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Sarah Yang

How to Plan Baby’s First-Birthday Party

Baby has only one first birthday—so you want to make that party count. Get started here with this step-by-step planning guide.

When to throw it

You want your friends and family to be able to attend the party, so if baby’s first birthday falls on a weekday, the weekend before or after is a good bet. Plan the party for after naptime, so he or she’s well rested (and less likely to be in a bad mood). Limit the bash to a few hours rather than an all-day affair—parties can be overwhelming for small children, especially if there are a lot of guests. And hold the party in a venue that has a private quiet space, so if baby needs a breather or gets fussy, you can take him or her there.

How many to invite

If it’s going to be intimate, the party might include grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a few baby friends from your play groups or classes. If you want to go all out and have a huge bash, invite extended family, friends, coworkers who have kids and so on. The size of your party ultimately depends on your own preferences, as well as your budget—obviously the more people you have, the more food, beverages and space you’re going to need. Begin with your must-invite list: the people you wouldn’t celebrate without. If you can add to your head count, keep going.

Where to have it

If you have a big enough home and want to save some cash, throwing the party at your house could be a good option. Hosting the event at home means guests can hang out longer and baby has a place to nap if he or she gets tired. Plus, baby might be more comfortable in familiar surroundings. Booking a restaurant or even a children’s play space could be costly, but the big advantage is that you won’t get stuck with cleanup. There’s also no prep to deal with, and you won’t have to entertain guests as much.

Otherwise, why not head to your favorite park? You can set up food and decorations at a picnic table (and some parks have barbecue grills). Plus, there’s already a play structure there to occupy the kids—just make sure that you have enough adults to keep an eye on them. Check with the local parks department to see if you need a permit or have to make a reservation for the space.

How to choose a theme

Does baby have a beloved elephant toy he or she sleeps with every night? Try zoo animals as a birthday theme. If your favorite part of the day is reading to baby at night, pepper the party with books. Or you can take inspiration from the season whether you’re having an indoor or outdoor party. We've got more creative ideas for baby's first birthday theme here.

How to budget and DIY

If you don’t want to spend a fortune on baby’s birthday party, DIY is your best bet. Bake your own cake, have the party at home and shop at closeout stores (they often have great toys and stuffed animals for low prices). If you’re making your own cupcakes or treats, you can turn decorating them into an activity for guests. For invites, it’s fine to go paperless, which also includes RSVP tracking.

What to serve

When planning the menu, take into consideration whether the party is going to be mostly adults or if there are going to be kids of all ages coming too. Definitely have baby’s favorite food on hand. Foods and snacks that are healthy and can be eaten on the go are also good choices. For kid guests, serve things like mini grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers or single-serve boxes of raisins. For adults, try sandwiches, wraps and veggies with dip. Be sure to note on the invitation whether you’ll be serving a full meal or just snacks and birthday cake, so guests know whether to eat before they get there. Double-check if anyone has eating restrictions or food allergies.

What to give as party favors

At the end of the day, it’s customary to send kids home with favors. You can give away fancy swag bags or keep it small with little harmonicas or a bath toy. Or consider a favor that the whole family can take home, like a photo frame complete with a picture snapped and printed at the party. Want to set up your own photo booth? Try these easy DIY ideas. When it’s time to hand out the favors, give the goodies to parents first just in case they want to remove a few items or candies.

PHOTO: Ashlee Culverhouse Photography