How to throw your baby a first birthday party

Written by kathryn walsh
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Making memories for (almost) everyone

How to throw your baby a first birthday party
Party hats are a must for photos. (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

It was a celebration for us as a new family and a celebration of the first year with a newborn. Babies transform relationships and families so we wanted to honour that we had thrived in that year.

— Betsy Aimee

When Betsy Aimee planned her son's first birthday party, she knew he wouldn't remember it -- but she also knew that she and the rest of her family would. "It was extra special because my stepdaughter and my son share a birthday and so we wanted to have a party that we knew she would remember," she says. This celebration of your baby's first year is one for your entire family to share.

Nail down logistics

It takes a village to raise a baby, and you may want to invite your entire village to his first birthday party. So start with the guest list before making any other birthday plans. The intimate backyard bash that you envision may not work once you realise you have 75 people on your must-invite list. You may also feel overwhelmed when you look at your whole list, and that could be the push you need to make some tough cuts.

Next, pick a place that can handle your crowd and has space for babies to safely play and for older kids to spread out. Aimee held her baby's party in a local park. Any place that holds classes for infants, such as a tumbling gym, play centre or music school may be equipped for a noisy birthday bash.

Schedule the party around your baby's nap time, and set a firm start and end time. Aimee's found that a three-hour party was just right. "We felt that was enough time for people to arrive and for us to have food, games and cake. This was just the right amount of time for our baby before he became overstimulated or tired. This also honours other families with babies and children."

A theme helps you focus your planning. "We chose the theme 'Oh the places you'll go' because it was reflective of our parenting philosophy," explains Aimee. Use your own favourite children's book as a theme, or plan the party around animals or music.

Rally the troops

Baby's first birthday party is a celebration for everyone who loves him, so don't plan it alone. Create a team, advises Aimee. "I had my younger sister manage the arts and crafts table, and my best friend helped me brainstorm ideas... It was collaborative effort for us since dad is a designer and I plan events as part of my profession and so we enjoyed working together."

After you and your partner finalise the who, where and when of the party, survey your closest relatives and friends to find out who is willing and able to pitch in. Then hold a planning meeting or send a group email to assign tasks based on each person's skills. A friend who has clear handwriting might be in charge of addressing the invitations; a sibling with keen musical tastes can create a kid-friendly party playlist.

If you can, consider delegating some tasks to a pro. Aimee opted to handle most of the party planning herself, but splurged on a photographer to capture the once-in-a-lifetime event. Hire a few babysitters to help you keep the children entertained.

You might also pay a caterer to supply and serve snacks. If you're planning the food yourself, keep it as simple as possible. Order a cake or have a relative bake it. Serve a wide selection of bite-size snacks that are both baby and adult-friendly. You can cut fruit into chunks, put some on skewers for older guests and give them to babies as finger foods. Cut cheese and brownies using "1" cookie cutters. You might also order pizza or sandwiches from a shop. Label everything for guests with food allergies.

Plan activities

The guest of honour might spend the party happily being passed from lap to lap, or end up napping through the celebration, but you should still be prepared with safe and entertaining activities for him and any other babies in attendance. Set up a designated baby zone with soft blankets on the ground. Line it with chairs so adults can snack, chat and supervise at the same time, or set up a free-standing baby yard filled with soft toys. Fill a sensory box with pieces of fabric, crinkly balls of paper, plastic instruments and small mirrors. Assign a babysitter or other adult to supervise babies while they play with these objects.

If your guest list includes older children, plan at least a few activities that can be tailored to them. "We had an arts and crafts table for older kids," says Aimee. "Rather than purchase party hats, I made some of my own following simple instructions from a tutorial. The guests decorated their hats with markers, stickers and glitter pens. We also created colouring pages for kids to colour that fit with our theme and I purchased inexpensive crayons. Since our party had a bit of a travel theme we created passports that were a mini-scavenger hunt for the kids."

Ask adult guests to bring photos of themselves at around one year old. Hang the photos and invite everyone to try to match the photo to the adult. You can also ask guests to write notes and cards for your baby. Seal them up and save them to give him when he's older.

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