Baby Milestone: The First Smile

My 1-month-old son had a belly full of breast milk, and his eyes shut tight in slumber the first time that I saw his little baby smile. Did that mean he was having pleasant dreams? That he was happy? That he was passing some sort of baby milestone? Or, as the naysayers like to tell us, did it just mean he was passing gas? According to the experts, those sleepy-time smiles during a new baby’s first month are really just reflexes. In fact, no one is sure why newborns smile so much in their sleep during their first month. However, I like to think of those early smiles as practice for the real deal. Here’s what I learned from my little one’s grins: 

Your infant’s smile may develop. Your new one’s baby smile will soon become more pronounced: In terms of your baby’s development, genuine grins may start to brighten an infant’s face around the second month. That means that he’s alert and beaming in response to stimuli like your smiling face or a fun toy. These smiles indicate that your baby is reaching a big baby milestone: He’s developing social skills.         

There are many types of smiles. The baby smiles that I most cherish are the ones my son would make when he spotted his dad or me. There was the “Hey, I’m glad you’re here to get me out of this crib” smile. And the “I love playing peek-a-boo with you” smile. And of course, the “Mommy or Daddy are so silly” smile. You may see these types of grins -- the ones where your new baby smiles at familiar faces and engages in play -- around the third month. Soon after, that smile may be accompanied by laughter, another big baby milestone.         

Keep a camera handy. Capturing this happy baby milestone on video or with a camera isn’t all that challenging. Most new babies seem to find lots of things to smile about during these early months. Of course, babies can also get over stimulated. This is why you sometimes end up with tears when you try too hard to coax a smile. I found it was helpful to lighten up on the baby games until my son was ready for more grins and giggles.

There’s nothing more endearing than when your child hits one of those baby milestones, and it’s especially spectacular when it’s a baby smile. You’ll probably find that your little one’s grin can light up a whole room. Keep the games, snuggles, and kisses coming, and those sweet smiles are sure to brighten everyone’s days.

Baby Milestones Remembered: Rolling Over

After my daughter, Morgan, mastered the art of sitting up by herself at five months, we knew the next baby milestone was our baby rolling over. All the signs of readiness were there: sleeping on her side, rolling onto her shoulder, crossing one leg over the other while lying down. We tried all the techniques, such as putting a toy where she would need to roll over to get it, showing her how to make it happen, and going from both back to belly and belly to back. There were many times she came close but couldn’t quite make it onto her stomach from her back.

Three days shy of her six month birthday, while watching her sleep on what my husband and I lovingly call stalkervision, aka Morgan TV, aka our video monitor, we heard a noise. Suddenly I saw her head pop up, and there was my baby rolling over right there in her crib. It was then I realized that all the action happens when she thinks we aren’t looking (which would later be confirmed even more when she started crawling in her crib). There she was, lying on her stomach in her crib, ready to sleep for the night. Baby milestone completed? Check!

I was very informed about the dangers of babies sleeping on their bellies and about SIDS, so I began to panic, even though her baby development move was quite impressive. She was sleeping for the night, and rolled over by herself, so should we just leave her there? I didn’t want to wake her or disrupt her sleep, but I also had her safety in mind. I told my husband to very gently move her back onto her back to sleep. Mission: completed.

The next day, we wanted to witness our baby rolling over in person and not on a blurry monitor screen. We put her on her back and placed her favorite rattle just out of reach. Morgan easily rolled over onto her belly to grab it, then rolled on her back and kicked her legs in joyful pride as we celebrated our baby’s development halfway through her first year of life.

Baby Milestones: Bye-Bye Diapers

I honestly don’t think potty training would be such a big deal if everyone didn’t treat it like some kind of Olympic event. “Carolyn was out of diapers by 18 months,” bragged one fellow mom with her sights set on a podium finish in our play group. “Have your tried using a reward chart next to the potty?” offered a well-meaning friend as she cast a definite look of pity at me and my still-in- diapers, almost three-year-old daughter.

