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Set the Date
A baby shower is a time to celebrate new life and share advice on parenting. Get ideas for invitations, decor, food, and activities -- plus gift suggestions for the new mom.
Anyone from a family member to a coworker can host the event, which is usually held during the last two months of pregnancy. Some couples, however, hesitate to stock a nursery before the child has arrived, and some like to hold out until the baby can be the guest of honor. Ask the couple if they would prefer a pre- or post-birth shower.
Photography: JONNY VALIANT2 of 12
Pick a Host
It is said that the mother or sister of the mother-to-be should not host the shower, since it will look like she is soliciting gifts, but this is an area in which etiquette has relaxed. As with bridal showers, baby showers today can certainly be coed, so the father-to-be and his friends can join in the celebration as well.
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Showers for Baby Siblings
Traditionally, etiquette holds that a shower for a mother expecting her second -- or third or fourth -- child is a smaller party than the one given in honor of the first child, and includes only immediate family and very close friends. After having their first child, a couple is generally assumed to have most of the items they need, and their friends should not feel pressured to buy gift after gift. But if it has been several years since the birth of the first child, or if the couple already has a boy and knows they're having a girl (or vice versa), they will certainly need some new things.
Photography: ANNA WILLIAMS4 of 12
Get the Word Out
Although a phone call can be sufficient invitation, written ones are more in keeping with the momentousness of the event. Invitations should be sent at least three weeks in advance to an intimate number of friends and family members. The parents-to-be can help make the guest list so that no one is forgotten. Also, decide if men and children will be welcome. Traditionalists prefer a women-only event, while modernists believe that the father should be invited.
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If champagne is good enough for christening the Queen Mary, it's good enough for a baby's maiden voyage, too. Cocktails like this fruity, frozen delight or a more classic libation are also celebratory and we have plenty of tempting mocktails.
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Photography: JONNY VALIANT6 of 12
Choose a Menu
Shower horror stories tend to center on intricate yet tasteless finger foods. Rather, rich, full-bodied options set the right tone for an event celebrating the start of a rich, full life. Keep last-minute work to a minimum by choosing foods that are easy to prepare and can be eaten out of hand at room temperature -- cheese-and-vegetable tarts, grilled-chicken salads, homemade pizzas, fruit or green salads. There's no shame in potluck, either, particularly if each guest brings a dish for which she or her local gourmet store is famous.
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Let's Play a Game
Gift opening is the main event, but another activity can enliven the gathering. It can tie into the theme (bingo for a polka-dot-themed party), serve as a way to educate the mom-to-be, or simply provide entertainment. Try this activity: Guests write their favorite names for boys and girls on slips of paper that are dropped in jars for the parents' consideration.
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Babies are such bundles of yet-to-be-realized possibility that making the perfect gift can seem daunting. The first word of wisdom: Serving as a clearinghouse for gifts is one of the nicest presents you can give. Even the most general advice (practical versus cute, for example) can be invaluable.
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Martha's Gift Ideas
One of Martha's favorite gifts for a pre-birth baby shower is a European goose-down comforter and pillow. For parties held after the baby is born, she likes presenting the infant with engraved calling cards that the child can then slip into thank-you notes and such for years to come.
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For most of us, though, buying the perfect gift for a person too young to have likes or dislikes can be difficult. "When people feel intimidated, we tell them to think of their favorite nursery rhyme," says Paulette Cole, creative director of ABC Carpet & Home, a New York City store that sells creative toys, clothes, and nursery furnishings. "If it's Goldilocks, for example, they give three little bears. That gives them a direction to go in."
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Anything with a history is always a hit. "My mother-in-law gave our son a wonderful gift -- my husband's engraved baby silver and my husband's father's silver baby cup," says Dorothy Kalins, an editor in New York City. Handmade baby books, photo albums, and time capsules for commemorating the child's fleeting babyhood are also always appreciated.
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A group gift can be greater than its parts: A nursery library is born when guests bring copies of their favorite childhood books. Invitees might contribute a patch to a memory quilt, to be assembled by a handy member of the group or a professional quilt maker. In many cities, friends can get together at do-it-yourself ceramics stores to hand-paint a set of baby china. Carol Shufro, a New York jewelry designer, plans to start a charm bracelet for her niece, and to ask all shower guests to bring charms. Finally, remember that big-ticket presents -- a pricey-but worth-it stroller, a car seat, a Port-a-Crib -- may seem short on sentiment, but they'll endear you to the parents on a daily basis.