Planning a First Birthday Party: Your Practical Guide

planning a first birthday party

Your baby is about to turn one! Congratulations. And now it’s time to recognize this special milestone by planning a first birthday party.

And while your child won’t remember this special party, you will, and there will be pictures to prove it. As parents, the first few years of our baby’s lives go by so fast! Take a moment to pause.

So celebrate with your friends, family and your baby! Just do it in a way that won’t be overwhelming for anyone involved – parent or child. 

Download Our FREE First Birthday Party Planning Check List

So what is the best and most logical way to plan a first birthday party for your baby? Let’s walk through some important steps that should be on first birthday to do list before diving into birthday party ideas, choosing your party theme, birthday cake, decorations, and other party details.

Planning a First Birthday Party

Step One: Set a Budget

What is most important to you as you think about your baby’s first birthday party? I recommend starting with a budget first, as it helps you think about your priorities. For example, you may want to go all out with a theme where every detail matches. Or, maybe it’s more important to you to have amazing food and drinks for your guests. You might not be able to do both. Setting a budget will help you to narrow things down. 

What is the maximum amount you are willing to or able to spend on your baby’s first birthday party? Will you be able to implement all of your birthday party ideas within that budget?

Keep in mind:

  • Your priorities may be different from other moms, and that is OK.
  • You are putting a lot of love into this party!  I know that because you’re reading this post.  No matter what you spend, it will be amazing because of your thoughtfulness and attention to detail.

Step Two: Choose a Location

I recommend choosing a location before choosing a theme. Why? Because perhaps your location will inspire an amazing theme! Or, perhaps your theme will have you looking into venues that you can’t afford or that don’t meet some of the criteria below. 

Choose a first birthday party venue that:

  • is appropriate for the season and weather.
  • is in close proximity to you and most of your guests.
  • is easy to get to and has plenty of parking.
  • has bathrooms (bonus points for bathrooms with a changing table).
  • isn’t too loud and won’t overwhelm your baby.

Choosing the location first ensures you can stay within your budget while still having the party you want with a party theme that works for you. 

Download Our FREE First Birthday Party Planning Check List

Step 3: Choose a Party Theme

One search on Pinterest will lead you down a rabbit hole of first birthday party planning ideas. This can be overwhelming and confusing, so I recommend starting by asking yourself a few questions to spark some ideas for your party theme:

  1. What’s your favorite book to read with your baby?
  2. What colors do you like to dress your baby in most?
  3. What season was your baby born in and does that spark a birthday party idea?
  4. What childhood characters or icons are important to you?
  5. What are your family interests? (i.e. nature, sports, music)

Doing this exercise first will help point you in the right direction for birthday party ideas and party theme and help you start to see a vision for your baby’s first birthday party. 

Read Our full post on first birthday themes for more than 55 ideas.

Step Four: Choose a Date and Time

  • The date should accommodate any VIP guests such as close family. Weekend parties will probably have the biggest turnout.
  • Choose a time that works for your baby’s schedule. Never schedule the party during nap times. Your baby needs a nap on his or her 1st birthday just as much if not more than any other day. We have a very detailed post about how to choose the best time for a first birthday party.
  • If you don’t want to serve a meal, opt for a non-typical meal time.

Download Our FREE First Birthday Party Planning Check List

Step Five: Guest List and Birthday Party Invitations

Now that you have a solid idea of your budget, theme, and location, it’s time to create the guest list and send invitations. Setting your 1st birthday budget and choosing your location will inform your decision about how many guests to invite.

Choose guests by category, not by individuals. For example, either invite all or none of your “neighborhood friends” for the big day. This helps prevent any hurt feelings.

Once you’re ready to send invitations:

  • If you want to stay traditional, you can print your invitations at home that match your theme, or find a professional printer locally or online to print fun invitations.
  • If you prefer to go paperless, you can also email them several different RSVP services or save the invitation as a high-quality photo, perhaps featuring your baby, to share on social media.

Next Steps for First Birthday

Birthday Party Food Ideas

Create Your Menu: Decide on the menu once you have set a budget, decided on a location, and finalized your guest list. First birthday parties often have more adults than children, so choose a menu that will be pleasing to both.

Younger guests will appreciate finger foods and simple things like mac and cheese, cute up hot dogs and sliced grapes. Try not to get too fancy for this age group. You could draw inspiration from your baby’s favorite food and your theme. Adult guests will appreciate tasty food and drinks.

1st Birthday party Cake

Of course, you’ll also need a birthday cake. Whether or not you want to do a separate smash cake is up to you. You could just give your baby a piece of the larger cake you ordered for guests. As long as your birthday boy or birthday girl gets a little taste of sweetness for their 1st birthday party, they won’t mind. Cake pops are also a fun and less messy alternative to smash cakes.


Choose decorations. Decoration ideas and party themes abound at any party store. When your thinking of first birthday themes, some decorations may be obvious. For example, if you chose a Sesame street party theme, you would want to choose primary colors for your party details. Pick colors that match your party theme.

Shopping List

Create a shopping list. A first birthday shopping list involves a lot. Think through everything you’ll need to implement your first birthday party ideas, and look through what you might already have in storage to match your birthday party theme.

FAQ’s About Planning a First Birthday Party

When should you start planning a 1st birthday party?

Start planning the birthday party about two months out. This will give you enough time to plan properly. If you want a cake that matches your theme from a local baker, you may need to even think a little farther out. The more fancy the cake, the more lead time a baker will need.

What do you do at a first birthday party?

Because the birthday party is for adults as much as it is for your baby and the kids, plan your party and activities accordingly. If there will be older kids, you could have games set up for them. If it will be mostly adults, allow them a chance to eat, drink and mingle. A mini ball pit could be cute if you have mostly babies. Think of games or activities that go along with your theme and decorations.

Also, keep the safety and the comfort of your littlest kids in mind. Loud bangs from party poppers and bursting balloons may frighten your baby. Discarded poppers and balloons are choking hazards for any small child. 

Do I need to give out birthday party favors?

Party favors are really unnecessary at this age. If you have older children attending the party, you could consider small favor bags, that go along with your theme, put together just for them. 

What else should a keep in mind for a 1st birthday party menu?

You’ll want to serve food and cake that’s enjoyable for guests of varying ages. You’ll want to know if any of your guests have food allergies. This could affect everything from the appetizers to the smash cake so if there are any sever allergies or if any guests are gluten free, you’ll want to know right away.

There are many alternatives to cake as well for your baby’s day. Most kids would love theme based custom cookies that match your decorations. Small children enjoy cake and also cupcakes.

Be Present and Have a Great Time Celebrating Your Birthday Boy or Birthday Girl

As you plan your baby’s first birthday, don’t forget – this celebration is as much a party for the parents as it is for the child.

Whether you’re having a large party of a small gathering, if you’ve thought through all the necessary steps, everything will go smoothly and your 1st birthday party will be a success! You’ll snag some amazing photos, your guests and kids will have fun, your theme and decorations will be awesome.

Download Our FREE First Birthday Party Planning Check List

You don’t need to be a professional event planner or have an elaborate theme to create some memories with your close friends and family, and have a good time. Any cake will do, any theme is fine. The babies will be babies, your friends will appreciate being invited, and photos will show how much love you put into the party. Celebrate your baby’s first year! Have fun!

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