These days it feels like my mailbox is filling up with more tiny elephants and pastel-colored bunnies than wedding bells and cream-colored lace. And since I know I must not be alone, I wanted to tackle the topic of baby shower etiquette today.
Many of you might be new to “baby shower season,” and are blissfully unaware that there is an entirely different set of rules when celebrating a mama-to-be. Luckily, I’m here to help you to avoid all the baby shower faux pas’ that I made the mistake of making (over and over and over again).
Today’s modern family isn’t necessarily traditional: it can be a two working parent household or have a stay-at-home dad; it can be two moms or two dads; it can be adoptive parents or a surrogate pregnancy—and everything in between. That being said, the rules that applied for your mother and grandmother’s baby shower aren’t the same ones we use for modern parents. Check out my updated etiquette guide below, whether you’re a host, guest of honor, or a party guest…
For the Host or Guest of Honor
1. You Brought a Boy…to a Baby Shower!
More than ever, many dads-to-be are taking active roles not just in the caretaking of a new baby, but also in the pregnancy and delivery. When I was pregnant, my husband was incredibly hands-on and eager to celebrate our baby, so we decided to invite all our friends and family—men and women—to the shower. New parents should be surrounded by the people they love…regardless of gender.
While we’re talking guest lists, I have to mention that baby showers should be kid-friendly events. Once your new little human comes into the world, you too will know the pain of finding a babysitter. Plus, asking parents to leave their baby at home so they can celebrate your baby may not go over so well. I waffled myself on whether I wanted an “adults only” shower, but ultimately I decided that it had be family-friendly. It can seem like a drag, because you may need to alter the event to accommodate children, but just trust me on this one.
2. To Register or Not to Register…
People have strong opinions about a baby shower registry, so here’s mine: Every new parent should create a baby registry and put absolutely everything on there. I used to be appalled when I saw a friend who had registered for a breast pump or nipple shields—like, really?!?—but what I didn’t realize is that most stores offer “registry completion” discounts after the date of the event. Traditional etiquette dictates that parents-to-be leave off big-ticket items as not to offend gift-buying guests with the suggestion. But strollers are expensive—and 20 percent off can be a real savings. In my experience, people know their gift-giving price range before wandering on to a registry, so it’s safe to assume they won’t be guilted into purchasing a $300 crib mattress.
If you’re hosting a baby shower, my advice is to ask the guest of honor if she (or he!) has a preference on whether the registry info should appear on the invitation. Nowadays registry information is usually just a Google search or a phone call away, so I think it’s safe to leave it off. No one will get offended if you don’t include it, while some guests may bristle at seeing it printed on a card or listed on an e-vite. Keep in mind that baby showers are celebrations, and not required gift-giving events.
3. You Can Serve Sushi…and Wine!
If the shower is celebrating an expectant mama, it’s important to keep in mind the laundry list of foods that pregnant women are advised to avoid (deli and cured meats, raw fish, soft cheeses, runny egg yolk, etc.). While you should plan on serving lots of pregnancy-friendly fare, that doesn’t mean you can’t also offer guests a beautiful artisanal cheese and charcuterie board, or a platter of fresh sushi (including a few veggie rolls). The point is… don’t feel beholden to any one rule. In that same vein, just because the mama-to-be may not be drinking, that doesn’t mean your guests wouldn’t enjoy a glass of bubbly. Perhaps skip the full bar, but offering wine and beer (in addition to a festive mocktail) is a nice touch. Some expectant mamas may even want to indulge on a few sips of champagne! I know I did.
4. Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Baby Game.
For the host, my only advice is to be considerate of your guest of honor as well as your guests. Before I had a baby, I never knew what to offer as “advice to the new mom” and would end up writing something like “enjoy every moment!” As an expectant mama, I did not want anyone cutting a string to guess how large my stomach was (I was already self conscious enough). And most importantly, I have yet to meet a party guest who loves the idea of eating chocolate out of a diaper.
If you’re like me and not a fan of the standard fare, you can opt for a less traditional game (in Celebrate, we offered guests an opportunity to make fresh flower hair combs) or even skip the game altogether—you’re by no means obligated to have one, and I have a feeling no one is going to be that bummed.
5. It’s Your Party…You Can Unwrap if You Want to!
While I usually have no problem being the center of attention, when it comes to showers, I get anxiety just thinking about a room full of people watching me unwrap a heap of glistening presents. During my bridal shower, I spent the entire time panicking about my reaction and whether I seem excited or grateful enough, and then ended up overcompensating with a crazy smile. Needless to say, for my baby shower, I chose not to open presents in front of guests. (It didn’t hurt that half the guest list were men who didn’t necessarily want to coo over baby onesies.) A handful of friends asked me to open their presents with them because it was something special or humorous, and we were able to enjoy that little moment together…without a roomful of onlookers.
For the Party Guest
1. Don’t Touch “The Bump”
I understand the temptation. I love a baby bump as much as the next girl, and spent most of my life freely putting my hands on perfect strangers, but I’ve since learned its not very polite. Whether at a shower or just in everyday life, don’t jsut assume that you’re allowed to touch someone’s belly. It wasn’t until I was expecting that I realized how much it bothered me. While navigating the casino floor at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, I nearly dove into a craps table to avoid being touched by one well-meaning casino staffer. I couldn’t help but think about all the germy chips she’d been handling (you know they’re not sanitizing those things). If you’re so inclined to touch the bump, ask the mama-to-be first. Chances are she’ll give you the green light and appreciate you asking. (This does raise a rather serious question: Who goes to Vegas while pregnant? Apparently, me.)
2. Be Careful What You Ask for…Or About
Looking back, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I asked a pregnant friend seemingly harmless questions like: “Are you going to breastfeed?” or “Will you try for a second right away?” And I never even thought twice about asking: “Was this a surprise or had you been trying for a while?”
Like pre-baby me, you might be reading this and thinking, What’s the big deal? People need to lighten up. Listen closely…STOP IT RIGHT NOW. You can’t ask this stuff! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more aware that everyone’s journey to baby is different (and for some, very difficult). For many expectant parents, their paths and the decisions they’re making may be a very personal, so it’s best to be sensitive that. If they want to share, they will. And this really should go without saying (even if you’ve never been around a pregnant woman before), but you should never, ever say any variation of “Wow, you’ve gotten so big!” The same applies to: “You look ready to pop,” “You’re only six months?” or what my husband routinely said, “You’re really guttin’ out.” Unless you’re the type of person who likes to make pregnant women cry, in which case, go for it.
3. If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…Drink Champagne and Smile.
It’s common practice now for many new families to wait until the baby arrives to share his or her name…and this is because people haven’t learned to keep their opinions to themselves. If a parent-to-be has decided to share the baby’s name with you, it’s best to be supportive, even if you don’t necessarily like it. I’m not telling you to lie…actually, yes I am. Tell him or her the name is beautiful, and move on. The new parents love the name and that’s all that matters. My husband and I had always dreamed of naming our daughter Ruby, until we made the mistake of telling my sister. Long story short, “Ruby” ended up in the discard pile, along with “Apollonia” (what is it with guys and The Godfather?).
At the end of the day, as a party guest, you just need to be considerate. Pregnancy and impending parenthood can make even the most secure women (and men!) self-conscious, nervous and more sensitive than usual. Baby showers are all about celebrating these people, so it’s our job to make them feel as wonderful and comfortable as possible.
Do you have any baby showers coming up?
I hope this little etiquette guide helped!
Photo: Yoni Goldberg Photography/Celebrate