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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.
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Updated
September 13, 2022
mother celebrating baby's first birthday party
Image: Rein Cheng
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Your baby is now officially a toddler—which means you’ve survived your first year of parenthood! Congrats! It’s a big milestone that deserves to be celebrated. If you’re looking to throw a party in honor of baby’s first birthday and are in search of first birthday ideas for boys and girls, look no further. From when and where to host a party to the cutest first birthday themes, here’s how to plan a 'one’derful first birthday party.

When and Where to Throw Baby’s First Birthday Party

Baby’s first birthday is a pretty special milestone you’ll want to share with close friends and family. If you’re planning a party, the best bet is to throw it the weekend before or after baby’s actual birthday, especially if it falls during the week.

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 comfortable and familiar place to eat, nap and get changed. “You have access to everything you need in your house,” says Madison Hummel, a party planner based in Washington D.C. and owner of Madison Avenue Events.

However, if hosting at home doesn’t work for you, booking a restaurant or a children’s play space is another great option. It can be costly, but the big advantages are that you won’t get stuck with too much prep work or cleanup, and you won’t have to work as hard to entertain guests. Or, depending on the weather, you might also consider hosting baby’s first birthday party at your favorite park. You can set up food and decorations at a picnic table (and some parks have barbecue grills), plus a nearby playground can occupy the kids—just make sure you have enough adults to keep an eye on them. Having the party outside is also a great COVID-safe option. Check with the local parks department to see if you need a permit or have to make a reservation for the space.

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Wherever you decide to host baby’s first birthday party, make sure there’s space for your little one and their friends to safely crawl around and play, and for you and your guests to nurse or bottle-feed and change diapers. “You can create a diaper changing kit stocked with diapers tied in bows, wipes, diaper cream and even offer a little toy for the kid to hold,” Hummel says.

The most important rule when it comes to planning baby’s first birthday? Keep it short, and plan for it to be a couple hours rather than an all-day affair, as parties can be overwhelming for small children (especially if there are a lot of guests). It’s best to host the party during the late afternoon after naptime, Hummel adds. This ensures your little one is well rested and makes it less likely for them to be fussy.

How Many People to Invite to Baby’s First Birthday Party

The size of your party ultimately depends on your own preferences, as well as your budget—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. If it’s going to be intimate, the party might include grandparents, aunts and uncles and a few baby friends from your daycare or play groups. If you want to go all out and have a huge bash, invite extended family, friends, coworkers who have kids and so on. (Also, take into account how many people you’re comfortable having in one space, considering any continued COVID-19 concerns.)

Choosing Baby’s First Birthday Party Theme

A good space and good company are the keys to any great party—but to make baby’s bash extra special, consider picking a first birthday party theme to help guide your party prepping. Whether you land on a particular color or animal character, you can design everything from your invitations to your birthday cake and decorations around the theme. (Just make sure any decorations are age-appropriate for curious little ones that like to mouth everything in sight!). The good news? There are tons of great first birthday themes to choose from. Does baby have a beloved stuffed bunny or fox? Try a woodland first birthday theme. If your favorite part of the day is reading to baby at night, go with a theme based on a classic story or characters. Or you can take inspiration from the season and go with an apt color theme, like spring pastels or winter whites. Take a look at some more creative first birthday ideas for boys and girls below.

First trip around the sun birthday party

A “first trip around the sun” birthday theme is incredibly popular among parents—and for good reason. It allows parents lots of flexibility, as they can go with a lighter, celestial theme or incorporate darker, outer space decor. Blogger Tamara Waterson of Champagne Macaroons opted for a golden color scheme for her son’s” first trip around the sun” birthday party. For the decor, she used a yellow, white and orange balloon garland and streamers, as well as a large lit-up “ONE” sign. The cake featured simple white and gold frosting with a wooden sun cake topper that read, “our sunshine is one.” This first birthday theme for boys and girls combines simplicity and elegance for a party that looks effortlessly chic.

