Tips and Ideas for Planning Your Baby’s First Birthday Party

Your little one is nearing the end of their first year, which is an exciting time for you! One way to celebrate your baby’s first birthday is by throwing a party. We’ve collected our best tips and ideas to help you plan a fun and successful first birthday party, whether big or small, and we’ve even included a checklist to make it easier for you to organize the event.

Preparing Your Baby’s First Birthday Party

You may want to think about the planning process for your baby’s first birthday party in two stages: preparing and hosting. With so many ideas to choose from for a first birthday party, it’s easy to lose focus, so preparation is key. A few things to think about as you start preparing include

  • what theme you want

  • when to throw the party

  • where to host the event

  • who to invite to your little one’s celebration.

Solidifying these important decisions will help you plan all the little details that follow. And answering the questions above in the order they’re listed will also keep things running smoothly.

Baby’s First Birthday Party Theme Ideas

Many parents like to start planning their 1-year-old’s birthday party by sifting through ideas for a theme. Choosing the theme early on might make some of the other decisions a little easier. So, how to plan a first birthday party theme when there are so many ideas out there? The trick is to choose something that’s manageable yet memorable for you and your family.

Before you start brainstorming, don’t forget that budget is an important consideration. Some first birthday party theme ideas are more extravagant than others, which could increase the overall cost. However, you can still host a memorable party with even a modest budget.

Check out the strategies below for a little inspiration for deciding on your baby’s first birthday party theme.

  • Nursery décor. Look around your little one’s nursery. Does it have a theme? Some parents want their baby’s first birthday party theme to match or complement their birth announcement and nursery design. So, if you’ve had an animal-themed year, why not keep it going?

  • Baby’s favorite things. Does your little one have a favorite children’s book or plush toy? Are there any games and activities they seem to enjoy more than others? What your child loves can provide plenty of ideas for a first birthday party!

  • Pop culture. Think back on your baby’s first year. Did a big movie or TV series sweep the country? Maybe your favorite singer released a new album and you listened to it constantly while bonding with your little one. Some of these current event and pop culture memories could inspire first birthday party ideas that also evoke some additional nostalgia.

  • The classics. If you’re still struggling to pick a theme, let the classics do the work! When in doubt, you can always rely on popular first birthday party ideas like

    • animals, safari, or the zoo

    • whimsical stories like Alice in Wonderland, The Cat in the Hat, or Winnie-the-Pooh

    • pajama party

    • under the sea or sea creatures

    • princes and princesses or fairy tales

    • superheroes

    • outer space

    • flowers

    • tea party

    • holiday (if your baby’s birthday falls on or near a holiday)

    • seasons or nature themes, like a garden party or the rustic woods

    • sports, like football or soccer.

Although picking a theme can be part of the fun, we’re going to let you in on a little secret: You don’t have to choose a theme! Plan your 1-year-old’s birthday around a theme only if you want to. There’s nothing wrong with simply throwing a fun party with classic decorations, like balloons or a banner or cake topper reading “Baby’s 1st Birthday Party.”

Keep in mind that one of the goals of the party is to make memories. Babies are still developing, and your little one won’t remember their first birthday party when they’re older. However, they’ll love to see photos and learn what they looked like as a baby!

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When and Where to Throw a 1-Year-Old’s Birthday Party

Determining a theme (or deciding to go without) can help you solidify where to have a first birthday party. For example, if you have a smaller budget, you can just host from your home or backyard. Or, if you’re going for a specific theme, some locations could enhance the ambiance (like a park for an outdoor theme or a villa rental for a royal theme).

Other ideas regarding where to host your baby’s first birthday party include

  • restaurants

  • playgrounds

  • campgrounds

  • kids’ gyms or activity centers.

Additionally, there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding on a place to host.

  • Age. Turning 1 year old is a big milestone, but your baby is still a baby. It may be tempting to plan a full-out bash at a fun kids’ center but remember that 1-year-olds may not be walking yet and aren't able to participate in organized party activities. Keeping it low-key and baby-friendly might be best.

