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Baby's first birthday ideas

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Written by Vera C. Last updated on .

Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this page. This helps keep this site running

tables with first birthday party setup

Baby's first birthday is an exciting occasion! It can also feel a bit stressful when it's your first child and you don't really have a plan yet for what to do on the 1st birthday. Don't worry, I'm here to help!

First, let's recognize the fact that the first birthday party is not going to involve organized party games with a bunch of little friends - your child is far too young. Instead, the first birthday tends to be more about adult family, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on. If there will be other guests there who are children (often this might be cousins, children of your close friends, etc) I'll cover this situation too.

There is no obligation to invite young friends from daycare or the neighborhood unless you truly want to. Lots of people keep the first and second birthday just to family and/or really close friends of the family. Later birthdays, such as the 3rd or 4th birthday - certainly 5th birthday onward - tend to be more geared toward the child and his or her friends.

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Why you should have a first birthday party for your child

You might be wondering: if the child is almost too young to understand what's going on, why have a first birthday party? The answer: because it is a birthday - it deserves to be celebrated, and you'll want it for photos later. Yes, my child asked me years later to look at photos of his first birthday party because he couldn't remember it lol!

You probably anyway have family within driving distance who are eager to come. The grandparents will certainly want to be part of this occasion. Even if the grandparents live further away, they will probably want to come stay overnight with you to be at the party. I know, this sounds overwhelming right now. But I promise it's not! I have strategies for you further along on the page!

As tempting as it is to want to ignore the party thing and just do something special with your spouse and child, the chances are that you might come to regret that later. You can still do something special with just your spouse and child the day after the party or on the following weekend, of course.

Keep it fun but easy

Rest assured that the guests are not going to expect a 3 course meal and dancing! This is baby's first birthday, not a wedding after all. If most of the guests will be adults (this is usually the case for a first birthday), I recommend having it at your home. This is because:

  1. your place is already childproofed
  2. you don't need a play-place venue if most of the guests are adults - those venues are actually not all that much fun for adults, and most venues are not really even geared towards children as young as one year old, which would limit how much fun your child would really have there
  3. a party venue is very limiting as to what decor and food you can have except for the birthday cake
  4. having it at home means your child can play with gifts as they're opened. That would be harder to do without accidentally leaving anything behind if you were at a venue or even at a park

You don't need a huge home or a perfect setup for this. Your guests are there to mingle and to celebrate your child's first birthday.

Must-haves for a first birthday party

  • A birthday cake with 1 candle (you really need the 1 candle for the photos!)
  • Something for everyone to drink
  • Tasteful decorations - spend as little or as much as you like on this! It can range from some balloons and themed paper plates to something more elaborate such as the flowers and "1" centerpiece shown in the photo at the top of this article. If you're opting for something easy, you have plenty of choice of pre-made 1st birthday party theme decor at Amazon.com.
  • Preferably some food for your guests - I highly recommend setting up a few buffet-style finger food options or anything that does not require utensils. For example, pick any 3 of the following depending on the time of party and tastes of your guests: sandwiches, fruit, chips, pizza, easy appetizers, set of cheese and crackers.

I'll also talk below about what to do if you're having other children at the party or if you're having house guests (for example if the grandparents are staying with you during this time).

First birthday invitations

Most people use electronic invitations such as Greenvelope. There are tons of classy yet cute designs available and the service keeps track of responses for you. Other options are eVite and Punchbowl.

Alternatively you can be informal and simply invite via ordinary text message.

Invite only those who you realistically know will come or at least would think about coming. Both sets of grandparents should be invited, as well as other relatives or close friends of your family who live in town or within driving distance. Anyone else within driving distance who has taken a strong interest in your child (godparents for example) should also be invited.

Unlike for a wedding, for a first birthday please know that if you invite people who live outside of driving distance there is a small chance it might be interpreted by the recipient as an invitation to stay at your house at that time. Certainly you would expect that to be the situation for grandparents, but this is not the time to invite your crazy college friend unless you want them crashing at your house! Ultimately, I recommend inviting both sets of grandparents regardless of where they live, and any relatives within driving distance.