Berry first birthday party

Another cute first birthday party idea for boys and girls, particularly for the early summer months, is a “berry first birthday” party. Blogger Ashley Brooke Nicholas chose the theme for her daughter’s first birthday because strawberries are her favorite food. For the dessert table, she displayed custom strawberry-themed cookies, cake pops, chocolate-covered strawberries and a basket full of fresh strawberries. The pink cake also fit the first birthday theme, with flowers, a wicker basket and strawberries made of fondant as toppers. Nicholas used a pink balloon garland to tie the decor together and even featured a framed milestone chart with her little girl’s height, weight, favorite foods, toys and more. For first birthday party favors, she used adorable mini baskets filled with strawberry jam and strawberry-flavored candies.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse first birthday party

What’s black, white and red all over? A Mickey Mouse–themed birthday party! Photographer Paige Knudsen shared photos of a first birthday bash that does Disney proud! From red and white polka-dot Solo cups to a “Mickey’s Clubhouse” greeting sign and Mickey-shaped paper-fan decorations, every detail is covered. Even the candy table featured all Mickey-themed sweets and color-coordinated cookies. The food included “Pluto’s Pretzels” and “Chips and Dales” along with “Minnie’s Bow Tie Pasta Salad” and goodies from Daisy and other Mickey Mouse Club friends. What’s more, all these ideas for decorations, favors and food are pretty easy to replicate.

Classic Winnie The Pooh first birthday party

If baby loves Winnie the Pooh stories—or Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore still tug at your own childhood heartstrings—a Pooh-themed party is a cute way to celebrate baby’s first 12 months. This Winnie the Pooh celebration for twins, featured on BoxwoodClippings.com, showcased plenty of floral patterns in soft colors and whites. The menu featured a seasonal strawberry salad for the adult guests and gingham boxed picnic lunches with PB&Js, chips, cookies and veggies for the children. An extra-sweet touch are the cupcakes, topped with mini fondant honeybees. Driving home the first birthday theme, plush Pooh, Piglet and Tigger toys (perfect as favors!) were on display throughout the space, complete with party hats.

Dinosaur first birthday party

If your tiny explorer loves all things dinosaurs, throwing a prehistoric-themed birthday party might be just the thing to make them smile. For her first birthday party design, Natalie, of Fern and Maple Style covered the space with adorable T-Rex balloons. For the dessert table, she chose a dinosaur cake and dino cupcakes (but if you’re going with this theme, there are lots of options—dino egg cake pops and cookies can also add to the decor). She also set up a basket of “dinosaurs to adopt” for creative first birthday party favors.

Magical unicorn first birthday party

On the The Love Designed Life blog, party stylist Paige Rangel took her daughter’s first birthday party outside with a magical unicorn theme. We love the details of dragon masks and horn headbands with tulle veils for guests to wear, all in keeping with the party’s pastel colors. Glitter details abound, from the birthday girl’s name banner to her crown and outfit. The naked ombre cake looked delicious—plus, it was vegan and gluten-free to meet the family’s diet restrictions. A DIY unicorn piñata added to the festive fun, and the flower-topped tent was perfect for when baby (and her little guests) needed a nap.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar first birthday party

This storybook-themed first birthday party from Just Add Confetti also took place outside. The colorful decorations were all taken straight from the books (and are easy to replicate). Plus, the gorgeous themed fondant cake, fresh strawberries and green smash cake added a layer of festive fun. From the Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed wreath on the door to the themed photo collage, each detail for this party theme was rooted in the beloved children’s book.

Woodland first birthday party

If your little one can’t get enough of small, furry creatures, this woodland first birthday party will be sure to make baby smile. For their celebration, New Darlings used plants, as well as earth-toned streamers and balloons. Plus, their cake incorporated small fondant animal toppers to fit the first birthday theme. The party also featured animal books, as well as a neutral-colored wooden alphabet puzzle, to entertain the smaller guests.

Music-theme first birthday party

If baby goes crazy for music and turns everything into an instrument, a party like this Baby Jam Music First Birthday Party, featured on Birds Party blog, will be a platinum hit. With xylophone-shaped cookies, tambourines and records as decorations and “design your own fish shaker” and “build a band” party activities, we think this party had a winning theme for boys and girls. Don’t forget to set up a wall of pots and kitchen utensils for baby and friends to bang on throughout the festivities. May we suggest handing out foam earplug favors for the adults at the beginning of the party?

Image: Chickabug

Nautical-theme first birthday party

This first birthday party on the chickabug blog incorporated a classic nautical theme throughout, from boat decorations to clever and creative food options, like “marshmallow buoys,” “life preservers” made from powdered doughnuts and “catch of the day” snacks like Swedish Fish and Goldfish. Each child got a sailor’s hat with his or her name on it, and a homemade cardboard sailboat served as entertainment for the kids—and a great setting for photos.

