/ Parenting

The British baby shower – will you give it a ‘wide-birth’?

Pregnant woman prepares for baby shower

Americans celebrate lots of occasions, including the arrival of a new child. Do you think there’s a place for baby showers in our British celebrations, or is the increase in baby shower gift lists just another commercial ploy?

A very close friend of mine is due to have a baby in the upcoming weeks.

Within a few months of her announcing her pregnancy a number of people asked whether we’d be throwing a baby shower for her.

Sheepishly we came forward to do the honours – a little nervous that we had a) not organised a baby shower before and b) not even been to one!

If you’re not familiar with the concept (I wasn’t until the weekend just gone) it’s essentially a small girl-only gathering for close friends and family to toast in the new arrival, spoil the mother-to-be and help kit out the new parents.

UK shops offer baby shower gift lists

Here comes the slightly controversial bit – do you organise a baby shower gift list? A number of outlets organise such lists, including Mamas & Papas, Mothercare and Toys R Us.

Sure, setting up an official list with a retailer can seem a little pretentious. But lots of people asked if they could buy something that would be really helpful for the parents-to-be; something they really needed.

So, rather than setting up an official list with a retailer, I asked the mother-to-be for a list of basics she needed – nappies, muslins etc. I then included a note on the invite so people could contact me if they wanted to buy something from this informal list.

Ticking off the present list

Now, this kind of concept only works if people tell you what they plan to buy so you can cross it off the list.

As it happened only two people did this, so I was none the wiser as to who had bought what. Of course, an ‘official list’ would solve this problem, but that might make your friends and family feel obliged to stick to the items on that list.

Would you be put off by an official gift list for a parents-to-be baby shower? Or would such a list make you feel happier that you were getting something they really needed?

Would you buy a gift off a baby shower list?

No, parents buy too much, we should encourage hand-me-downs (48%, 56 Votes)

No, I’d like my gift to be a surprise (25%, 29 Votes)

Yes, even if it is through an official retail outlet (15%, 17 Votes)

Yes, only if it’s an informal list (13%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 118

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Sophie Gilbert says:
8 March 2012

The British baby shower – will I give it a ‘wide-birth’? Love the pun! But yeeeeeeess!!! Providence preserve me from such a thing!!!

Things haven’t changed much in over six decades. According to my mother’s notes I received a pram from grandparents, savings certificates from uncles and aunts, a shawl, woollies, pulp bath [forerunner of polythene], potty, bucket and basket from neighbours, and a pram cover from friends in Canada. At six weeks I also received two large tins of National Dried Milk [I still have one of the tins and some unused clothing coupons in my ration book]. OK; since you ask . . . it was 1947. There, my secret’s out!

Sophie Gilbert says:
9 March 2012

My mother, born in 1942, was a war orphan (her father was made prisonner, taken to Germany and died there in 1944) and as such she received parcels from America for years, and in those parcels were second-hand clothes among other things. She still remembers a lovely polka dot skirt she adored and wore out!

She wasn’t a baby anymore when she became an orphan, but those hand-me-downs she received (and America as a whole) are forever in her heart, and in those of her children on her behalf. There was nothing commercial about the parcels, no retailer intermediaries, no official list, no discriminatory girl-only party (I can just imagine the shrieks too, cor blimey, I’ll never go to one of those things), just friendship and generosity. Just like the bucket and basket from John Ward’s neighbours.

I couldn’t resist coming back to comment on this one! Charlotte, watch out, you’ll be setting a precedent with this first baby shower – and as all your friends start to reproduce the same will be expected for them – so don’t set the bar too high!

I’ve been to loads of baby showers but have to admit I’ve never heard of a list in a shop – it feels a bit commercial to me, even if it is more practical. To me, they’re more about getting girl friends together one last time before the baby’s born. We usually all bring small gifts and do nice cakes etc but don’t go too mad. A few times we’ve sometimes clubbed together to make up a box of essentials – which is probably the most useful gift you could give a new mum.

I’m glad that the craze only seems to apply to baby number one though – would be a bit much to do it every time a new one comes along!

Spirited says:
9 March 2012

I’m currently 7 months pregnant with my first child and am in the process of navigating through the world of baby “kit”. I have been mesmerised by the quantity of equipment that is thrust at you as “essential” and think that retailers manipulate people into believing spending excessively is essential to be considered a good parent. I have been lucky enough to inherit a pretty large quantity of stuff from my sister who had her baby 9 months ago. The grandparents have bought larger ticket items such as a new cot and car seat and continue to turn up with packets of sleep suits and hand knitted items which I am very grateful for. Other than that my husband and I have tried to re-work and re-use items of furntiure that we already have or have bought items second hand ( I am seriously not paying £800 for a “buggy and travel system” despite the fact we could afford it) I think it’s great that friends and family want to help out and buy items but I would never expect anyone to throw a “baby shower” for me. It’s one thing to have a little party but quite another to send out a gift list.. it places far too much pressure on people who may already be finacially stretched .If someone sent an invite to me with a gift list I’d think they were an obnoxious, materialistic simpleton!