  • Naps. Most likely, your baby and their young friends are still napping during the day, so it helps to plan the party around naptime or host it at a place where you and other parents can put your little ones down if needed.

  • Guests. Your adult friends will need some form of entertainment too, but that can simply be letting their kids have fun while you all watch, eat, and chat. Parents know how precious free time to just connect with others can be! Still, it helps to be mindful of everyone at the party, regardless of age. Therefore, you might want to choose a venue that caters to all guests, including older siblings of your baby and your baby’s peers.

In terms of when to host your baby’s first birthday party, it’s completely up to you, but weekends tend to be best for many families. You, your friends, and your family may have more free time over a weekend, so if you want to ensure that as many people can attend as possible, you may want to host a party on a Saturday or Sunday.

Of course, you can still have a smaller or more intimate celebration on the day of your baby’s actual birthday.

Who to Invite to Your Baby’s First Birthday

Now that you have a theme and know when and where you’ll be hosting this very exciting one-year birthday party, it’s time to decide who to invite. Some parents opt to have a smaller party with just close family and friends, whereas others prefer to include extended family, coworkers, or other friends with kids.

Your budget and venue might dictate the invite list more than your personal desires, so take any restrictions into account. Some people to consider inviting are

  • parents

  • grandparents

  • siblings

  • aunts

  • uncles

  • cousins

  • close friends or family friends

  • friends from baby or parent groups

  • coworkers

  • other acquaintances with kids.

Hosting Your Baby’s First Birthday Party

With the initial prep out of the way, it’s time to think about the actual hosting part of your baby’s first birthday party. In the end, the most important elements of any party, including a one-year birthday celebration, typically come down to good company, tasty food, some entertainment, and lots of pictures for memories.

Creating a Schedule for Your Baby’s First Birthday Party

Remember that 1-year-olds are still little, so they’re probably functioning on a designated sleep and nap schedule. Consider when your baby usually naps and either plan the party around this time or provide a place for naptime for any tiny humans while the adults continue to mingle.

When a 1-year-old is the guest of honor, a short party is best. This goes for older children and even some adults, too!

Here are some additional tips to help you create a timeline for the party:

  • Arrival. What time should guests arrive and what should they do when they first get there? Usually, it helps to have a play area set up so guests can entertain themselves while you continue to welcome others. For example, if you’re hosting at your home, put out some play mats and an assortment of toys in the living room or backyard.

  • Food. When people attend a party, they expect to eat something, so there’s no need to delay! Once you give everyone enough time to arrive (about 30 minutes of wiggle room), start serving food. You could even have some snacks ready when people arrive. Plan for at least an hour so guests can get seconds and not feel pressure to eat quickly.

  • Activities. To start, you don’t have to plan any activities! One-year-old birthday parties can be as simple as letting the kiddos play while adults mingle. But if you want to keep everyone entertained, you can prepare a few simple group games or activities ahead of time.

  • Photos. Don’t forget pictures! Some parents like to designate a friend or two to snap pics throughout the party. You can also rent or create a photo booth or hire a professional photographer. Another idea is to ask your photographer to come a little early to get those more intimate family portraits done first.

  • Departure. Always set a specific end time. You can keep the party going, of course, but this allows your guests to plan ahead and depart without feeling like they’re leaving too early. Consider giving a small memento or party favor to your friends and family as they leave.

Food Ideas for First Birthday Parties

When brainstorming 1-year-old birthday party ideas, food is an important topic. You’ll need to provide baby- and child-friendly foods, plus those foods that are appetizing to older guests. If you know who’s coming to the party, this will help you plan, but consider the following:

  • Babies and toddlers

  • Older children

  • Adults

  • Anyone with food sensitivities or allergies

  • Anyone with other dietary preferences or restrictions.

Some parents like the idea of having the food tied to the theme or location of their baby’s first birthday party. For example, if you’re having a camping or sports theme or hosting in your backyard or park, consider grilling hamburgers and veggie burgers for adults and older children. Depending on the age of the kids in attendance, a s’mores bar could be a hit!

