Celebrating Baby’s First Birthday: Tips from parents

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Most seasoned parents agree that first birthday parties are mostly for the adults, but still want a fun, memorable way to commemorate this important milestone. Some parents swear by a cake smash photo session, while others aren’t ready to commit to all that frosting. Some want a pile of gifts, while others say “it’s too much stuff” (maybe start a savings bond?). Whatever side of the baby gate you’re on, you’ll enjoy reading these tips and party themes from moms and dads who have “been there” a couple times already.

Keep it simple. Invite family and a couple friends into your backyard to watch the baby smash that yummy cake! ~Melissa Varela, Rancho Peñasquitos

I scoured Pinterest in search of ideas for a fun birthday party theme for our twin girls’ first birthday. We chose “Donut Grow Up,” which provides cute ways to use yummy donuts as the “o” in “One!” ~Sandra Page, Rancho Santa Fe

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For my son's first birthday we rented a soft play zone for the little ones and had a balloon artist to entertain bigger kids. The play zone was perfect for babies to explore safely. We also like the idea of hiring a "bubble guy" for entertainment. My friend did that for her daughter's second birthday and it was a big hit! ~Tina Horn, San Carlos

I make a photo book every year before my children’s birthdays. I make pages for holidays, events we attended, grandparent visits, etc. I design the last two pages to match the birthday party theme and I have guests at the birthday party write a message/sign it. I’m going to give them all to my kids when they’re older so they can look back on all of their yearbooks. ~Alex Colwell, Ramona

First birthdays are best spent indulging in your baby’s favorite things. Think an extended park or beach day, complete with a homemade birthday cake and new toys wrapped in pretty paper that they can rip apart. ~Tia Hutchinson, Point Loma

Commemorate the first birthday with a photo display of “firsts” (first smile, first tooth, first steps, etc.). ~Anonymous 

My husband is from Germany, so for my son’s first birthday, we decided on a “ONE-toberfest” theme. We all dressed for the occasion, decorated in a Bavarian theme, and had beer and bratwurst! ~Brittany Hess, Rancho Bernardo

I would do any of these themes:

  • This IS My First Rodeo (western décor)
  • Rollin' with My Gnomies (gnomes, red and white mushrooms and woodland animals)
  • Taco 'bout Uno (Mexican fiesta theme and taco smash cake)

~Emily Dolton, Clairemont

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This year I did a “Wild One” party for my daughter with plenty of animal decor. Our party was three hours long, but we told people to “drop in when you can” so they could arrive late or leave early, depending on their child’s naptime. A schedule is still important; we had cake about 90 minutes into the party so we could catch most guests at once. Activities included a ball pit and sidewalk chalk. I love the idea of a smash cake, but wasn’t ready to introduce the sugar rush, so I went with a “cake” made completely of fruit (see photo).
        In retrospect, I realize I got really excited as a first-time parent. Since I invested in lots of themed décor, I decided to use it for the next couple years (“Two Wild” for her second birthday; “Wild-n-Three” for her third). Boom—planning done! ~Britany Gipson, Rancho Peñasquitos

If you have older children, include them [in the party] as much as you can. Even though your baby doesn’t know what’s going on, your other children do, and they can get very jealous. Have them help design the cake, put together the menu and select music. Also, let each of them invite a special guest of their own. ~Armin A. Brott, parenting expert and author of The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year

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After the party, devote some time to reminiscing—and taking notes—about your baby’s first year. Write down as many things you and your partner can think of, and try to collect baby-related anecdotes from friends and family. Turn it all into a slideshow, flash drive or baby book. ~Armin A. Brott, parenting expert and author of The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year

The first birthday party is for the parents. Your baby doesn't care if there are decorations or streamers or a fancy cake. Baby will be excited just to have extra attention. Please don't stress about it and feel like you need to spend a lot of money. ~Mike Cunningham, Rancho Peñasquitos

Don’t stress out about first birthdays. Your child won’t even remember it. My advice is to invite close friends and family, take some cute pictures and keep it casual. ~Derek Restrepo, San Marcos

Get more parenting tips in our annual publication San Diego Babies & Toddlers.

Lisa Gipson is the managing editor of San Diego Family Magazine.

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