Spirited says:
9 March 2012

Sorry last sentence a little harsh maybe? 😉 I’m sure you catch my drift!

B Summers says:
9 March 2012

A baby shower can be a really fun occasion for mum-to-be and her girlfriends. It should not be so much about the gifts, and definitely no gift list! You should give little gifts that mum may not have thought about and play games, like trying to guess the day and weight of the baby when it arrives, sharing advice etc. At my baby shower, a friend organised everyone to decorate a baby grow with permanent fabric pens and sign them – a real treasure!

Jen says:
11 March 2012

Im quite surprised you’ve only recently discovered baby showers (unless your friends have only just started having babies). They’ve been around in this country for quite a few years now – I attended my first in 2001 and organised my first in 2004. After countless years of throwing them for others, gift-list buying, baby quizzes, making nappy cakes, etc, needless to say I am officially over the whole affair as they do become quite monotonous. Everyone seems to buy baby shower bits from the same online supplier or download games from the same free baby shower games website. What I can say is having an official list (from Mothercare, John Lewis’, Argos, wherever) is a great way of helping out new parents and for the organisers keeping track of what’s been bought. It seems a little impersonal at first, but add a heartfelt note and be comforted by the genuine joy felt by mummy-to-be when she opens her gift (which she probably needed hence why it’s on the list). Also, baby showers can be the perfect occasion to catch up with old friends and have a bit of silly, girlie fun, while giving advice and support to the expectant mum. My only dilemma now is how to convince my expectant sister that Im not throwing her a baby shower, but will hold a ‘Blessingway’ instead. Now that’s the latest American phenomenon which you’ll be writing about in a few years to come. 😉

It is a pity that the babies at the centre of all this attention are likely to have both parents at work in a few years’ time. Is it not time to reject all this commercialism and go back to bringing up children properly. Focus on spending time with them rather than spending money on them, from birth and through their school years.

With current unemployment levels, having one parent at home is not a bad idea. Job sharing is another way of keeping both parents in employment and giving them more time to spend with their children.

Ally Atkins says:
12 March 2012

Hi, I had to comment on this thread because I own a unique British baby shower company. It’s really interesting reading the comments and people’s thoughts on baby showers. When I set my company up back in 2005 I was really keen to create baby showers that focus on the mother-to-be and her support network. I pictured girlie gatherings, getting friends and family together to have a few giggles over tea and cake and share some advice, hints and tips. The vast majority of my customers have these toned-down style events. The best present you can give is a Baby Shower Advice book, which the mother to be can keep and treasure. If you can’t think of any advice to give then simply offer some baby sitting so the new parents can have an evening out – “my advice to you is to call me when you need someone to watch over baby while you enjoy a night out!” Presents like this mean much more than bibs and babygrows. Baby showers don’t need to be about daft games and kitting the new parents out with their hearts desires. It’s all about the support network and getting your friend / family member ready for motherhood. As all mums know, it ain’t easy!

[Hello Ally, we’ve edited your comment slightly as we don’t allow self-promotion. Thanks, mods.]

Im due in a few weeks and had a few occasions organised for me by friends / colleagues for the purpose of spoiling me with gifts for the baby and me (yes its my first). They were low key. The colleagues one was a surprise lunch and included 2 males with no organised gift list, but a colleague did drop into conversation before hand – did I have everything / was there anything I needed to get. I received mothercare vouchers and individual gifts. I was really touched by the effort my work mates went to. The other event was a few close girlfriends who arranged a pamper evening with gifts and treatments for me. Again I was really touched. Neither were officially called a baby shower but there is no other term that we have in the UK (that im aware of) to call it. I didnt have an official gift list and I wouldnt have felt comfortable setting one up. Nothing wrong with vouchers to be put towards something we really need. I also wouldnt have felt comfortable asking someone to arrange an official baby shower for me (if thats whats meant to happen). I think someone needs to invent a UK version which differs from the USA version, and within which its ok to give bundles of second hand baby things. I was given lots of things second hand, and have bought a lot second hand, but I dont thing that would be considered to be the done thing at a baby shower as they stand.