If you have lots of distant relatives in town that you don't really want to invite that is OK, you can keep it to the closer relatives (baby's grandparents, your and your spouse's siblings and their families).

Be up-front about accommodation limitations when it comes to the people you really want to be there: don't avoid inviting the grandparents just because you can't fit both sets in overnight at your house! In that situation, be honest and open with both sets e.g. "We would love for all 4 of you to stay overnight, but we simply don't have enough beds and space to fit all 4 of you in our home. Let us know if you have any ideas." This gives them the heads-up about the situation, and most likely at least one set of grandparents will stay at a hotel, or see if they can stay with other in-town relatives who have been invited, or turn it into their own trip where maybe they stop to stay at a nearby city they've never been to and explore it and see you from there.

Ultimately the decision of who to invite is up to you and your spouse: you know your situation and the relatives better than I do. The suggestions I've given above are not hard-and-fast rules, but just guidelines for what you might do in a standard situation. You can feel free to ignore this advice if you like!

Baby's first birthday outfit

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If you're on a tight budget then the nicest outfit that your child already owns is perfect. But if you're looking for something new, you have some great options. If you're seeking a very traditional first birthday outfit (something smocked, for example) then I recommend Little English or Pleats and Stitches at Etsy.com. On the other hand, for something that is still special and dressy but more contemporary, I recommend Janie and Jack.

The plan for baby's first birthday if you have anyone staying with you

If you will be having any house guests, make the party be either a brunch or lunch party during the weekend of your child's birthday - this is much easier than it sounds. As mentioned earlier, serve easy-to-make foods that can be eaten without knife and fork. This is easier than doing a separate afternoon party, because if you have house guests you'd anyway need to think about fixing them breakfast, lunch and dinner. It would be even harder to do breakfast, lunch, birthday party, and dinner.

So kill two birds with one stone and make it be a lunch party or a light dinner. It's a lot easier than it sounds if you stick to finger foods only, and all the guests will really appreciate the fact of there being food.

If there are to be other children at your child's 1 year old birthday

As mentioned earlier, your 1 year old won't be able to play organized games yet. And there's no point setting up organized party games for other kids that the birthday child can't even participate in! Parents of older children will understand that you won't yet have toys for their age of kids to play with and will probably bring a favorite item or two for their child to play with at the party.

I do recommend that you get a few coloring books from the dollar store and some crayons and set them out for the other kids to play with (if they are old enough to safely use crayons), and I also recommend giving the other kids a balloon each - either as a party favor or right away when they arrive. Balloons are a huge hit with kids of all ages!

You've got this - 1st birthday party planning is totally do-able!

Now that I've covered how to handle it, you're hopefully able to enjoy the planning process without getting overwhelmed.

Your child's birthday party does not need to turn into a long event - even with food, opening gifts, and birthday cake, it's not going to take forever. It's not your job to keep constant entertainment going for other kids during that time, just make sure there's at least 1 or 2 things available for them to play with as mentioned previously. Remember this can be as simple and affordable as coloring books and balloons.

Child guests have short attention spans and may be mentally done with the party (with any party) earlier than your adult guests. That's OK - remember, the party has to end sometime, after all! Grandparents and other relatives without kids might linger a little more afterwards to catch up and to spend time with the birthday child.

As you can see, what might have seemed like an insurmountable task is now broken down into smaller tasks that I have covered above. You simply need to:

  1. Send invitations
  2. Organize decorations
  3. Order the birthday cake and remember to buy a candle
  4. Start making a list of which foods you plan to serve - keep it simple, around 3 different options of finger foods set up buffet-style. Remember that if you're having guests stay with you, having the party as a lunch or light dinner might actually be easier than doing a separate party and still having to fix lunch or dinner for your house guests
  5. Start making a list of what drinks to serve - keep it to around 3 options as well, one of them being water in case of health-conscious guests

Once you've made the lists, things will start feeling fun! You've got this under control. It's all about your child's first birthday, so keep the main thing the main thing.

Remember, your guests are thrilled to be at baby's first birthday party and to spend time with your child and each other. Be sure to get great photos on the day so that everyone (especially the birthday child) can look back on the pics later.

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