Regardless of what you serve adults, it’s a good idea to have some baby- and kid-appropriate snacks for the little ones. Some ideas include bite-sized and small versions of

  • fruits and veggies

  • cheese and crackers

  • grilled cheese sandwiches

  • chicken fingers

  • gelatin

  • frozen fruit pops.

And don’t forget the cake! Because little ones won’t eat much cake and will probably get messy in the process, it’s become popular to prepare or purchase a “smash cake.” This mini cake is made specifically for your little one to smash while eating, and this adorable action results in some of the cutest photos at a baby’s first birthday party!

Games, Activities, and Party Favors

The final decisions when planning your 1-year-old’s birthday include what to do and which games and activities to arrange for a baby’s party. Since 1-year-olds aren’t able to play traditional birthday games just yet, you may be wondering how to entertain these little ones, along with older kids and adults, at a first birthday party! We’ve assembled some tips for suitable games, activities, and party favors to help you out.

Games and Activities

One-year-old birthday parties tend to be short, and you and your guests may simply enjoy eating and mingling. But if you’re interested in having a few games or activities, here are some ideas for your 1-year-old baby’s first birthday party.

  • Free play. Set up an area of your venue for free play. This can include soft balls, building blocks, plush toys, rattles, stacking toys, wooden instruments, etc. Older kids and adults can help watch over the small children and facilitate the play.

  • Bubbles. Kids love bubbles, and they always have fun trying to catch them! This is great fun for older kids, too.

  • Wagon rides. Enlist the help of older siblings and adults to pull wagons in the park or backyard. Babies always seem to get a kick out of riding in a wagon!

  • Birthday parade. Hand out some instruments and have everyone walk around to create your very own parade celebrating your little one.

  • Baby photo guessing game. Ask your guests to bring a photo of themselves when they were a baby and try to match who is who!

  • Water table. If hosting outside, you could set up a water table with toys for babies and children to enjoy, as adults stay close by to supervise.

  • Art. Though 1-year-olds won’t be ready for crayons or paint just yet, toddlers and older siblings may enjoy drawing and coloring, finger painting, or painting with a brush. Toddlers can also enjoy crafts and activities that include cutting with safety scissors and gluing.

  • Dancing. Everyone enjoys music, and babies are just so cute when they’re clapping, swaying, and bopping to tunes. In fact, party guests of all ages can get into dancing, singing, and listening to music. You can even ask one of the guests to be the DJ.

Watch the video below to learn more about how music can enrich your baby’s life!

Party Favors

Party favors are optional, but one popular tradition at first birthday parties is providing a keepsake for your guests. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. You could opt for a party bag that keeps the celebration going (this is great for older kids), filled with small treats. Or, choose a sentimental gift as your party favor, which your guests can use to remember your little one’s first birthday. Some ideas are

  • swag bags filled with treats related to your theme

  • a framed photo of your baby

  • an ornament or trinket like a mug or magnet with your baby’s photo on it

  • something with a happy birthday message on it, like rubber bracelets or temporary tattoos

  • homemade cookies or soaps

  • something practical for other kids, like teething rings or blocks

  • candy or cake pops.

If you’d like to provide your guests with personal mementos, be sure to order these ahead of time. There are many websites that offer personalized mugs, magnets, calendars, ornaments, and more. Just remember to order in plenty of time!

Baby’s First Birthday Party Checklist

Planning and preparing for your baby’s first birthday requires some effort, especially since there are so many ideas and details to consider. Below, we’ve created a first birthday party checklist, so you won’t forget anything! You can also download it for safekeeping.

The Bottom Line

As your little boy or girl is turning 1 year old, you probably have lots of birthday ideas to consider. Planning and preparing your baby’s first birthday party is a memorable task for you as a parent, and the event is a moment in your little one’s life that you’ll want to treasure forever. Make the celebration a success by planning a party that’s near and dear to you and your family!

You have many decisions to make for a stress-free birthday party, including the following:

  • Choose a theme that’s special or entertaining

  • Decide on a venue that fits your budget

  • Create a party timeline that works well with your child’s (and other young guests’) nap schedule.

Whatever you decide on, have fun with good company, tasty food, and games or activities. Don’t forget to take lots of photos, especially when your baby gets ready to smash the cake!