More and more mothers-to-be on this side of the Atlantic are throwing American-style baby showers to celebrate their forthcoming arrival. Lisa Salmon asks what these often extravagant parties are all about ONCE the preserve of pregnant US housewives and celebrities, it seems the trend for baby showers has crossed the pond.
Increasing numbers of ordinary mums-to-be are hosting the parties to herald the imminent arrival of a new baby - research suggests that 14 per cent of women in Britain have attended a baby shower in
the past year, and a number of baby-shower companies selling tableware and gifts for the events have sprung up on the internet.
The parties, which are normally afternoon events held between weeks 25 and 35 of pregnancy, often have a pink or blue theme and involve a mum-to-be's usually female friends showering her with gifts.
This month reality TV star Kim Kardashian, pictured, became the latest pregnant celebrity to host a baby shower, when she invited 50 guests to a friend's Beverly Hills mansion, and mingled with them in garden marquees full of flowers.
While Kardashian, who is expecting her baby next month, asked for donations to charity from her guests, research by website VoucherCodes.co.uk found that women in Britain and Northern Ireland now spend £220 million attending baby showers each year - equating to £50 per woman, per shower.
And one in eight even claim to spend more than £100 gearing up for a friend's baby shower.
Amy Edwards, founder of Bloomingbabyshowers.co.uk, which sells baby shower products such as invitations, bunting, balloons and games, says: "Traditionally, the idea of baby shower gifts were to help the new parents prepare for the arrival of their first baby and the essentials they'll need.
"It's now commonplace to have a celebration for second, third and even fourth babies, and these are called 'baby sprinkles', the idea being that all the essentials are usually in place and so a sprinkling of more indulgent gifts or pampering treats are well-received."
According to the research, more than a quarter of baby shower guests (27 per cent) have bought designer gear for the newborn, 10 per cent have splashed out on engraved baby jewellery, and 15 per cent have bought baby toiletries.
But to make it easier for guests who might be unsure of what to take to a baby shower, 12 per cent of expectant mothers questioned in the research said they'd created a baby wish list for their guests.
However, such lists aren't always a good idea, as 19 per cent of guests admit they resent having to buy from a gift list, largely because it forces them to purchase a more expensive present than they'd hoped to buy.
But whatever guests do or don't buy, the emphasis is on love and fun, says Edwards, who adds: "Baby showers are a little bit special and really recognise the milestone and excitement of a new baby.
"They are becoming well-recognised as a reason to celebrate and are full of love and good times. It appears people in the UK love the occasion as much as I do, and are embracing it as a reason to celebrate." Sophia Ovonlen runs another internet baby shower company, babyshowercentre.co.uk and has written the eBook The
Ultimate Guide to Baby Showers, which can be downloaded free from the babyshowercentre website.
She says: "In the early years, I noticed so many baby shower hosts didn't have any idea on what to do or where to start, so having planned several baby showers for friends and family, I wrote the book.
"More recently, with celebrities such as Rochelle Wiseman and Kim Kardashian having baby showers, baby shower popularity is set to soar.
"It is now the ultimate excuse for a girly get-together before the baby is born."
While baby showers are a topic of conversation on the parents' social networking site Mumsnet, its founder Justine Roberts points out that many mums still prefer to welcome babies with gifts after the birth,
"The idea of gathering together friends and family to celebrate a pregnancy over bubbly and cake is a lovely one," she says, "but most Mumsnet users would rather buy a gift when the baby's arrived than be confronted with an expensive baby shower gift list."
Many baby showers feature a huge cake, often relating to the theme of the shower, or even made to look like nappies.
But some baby shower cakes take the link to giving birth too far, warns Roberts.
"Baby shower cakes that reveal gender with pink or blue sponge are far too cheesy for many and the new penchant for anatomically correct cakes showing the baby's head emerging has most Mumsnet users running for the hills," she says.
■ GIFTS: The parties often have a pink or blue theme and involve a mum-to-be's usually female friends showering her with gifts