First Birthday Party Food Ideas

When planning the menu, take into consideration whether the party is going to be mostly adults or if there will be kids of all ages coming too. For babies, you’ll want to have age-appropriate solids and finger foods, such as individual serving cups of steamed veggies, soft fruit, dry cereal, smoothies and yogurt. And of course, definitely have baby’s favorite food on hand. For preschoolers and older children, snacks that are healthy and can be eaten on the go are good choices—things like mini grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers or single-serve boxes of raisins. For adults, try sandwiches, meat and cheese platters and veggies with dip. Or, keep it simple and order a box of pizza from your favorite pizzeria.

If you’re worried about COVID (or germs in general), consider having individually wrapped food for both kids and adults, like themed puree pouches, snack-packs or lunch boxes. For gatherings with mostly adults, serve food they can easily grab with tongs or a serving utensil. The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes it’s a good idea to have personalized water bottles for each guest—it limits the amount of sharing and serves as a great party favor. Worried about blowing out the candles on the cake? Swap it for individual cupcakes and put candles only on baby’s cupcake.

Be sure to note on the invitation whether you’ll be serving a full meal or just snacks and cake, and confirm that snacks will be available for the youngest party guests, so parents can plan accordingly. And don’t forget to double-check if anyone has eating restrictions or food allergies when planning the menu.

Planning to do a first birthday cake smash (aka let baby smoosh, smash and devour a little cake, without adult help)? It’s an adorable tradition that can result in some pretty precious photos—but it tends to get messy. And a cake-covered floor (and baby) may not be what you want to deal with in the midst of the first birthday party. A smart move is to keep the party cake straightforward and set up the cake smash on a different day, when you can arrange a cute photo backdrop, lay down floor protection and take photos without the distraction of party onlookers.

Planning First Birthday Party Games

While your one-year-old and the other little ones at the party likely won’t be playing Twister just yet, there are some fun activities you can plan to keep them entertained. Hummel recommends hiring character performers who can lead the tots through age-appropriate activities, like singing, dancing and story time. If the party will host kids of varying ages, you’ll want to have toys and activities to suit them all (for older kiddos, think: a bounce house, an arts and crafts corner, board games or face painting).

Along with planning some activities, it’s also smart to prepare a private, quiet space in case baby or one of their friends gets fussy and needs a breather. Keep this space distanced from the main party and fill it with soft, cozy furnishings, like an activity mat or a plush rug. Adding in a couple of toys and other sensory objects can also help little ones relax and emotionally regulate.

Remember, it’s okay to experience hiccups at the event, whether you’re hosting or just attending. “No matter how well you plan, unexpected things are going to happen the day of the party,” Hummel says. “Kids are still kids and they cry unexpectedly, make messes—and it’s totally okay. Just breathe and still try to enjoy this special moment with your little one as much as possible!”

What to Give as First Birthday Party Favors

At the end of the day, it’s customary to send kids home with favors—but they don’t have to be as fancy as you might think. Sure, you can get as creative as you want and offer a photo frame with a picture snapped and printed at the party or a fancy swag bag. But it might be easier to send young children home with a single toy, like a little harmonica or bath toy. Not only is it easier on your wallet, but it also creates less clutter for your guests. “I recommend investing in a single toy that ranges from $10 to $15 instead of a gift bag that gets lost,” Hummel says. “Another idea is to have a baker do detailed custom cookies, wrap them in clear wrap, and then tie them with a colored bow to match the theme—a fun treat for the kids later!” 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.

Looking for some places to shop for first birthday party favors? Below are some of our favorites:

  • Etsy: The online marketplace offers all types of personalized gifts and favors from merchants all over the world. Shop for custom cookies, toys, prints and any other type of favor you have your eye on.

  • Amazon: One of the biggest reasons parents love Amazon? The fast and free shipping. If you’re putting together first birthday party favor bags with several little items, such as bubbles or a small toy, Amazon’s one of the best places to shop. The retailer even has a section dedicated to Baby Party Favors.

  • Uncommon Goods: This online merchant offers tons of unique products for gifting and favors, suitable for kids of all ages. Shop for toys, board books, arts and crafts kits and so much more, all in one handy place.

First Birthday Party Checklist

Image: The Bump | happpy.designer/Shutterstock

About the expert:

Madison Hummel is a party planner based in Washington D.C with over six years of experience. She’s also the owner and lead planner of Madison Avenue Events, founded in 2020. Hummel received her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech, where she studied event design.

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