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How to Plan Baby’s First-Birthday Party

Baby will only have one first birthday -- and that’s a lot of pressure to do up the party right. But you’ve never done this before! When do you have it? Who do you invite? How do you make it fun for a kid who doesn’t even know what a birthday is yet? We’ve got your step-by-step planning guide right here.

Photo: Getty / The Bump

When to throw it

Of course, you’ll want your friends and family to be able to make it, so the weekend before or after baby’s birthday is a good bet. That said, be careful of letting their crazy schedules dictate your plan. “I always tell people that the best time to throw a party is the time that works for them and not everyone else’s,” says Marla Mase, founder of Party Poopers, a New York City event planning company that specializes in producing children’s birthday parties. So don’t send around an email to 50 people asking them when the best day is to throw it -- they'll never all agree. If baby has a nap schedule, Mase recommends planning the party for after baby’s naptime so she’s well-rested (and slightly less likely to be in a bad mood).

And as for how long you should make the bash, it depends on your baby. XO Group creative services director and party design expert Lori Richmond says, “There’s no ideal length for a first-birthday party, and only you know how much your baby can take. Err on the side of just a couple of hours, rather than an all-day affair -- parties can be overwhelming for small babies, especially if you have a lot of guests!” Richmond recommends having the party in a venue that has a private quiet space, so if baby gets fussy or needs a breather, you can take her there to nap.

Who and how many to invite

It can be tough to figure out how intimate or huge the party is going to be. If it’s going to be intimate, the guest list might include grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a few baby friends from mommy and me classes. If you want to go all out and have a huge bash, you can invite your whole extended family, your friends, coworkers who have kids and so on. It ultimately depends on your own preferences. “Either way, it’s a day to commemorate,” says Mase. “Your little one has grown so much in this first year, passed many developmental milestones, and you have made it through the first year of being a mom or dad, and that’s definitely an achievement to celebrate.” Your budget also plays a role in the size of your party -- obviously the more people you have, the more food, beverages and space you’re going to need.

Start with your must-invite list -- the people you wouldn’t dream of celebrating without. Then, if you can stand to add to your head count, keep going.

The best venue

If you have a big enough home and want to save some cash, throwing the party at your house could be a good option. If you host the event at home, your guests could hang out longer, baby has a place to nap if she gets tired (her room!), and baby might be more comfortable in familiar surroundings. Having it at a restaurant or even a children’s play space could get costly, but the big advantage there is that you won’t get stuck having to clean up. There’s also no prep or mess to deal with, and you won’t have to work hard to entertain guests. If you live in an apartment or a small house, that setting would be ideal. If you don’t want to have it at your house or a play space, why not head to your local park? You can set up food and decorations at a picnic table (some parks even have grills for barbecuing!). And there’s already a play structure there to occupy the kids -- just make sure that there are enough adults to keep an eye on them. Check with your local parks department to see if you need a permit or have to make a reservation for the space.

Choosing a theme

Baby probably doesn’t know whether she likes fairies or birdies better right now, so it’s up to you to decide the theme. “Take inspiration from the family’s general preferences to choose the perfect theme,” suggests Richmond. “Does your baby have a favorite giraffe toy that she sleeps with every night? Then giraffes or zoo animals as a theme could be perfect. Or are your family members huge baseball fans? Maybe a little-slugger sports theme would work for you.” Also, think about the season and take into consideration if you’re having an indoor or outdoor party. Some fun theme ideas could be Sesame Street, teddy bears, carnival, Hollywood or Candyland.

Make a budget and DIY

If you don’t have a lot of cash to spend on baby’s birthday party, DIY is your best bet. “Bake your own cake, have your party at home and go to a closeout-type store because they often have great toys and stuffed animals for low prices,” suggests Mase. “If you want balloons, I’d say Party City is the least expensive place to get them -- there’s no need to rent a helium tank.” If you’re making your own cupcakes or treats, you can turn decorating them into an activity for your guests. “Not spending a lot on a professional cake will also make you feel less guilty about your baby digging in face-first for the classic cake smash photo,” says Richmond.

For invites, it’s totally okay to save money on stamps and go paperless. Pingg.com allows you to upload your own designs, but Evite and Paperless Post have ready-made templates to choose from. “My favorite benefit of these services is the RSVP tracking and automatic follow-up,” says Richmond. “You can set up specific reminders to go out to guests who have or have not RSVPed by a certain date, as many times as you want.”

Food 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 present. If baby has a favorite food, serve it. “If you have little guests and adults at your party, then you should accommodate everyone with appropriate food options,” says Richmond. “First-birthday parties are active events. Foods and snacks that are healthy and can be eaten on the go are good choices.” For your kid guests, serve things like pizza, mini grilled-cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers, little cups with puff cereal or single-serve boxes of raisins. It also depends on the time of day. If the party’s at noon, you should serve lunch. If it’s 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., you can probably get away with juice and dessert only (also a great way to save money). Be sure to note on the invitation whether you’ll be serving a full meal or just snacks and cake, so guests know whether to eat before they get there.
For older guests, many parents will probably be running after their kids. That’s where casual, on-the-go foods come in handy. Try sandwiches and wraps, veggies and dip, and finger-food appetizers like pigs in a blanket (a classic crowd-pleaser everyone loves to love).

Because food allergies are so common in kids today, you might also want to double-check if anyone has eating restrictions (having to use an EpiPen isn’t the kind of story you want parents telling about your party). “You can use a fun marker similar to a cupcake topper as a way to note which foods are safe for those with allergies,” says Richmond.

Perfect party favors

At the end of the day, it’s customary to send kids home with favors. You can have some fancy swag bags or keep it small. “I haven’t been to a party that doesn’t give out goodie bags,” says Richmond. “I prefer to do one larger-ticket item as the giveaway. For my son’s birthday, we gave away harmonicas. It was much better-received than the bag of little plastic toys and candies that might annoy some parents. For one-year-olds, a bath toy is a good favor.”

It’s okay to just give favors to the kids, but it’s nice to also put together something small for the adults. Or have one that the whole family can take home like a photo frame with a Polaroid snapped at the party. When you hand out the favors to the kids, give the goodies to their parents first just in case they want to take a few items or candies out before giving it to their child.

Plus, more from The Bump:

Baby Milestones

Birthday Cake Ideas

Hilarious Baby's First Birthday Photos

-- Sarah Yang

See More: Baby Basics , Milestones

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