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Clever 1st birthday party ideas you didn’t know you needed

These 1st birthday party ideas go well beyond the cake smash.

1st birthday party ideas

A child’s first birthday party is an enormous milestone — and not just for the baby. It’s a chance for parents to celebrate with the whole community who helped get the baby to this special day. 

“A first birthday party is really more about the adults in attendance than the honoree or the kids,” says Janice Carnevale, owner of Bellwether Events. “It’s truly a celebration that the parents made it through that first year.”

That’s why planning a party can feel like a high-stakes proposition, and you want to get it just right. To that end, we pulled together 1st birthday party tips from seasoned event planners to help you plan the perfect celebration.

Celebrate the grownups

This might seem counterintuitive for a 1st birthday party tip, but the pros emphasize the importance of acknowledging the adults and their needs in a room full of babies. As Carnavale notes, because the first birthday party is really about the adults, she says you’ll want to primarily plan your food and drinks menu for them. 

Nora Sheils, co-Founder of Rock Paper Coin and founder of Bridal Bliss, emphatically agrees. “It is a way to celebrate making it through the first year, the sleepless nights, the feeding struggles and the joy that comes with a baby,” she notes. “It tends to be an emotional time for parents, and it’s absolutely something to celebrate!”

To that end, she says, offer both kid-friendly fare, as well as more refined foods that appeal to grownups — and even alcoholic beverages if it suits your group. “All because it’s a kids birthday doesn’t mean you can’t have booze and good music,” Sheils says. “Be creative, have fun and get ready to celebrate because you deserve it.”

Mara Mazdzer, owner of Fuse Weddings and Events, ​​adds this important caveat: “Depending on the day and time, having a beer, wine and mimosas for parents will be a welcomed bonus.” She emphasizes to just be sure to keep adults-only beverages and snacks out of kids’ reach.

Designate — or hire — a photographer

There’s a lot going on during a baby’s birthday party, and that pulls parents in many directions. You don’t want to miss documenting any of those precious moments, but ideally, you will be able to enjoy being present amidst it all. 

“I always suggest bringing in a friend or a professional photographer to grab candid shots, so you don’t have to worry about it and can focus on your guests and your special birthday person.”

— KATE MAZZUCA, EVENT PRODUCER, BESPOKE BOEHEME

To that end, Bespoke Boheme event producer Kate Mazzuca recommends designating a photographer, or hiring one, to make sure all those memories are documented. “I always suggest bringing in a friend or a professional photographer to grab candid shots, so you don’t have to worry about it and can focus on your guests and your special birthday person,” she says. ”You can then send a link to your guests post-event and people get a nice family portrait from the day.”

Bri Marbais, a stylist with The Bridal Finery, suggests taking important pictures prior to guest arrival, just as you’d do with a wedding. “Before the party chaos begins, take the time to stage and capture the important details such as the decor, outfit and most importantly, the 1-year-old,” she says. “While you will want to take photos during the party itself, you will also want to be present and not miss the moments as they are happening.”

Host the party in a safe and circumscribed space

None of the parents will be able to enjoy the party if it’s in a space where babies can wander into danger — or into a place where they can cause havoc. “Keep them contained,” says Samantha Leenheer of Samantha Joy Events. “Make sure your party is held in a space that the kids can’t escape from. It will let their parents relax and allow the kids to have more fun exploring.”

Mazdzer suggests enlisting parents or other adults to help supervise the various play stations and the general party area. “The party area should be well-defined and contained so that kids aren’t out of sight,” she says. “Be mindful of things in your home that could be broken or destroyed, and tuck those away for party time. Having a house full of littles is an entirely different experience than just having your littles in your house.”

Schedule around nap times

If you ignore nap times just this once in favor of the very special occasion bash, you do so at your own peril. (Cue the meltdowns!) “Keep in mind nap times when you schedule your party,” Leenheer says. “Some friends may still be on two naps a day so consider having a quiet spot for others to rest and plenty of food and snacks so that parents can be sure they keep to their routine but can have fun too.”

Syrie Roman, a Buffalo, New York-based event planner and founder of Social Maven, suggests throwing a brunch party as a way to navigate nap times. “Something that gets gravely overlooked is not interrupting your child’s sleep schedule,” she says. “If your baby goes down for a nap at 3 p.m., then have a 4:30 p.m. party or brunch event at 11 a.m. That way, your life isn’t thrown off for a week trying to get your kid back on their sleep schedule!”

Keep it short

Similarly, don’t plan a party that stretches too long: You’ll only have antsy parents and crabby kids. Plus, you’ll probably be eager for peace and quiet, and a chance to regroup, after all of the festivity anyway.

“You probably don’t need more than 90 minutes for a young child’s birthday party, especially if they aren’t walking yet,” Carnevale says. Keep it short by opening gifts after everyone leaves, she advises. Plus, she says, one way you can save on the food budget by hosting the party after lunchtime but before dinner. “This way, you only have to provide light snacks.”

Carefully think through the smash cake

Letting the celebrant smash into his own cake has become a highlight of 1st birthday parties — and certainly a photo opp that many parents plan to cherish. So think through the presentation, and decorate the designated area accordingly.

“Everybody loves a smash cake but don’t forget a cute hat, bib and high chair tray banner for that photo op,” Carnevale says.

That said, Mazdzer reminds parents to plan another dessert for guests to eat after the baby has obliterated his own version. “Since your elaborate birthday cake will likely be inedible once your little is done with it, plan a sheet cake or cupcakes for party attendees to enjoy,” she says. “Cupcakes can be a fun option since a wide variety of flavors can be offered.”

Mazzuca says a cake might not even be necessary at all to achieve the desired shots. “Since most people these days are pretty conscious of sugar intake, we skipped the cake entirely,” she says of her own son’s celebration. “We went with a small, sugarless smash cake made with applesauce so we could have the candle and the photos, but had some yummy sweet treats for guests mixed in with everything else. I recommend this to a lot of folks because no one eats the cake at birthday parties except the kids and at this age, and it can just feel superfluous.”

Whatever the specific details you choose for your first birthday party, you’re sure to make it a smash success. All you need to make it happen are these smart tips from the pros — plus healthy doses of patience, preparation and intuition.