill in a card of bingo-like squares with gifts they predict you’ll receive. As presents are opened, players check off the corresponding squares. Whoever gets the first bingo wins. Or let everyone get their craft on by decorating plain white onesies with washable markers. What a way to give baby a custom wardrobe!

Do you have to have party favors at a baby shower?
No one will be scandalized if you skip this step, but it’s nice to send guests off with a small token of your appreciation, especially if it suits your theme—whether it’s a single scrumptious French macaron or mini bottle of nail polish in your shower hue, honeycomb soap for your bumblebee motif or a bag of flavored popcorn for a Hollywood movie theme. There’s no need to spend more than $2 to $3 per person.

Can you have a baby shower for a second or third baby?
Why not? All new life is worth celebrating. A baby shower for a second or third child, sometimes called a sprinkle, is especially appropriate if there’s a big age gap between the expectant mom’s children or if she’s having a baby of a different gender this time around. And if Mom is well stocked on baby gear but you still want to throw a party, consider having guests bring small, practical gifts like diapers, wipes and pacifiers.