Getting through the first year of your child’s life is a huge accomplishment, and whether you’re a brand-new mom or on the verge of your baby’s first birthday, you’ve probably thought about how to celebrate that milestone. And celebrate you should! You have (or will have!) overcome some of motherhood’s greatest early accomplishments: your child has grown from a newborn to a solid-food eating baby, he’s likely sleeping through the night, you’ve soothed him through teething, coaxed him into crawling, and he may now be walking or just about to take those very first steps. These are certainly reasons to celebrate!
A first birthday celebration can be quite elaborate and overwhelming for the guest of honor, but there are ways to make the event perfect for everyone involved—especially your little one. Here are important things to consider to make your child’s first birthday a success.
Planning the Main Event
Liz Ryan, a mother of five from Boulder, Colorado, has hosted her share of first birthday parties. She says there are two crucial things to consider—family members and memories. And although the focus of the event is on your baby, the party is not really for your baby.
For her kids’ first birthdays, Ryan made sure the guests could enjoy the main event—the cake and the candle. “I had a simple half-hour cake ceremony and it was perfect. We got the photos we wanted for the baby book, and my baby got a fistful of cake; everyone was happy.”
When organizing a birthday party for a 1-year-old, timing is everything. Make sure to plan around your baby’s naptime to avoid the fiasco of singing “Happy Birthday” to a screaming child. This may mean hosting a small get-together before naptime or waiting until after naptime to bring out the cake. Remember, you want to make the experience pleasant, and while pictures of a fussing toddler might be interesting years down the road, a crying child throwing birthday cake is not what guests expect.
For children this age, keep it simple. While games and activities are not necessary or expected at a party for one-year-olds (unless you have invited young children you’ll need to entertain), colorful decorations and a fun theme will complete your event. Meghan Hardy of Birthday Express says to make your party zone colorful and festive. “Babies are drawn to bright colors. Hang streamers in the party room and decorate the party table, often the focal point of the room,” says Hardy.
Ryan agrees to go all out on decorations because you’ll probably be saving on party favors and entertainment for a first birthday. If you do have balloons, make sure they are well out of the way of any children as they pose a choking hazard.
You might feel compelled to invite everyone who has played a role in your child’s life, but be assured the wonderful labor and delivery nurse who helped with your breathing exercises is not expecting an invitation.
Take into consideration your child’s personality and how she reacts to large groups of people. Hardy suggests keeping the guest list relatively small by inviting only immediate family and close friends to the event.
Of course, everyone wants to buy your baby the best possible gift, and part of the excitement of gift-giving is seeing the recipient open presents. Yet, at this stage in a child’s life, he may be more content to play with empty boxes and shiny wrapping paper. Make sure your guests know how much the gifts are appreciated and mention something unique about each item.
Ryan says your child will most likely receive gifts that are not yet age-appropriate, and you can put them away to play with later. “It will be total overkill to expose the baby to all these new things at once. Your child has no idea that this stuff is for him, so stow it until you need it.” Ryan says this will also help to minimize the anxiety your child may feel.
Susan Held, of Cooksville, Maryland, commemorated her son Patrick’s first birthday by asking guests to write a special note and make a donation to their favorite charity in her son’s name instead of bringing a gift. She knew Patrick didn’t need anything and would never know the difference, and she wanted to be able to help others less fortunate.
What’s a birthday party without cake? You have to have cake! And for most parents, the first birthday cake offers the ultimate photo opportunities.
For Stephanie Benson of Des Plaines, Illinois, it was all about the cake, and she recommends every one-year-old get his or her own “smash cake.” “Not just a piece of their birthday cake, but a miniature cake just for them,” says Benson, who has hosted three first birthday events for her boys. “Make it a yellow cake with white frosting, so it is easier to get their clothes clean!” Benson has fond memories (and photos!) of her son Zachary’s first birthday party, when he had frosting in his nose and all over his face.
If you’re concerned about nutrition, you don’t have to serve the traditional cake and ice cream. Kitty Broihier, dietitian and author of The Big Book of Low-Carb, suggests focusing on more healthful types of birthday cake, such as “carrot cake baked in muffin tins dusted with powdered sugar.” Broihier also says banana muffins sans frosting make a great healthy alternative to the usual frosted cakes. Mini-muffins are also a treat and easy for tiny fingers to grasp and eat.
You can also create your own calorie-friendly ice-cream cake masterpiece. Broihier suggests making a cake using “low-fat ice cream layered with graham crackers and drizzled with chocolate syrup or topped with berries.” If you do choose this dessert route, Broihier says it’s essential to soften the ice cream ahead of time so you can spread it onto the graham crackers, but then refreeze it once you’re done. About 10 minutes before cake time, remove the cake from the freezer so it can thaw a bit for easier cutting.
Broihier says shortcakes topped with berries and light whipped cream and even sorbet are also “refreshing alternatives to frosting-heavy traditional cakes.”
The most important things to remember when celebrating your baby’s first birthday are to keep your own expectations low, the wet wipes handy, and the camera ready. There are sure to be many smiles from your brand-new toddler, confirming you’re doing a great job raising him!