Whether you're planning an intimate gathering of friends and family or an all-out bash, your baby's first birthday celebration is bound to be special – at least for you and the other adults and older kids in his life!
Yes, a first birthday party is really for parents and their guests. Your baby won't remember this party, and may even be overwhelmed by it. But that doesn't mean you can't all have fun. For party planning suggestions and tips on keeping your baby (and young visitors) comfortable, read on.
Who to invite
Your 1-year-old may be fearful of strangers, and strange or new places. Despite liking other babies, she won't understand how to play with them yet. She will enjoy individual attention and likes to make you laugh. These factors often convince parents to opt for an intimate, low-budget family party or small gathering of relatives, close friends, fellow parents, and neighbors.
But no matter how many guests you have, keep in mind that your 1-year-old will want a lot of your undiluted attention. This is especially true if she's feeling overstimulated by a large crowd of well-wishers.
Get answers to all your birthday party planning questions from parents in our Birthday Ideas community group.
How much to spend
According to our poll of more than 5,000 parents, the amount spent on a baby's first birthday party is all over the map, from less than $50 to more than $500. A majority – 61 percent – of parents spent $200 or less, 25 percent spent between $200 and $500, and 11 percent dished out more than $500.
The amount you spend is up to you, and depends on what kind of party you want to have for your child. Keep in mind that food is the main thing that drives costs up, followed by decorations and the cake. Don't feel pressured to spend more than you can afford – small is beautiful at this age!
Choosing a time
Your baby will probably still be taking a morning and afternoon nap when her first birthday rolls around. If so, it's best to plan your party around nap times if possible. And if you're inviting other young guests, check out their nap times with their parents. Once one starts crying, they all might! You may want to keep the party brief – an hour or so is probably long enough at this age.
Choosing a place
Home is usually the easiest place to host a first birthday party, and it's where your baby will feel most secure. But if your home is too small for the number of guests you want to invite, consider a local community center or church social hall, a kids' museum, a restaurant (you may want to go with a kids'-themed place or a fast-food restaurant with a play space), a relative's house, or, if the weather is nice, a park or zoo.
See other parents' suggestions for excellent birthday party spots.
Choosing a theme
Party themes aren't important to your 1-year-old or her baby guests. You might want to aim for a color-coordinated look, or pick matching plates and napkins with a favorite cartoon character, but it's more for the benefit of the keepsake photos than your baby at this stage.
Keep food simple - a lot of it will probably end up on the floor anyway!
Finger foods work well for both babies and adults, and eating them won't interrupt play or socializing. Some babies may have quite a few teeth and be able to bite into food; others may still be toothless, so cater to both extremes. Tiny sandwiches with cheese spread (you can cut them into shapes), cubes of mild cheese, cut-up fruit, pasta spirals, and mini yogurts are good options. You can also try animal crackers or graham crackers broken into small pieces.
Your small guests will probably eat very little, so aim for a variety of tastes, textures, and colors rather than quantity. (Get more finger food ideas here.) And avoid serving nuts, hard candies, popcorn, raisins, marshmallows, and other foods that may present a choking hazard to little ones.
As for beverages, it's a good idea to have water, milk, and maybe diluted fruit juice around for the kids and mineral water and sodas for the adults.
Don't forget a wonderful birthday cake. Some parents like to have a small separate cake for the birthday baby - this way she can smash into it to her heart's content. (It also works to serve cupcakes to everyone, including your baby.) Homemade treats are special, but supermarkets have a great variety available, or try a bakery. You may need to order the cake or cakes in advance. And don't let your baby get too close to the candle as she'll want to grab it, not blow on it.
Games and activities
Loud bangs from party poppers and bursting balloons may frighten your baby, and discarded poppers and balloons are a serious choking hazard until age 3. Why not have some musical fun, such as dancing with your baby, or a nursery rhyme tape on in the background? She'll also enjoy peek-a-boo games and finding toys hidden in a box or under a cloth. And, of course, she'll enjoy helping you open her presents (although the wrapping paper will be far more fun than the gift!).
Goody bags aren't really necessary at this age, and the usual treats like candy and balloons are downright dangerous for the babies at your party. If you want to give a going-away present to your little guests, opt for a small, safe soft toy or a board book to chew on.
By now your baby will appreciate toys that make noise or light up, or both, so activity centers are a good choice. It's never too early to read, and textured board books are great fun for your tactile baby. A push-along toy to aid walking skills may be a hit, and new bath toys are always welcome. You may want to consider a big, lasting present, such as a baby swing for outdoors or a rocking horse. And if you already have loads of toys, your baby won't object if some people buy her clothes!
See more great gifts for 1-year-olds.
- Have somewhere clean, handy, and well-equipped for diaper changing.
- Breastfeeding moms may appreciate somewhere quiet and private to nurse.
- It's crawling, walking, and climbing time – safety gates and other childproofing devices are essential.
- Stow away precious ornaments and breakables.
- Keep pets well out of the way (for their own protection!).
- Keep a watchful eye on the party area for hazards, such as forks and small swallowable objects, and clear them away quickly.
- Babies will play alongside each other, not together, so keep a variety of toys available within a large, safe floor space.
- Relax – let your baby and her guests set the pace.
- Make sure you have a willing volunteer to take plenty of photos and video. You may be too busy, and you don't want to miss those shots of your baby digging into her first birthday cake!