I’ve become a scold about baby showers.

“Don’t give stuff!” I admonish. “What a new mother really needs is practical assistance and emotional support. Give her a hot meal. Run an errand for her. Do her dishes. Listen to her.”

When I say this to my clients and other women who are already mothers, they love it. Their eyes get big, they lean in, and they say, “Yes. That!”

But when I talk to women who have not yet had their first baby, I’ve noticed they do not love it. They try politely to hide it, but their recoil is unmistakable: eyes narrow, forehead creases, torso tilts away.

I’m giving them kale when they expected cake.

I get it. When I look back on my own baby showers, I remember that I loved them: the gorgeous baby-themed decorations, the impossibly small and cute clothes, being made a fuss of and getting to celebrate my baby with other women, the cake. . . .

I’ve heard you, and I get it. No more throwing the baby out with the bathwater! In this post I offer suggestions for a baby shower in which the modern mother gets both what she wants and what she needs.


Right now the materials gifts, usually purchased from a shop registry, are the main event of the baby shower. We don’t have to abandon material gifts altogether. They can be helpful and, let’s face it: they’re adorable. However, when they headline the baby shower, the mother gets the message that, when it comes to raising a baby, gear is what matters. But really, she is what matters. Let’s refocus the baby shower to reflect that and to celebrate her.

Open material and service gifts at the same time. Ask invitees to commit to providing help to the new family in the form of a hot meal, chores done, or errands run. Designate one person to be in charge of this “Hot Meals and Help” registry. That person can consult with the expectant mother about what she wants and when, write commitments on a calendar for her, and be the single point of contact for coordination after the baby is born. Shower invitees can write their service gift on a card, to be opened at the same time as a material gift is opened. In this way, the gifts have equal weight.

Feast & Toast. Rather than eating while doing other things at the shower, make the food a sit down feast. She’ll do plenty of eating-as-she-can after the baby is born. Make her sit down and be fed during her baby shower. Ask the guests to prepare a brief story to share about how special the mother-to-be is and toast her. It is common for new mothers to feel overlooked after the baby arrives; this will help her remember how much she, too, is valued.

Make Something Together. Games are fun and make memories, but why not also make a meaningful keepsake for her? I suggest making a flag banner she can hang in the birth room and/or in the baby’s room: a visual reminder of the women who love her. Cut pastel-colored paper into triangles and onto one side your paper triangle, write a message of support (e.g., “You can do hard things”) on one side. On the other side write one thing you love about being a mother or about your mother. Attach the flags to twine with a mini clothes- or diaper pin and you have a banner to encourage the new mother any time.

So, go ahead! Indulge in the irresistible sweetness of new baby things, giddy party games, and the frothy girliness that we expect from baby showers. But don’t let it be all icing. Add in the nourishment of service gifts, feasting, toasting, and the making of an encouraging keepsake for the mother, and then! Then, my friend, you can have your cake.