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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September 9, 2021
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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, so celebrate the moment in style. From when to host a party to what to serve your guests, here’s how to plan a 'one’derful first birthday party.

When to Throw Baby’s First Birthday Party

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 your little one is well rested and less likely to be fussy. Limit the bash to a couple hours rather than an all-day affair, since parties can be overwhelming for small children, especially if there are a lot of guests.

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

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. 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.

Also take into account how many people you’re comfortable having in one space, considering COVID-19 concerns. Kids under the age of 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated, and with variants continuing to persist, the sad reality is that COVID may be with us longer than anyone had imagined. If you’d like to take extra precautions, consider staggering the arrival and departure times of guests and asking that all guests (regardless of vaccination status) wear a face mask.

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Where to Have Baby’s First Birthday Party

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 they get tired. Plus, baby might be more comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Booking a restaurant or a children’s play space is another great option. It can 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.

If the weather is good, why not head to your favorite park? Not only is it the most COVID-safe option, but you can also 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 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.

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 and change diapers. It’s also smart to prep a private, quiet space in case baby or one of their friends gets fussy and needs a breather.

How to Choose a First Birthday Party Theme

Good food 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. You may even be able to order custom face masks that fit the theme for each guest in attendance.

The good news is, there are so many great themes to choose from! Does baby have a beloved elephant toy they sleep 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 and go with an apt color theme, like spring pastels or winter whites. We’ve got loads more creative baby’s first birthday ideas here.

What to Serve at Baby’s First Birthday Party

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. For kids, foods and 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. And of course, definitely have baby’s favorite food on hand. For adults, try sandwiches, meat and cheese platters and veggies with dip.

For COVID-safe options, consider having individually wrapped food for both kids and adults, like themed snack-packs or lunch boxes. 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 little ones blowing out the candles on the cake? Swap it for individual cupcakes and put candles only on baby’s cupcake. For gatherings with mostly adults, serve food they can easily grab with tongs or a serving utensil.

Be sure to note on the invitation whether you’ll be serving a full meal or just snacks and cake, so guests can plan accordingly. Double-check if anyone has eating restrictions or food allergies.

What to Give as First Birthday 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 simple 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.

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