While it might feel like an ancient tradition to modern generations, the baby shower is in fact a recent development in America, going back really only until early in the last century. By convention, the baby shower is a celebration meant to help the expectant mother prepare and stock up for the baby's needs, as each guest brings something beneficial such as a layette or other form of baby care supplies. While the baby shower in its most traditional sense is held three to five months before the baby's birth, some cultures insist the shower be held only after the baby is safely delivered.  The Jewish tradition, for example, typically holds that nothing should be bought for the baby before it is born, to avoid bad luck. Other religious groups, both in the United States and abroad, share this idea, believing that celebrating the baby's birth in advance encourages miscarriages or stillbirths. Just the same, in recent years the baby shower has become more popular than ever, fueled in part by better media coverage of the tradition and by a wider range of decorations and by restaurants and businesses offering to host baby shower events.

    Baby showers have also recently become very popular in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, though the guest lists in those regions remain strictly female. In India, a Hindu ceremony very similar to a baby shower is held in the seventh month of pregnancy. Gifts are given to the parents as well as for the baby, and both male and female guests are usually invited. Within the United States, some minority groups hold baby showers meant to celebrate the baby's heritage and to bring gifts that accentuate the group's culture.

    In America, the baby shower typically takes the form of an afternoon party or luncheon, with the expectant mother's female relatives and close friends attending. There is also sometimes a separate, additional shower held for coworkers and acquaintances. The shower's hostess should ideally be a non-relative, so as not to give the appearance that the family is soliciting gifts from friends. Though not strictly customary, the baby shower is sometimes held by the woman chosen as the baby's godmother, if the parents elect to choose godparent roles from among their friends and relatives. While in times past the shower's guests have included only women, in America in recent times that rule has expanded to include male friends and relatives, too. Other forms of baby showers include the "daddy's shower," held for the father and his male friends to celebrate the upcoming birth; grandmother showers, thrown in anticipation of the birth and including items and gifts meant to be used when the baby visits, such as extra diapers, a changing station, and possibly a portable crib; and a diaper shower, in which the always-welcome gift of diapers is stockpiled for the new mother.

    A hostess planning a baby shower has her choice of several locations. While the shower is usually held in her home, some more fashion-conscious showers are held in a restaurant or even in the form of a spa day, where the mother and her guests can relax and enjoy a day of pampered luxury. The food served is light and casual, similar to a light feminine lunch: vegetable appetizers, small finger foods, and possibly a crisp white wine for guests. The theme is fairly straightforward, but can be embellished with any number of charming ideas, such as nursery rhymes or teddy bears and stuffed animals, as a delightful way of celebrating the baby's first months. 

An idea for gift-giving is for the hostess to assign a gift to each guest, so that the total gift treasury includes many different items for the new mother, without repetition. Hostesses might even set up an online registry via email or personal web page, where guests can sign up in advance to give a certain gift. Gifts given by relatives and close friends, of course, will most likely take a more intimate form than gifts given by co-workers and acquaintances. Such presents might include personalized or engraved baby shower gifts such as monogrammed clothes; or keepsake mementoes for use around the nursery, including piggy banks, toys, or bookends.

In return for all these gifts, the guests are usually given baby shower favors as a gesture of appreciation. The favor is usually something small in size but with enough elegance and craftsmanship to convey the hostess' and mothers' gratitude. Baby shower favors are ideally something the guests can use and enjoy for themselves, such as gourmet candy, gift soaps, or decorative candles. The favor may also take the form of a more cosmopolitan gift of compact mirrors, manicure kits, or souvenir tote bags and purses. As a rule, the size and level of the favor should complement the formality of the shower itself. For an elaborate luncheon for the baby shower, the favor should take the form of the cosmetics or gourmet candy. If the shower is simply a few friends getting together to celebrate and exchange gifts, a candle baby shower favor or even decorative mint tins will make lovely favors.

Finally, as with any other party, invitations should be sent out at least two to three weeks in advance, so that guests have time to plan and find their gift and make arrangements to their schedule. Whenever possible, the hostess should coordinate with the guest of honor to compile a list of guests, from which she can then begin to organize or assign gift-giving responsibilities. The hostess, of course, should be prepared to patiently negotiate with some guests when coordinating the gifts, and be sensitive to each guest's feelings and expectations regarding the shower. Nevertheless, she can remember that her efforts are for the good of a new family, and take great satisfaction in staging a memorable time the mother will remember in years to come.