The truth is that I tried it all: gold stars, stickers, even tasty treats. I tried everything, when I realized I was taking the wrong approach. It wasn’t lack of ability that kept my daughter, Shaina, from bonding with the potty; it was lack of interest.

Shaina was talking in complete sentences, while her underwear-clad friend struggled to string three words together. “Forget the reward system and appeal to her intellect,” I told myself, as I headed for a local store to purchase several pairs of “grown-up” undies covered with images of my daughter’s favorite cartoon characters. After washing them and carefully arranging them in her dresser drawer, I invited her in for a peek and my well-reasoned pitch.

“So,” I said, “your birthday is just two weeks away, and there’s something very special that happens when children turn three. Do you know what that is?” As she nodded her head from side to side, I continued. “When children turn three, they give up wearing baby diapers forever. To celebrate that, when you wake up on your birthday, you get to wear this beautiful underwear from now on, and the baby diapers will be gone.” All this was said with incredible enthusiasm and a big grin on my face.

On the days leading up to her birthday, I repeated the story with continued zeal with one last reminder the night before. The next morning, Shaina called me to meet her in the bathroom. “Look,” she said with obvious pride pointing to the contents of the potty. With high fives all around and ohs and ahs over her choice of undies, I was delighted to have this baby milestone behind us, even if she didn’t win a gold medal.

Baby Milestones: First Words

The first word to come out of my 10-month-old son’s mouth was music to my ears: “Mama.” Carter had been babbling and making bubbles and sounds for a while, so I almost missed it when “mama” passed from his lips. After that, I paid careful attention to his mumbles, eager to catch the next new word. And I know I wasn’t alone in my excitement: First words are memorable baby milestones for any parent. Here’s what you should know about your little one’s chatter.

First words are (often) predictable. Most new babies start to pick up language and spew out first words sometime between 8 and 12 months. Carter wasn’t alone in his first word of choice: Studies show that “mama” and “dada” are tops on infant’s vocabulary lists (probably because both mom and dad repeatedly encourage their new babies to say these words!). Also, infants typically gravitate toward words with repetitive sounds, which is why their early vocabulary often includes words like bye-bye, nana (for banana), and uh-oh.

They have a preference. After “mama,” some of Carter’s other first words included animal names and his favorite objects, something that I learned is common for new babies. In fact, the first words most frequently uttered by babies after dada and mama include baabaa (bottle), dog, kitty, ball, and duck.

They start talking quickly. It takes almost the first year of life for a baby’s language skills to become apparent. But once your baby starts talking, watch out! Most toddlers have a vocabulary of at least 50 words by age two. That’s when Carter started to use simple phrases like “more milk” and asked questions like “Go bye-bye?”

You can help boost vocab. Even when Carter wasn’t saying a whole lot, his brain was recognizing and storing words every time I talked to him. To help boost his vocabulary, I used descriptive words whenever possible. For example, when snuggling with him on the couch, I would say “Your blue blanket is so soft and fuzzy.” I also read and sung to him as often as possible to expose him to a broad vocabulary.

My diligence paid off, and Carter grew into a chatty little kid. Your new baby will also be rattling off questions and commentary before you know it, but if you feel like her talking is delayed, speak to your pediatrician. Together, you can help her reach this fun baby milestone!

My Baby Book: Key Milestones to Capture

When I took on the best job of being a new mom, I hadn’t realized I had also hired myself for another job: baby paparazzo. In a baby’s first year, there are so many developmental baby milestones and heart-melting moments to be captured; a camera should be glued to a new mom’s hand. These milestones and memories, both major and more personal, were some of my favorites:

Smiling: When my daughter was a newborn, there were fleeting moments of a smile, typically preceded by a rumbling bottom. It was about 10 days before her 2-month “birthday” that sitting on my lap, with a big smile on my face trying to encourage her to do the same -- she followed suit and smiled at me. Cue: heart explosion.

Laughing: I wish I could say my new baby’s first laugh was caused by my outstanding sense of humor, but it was her grandfather who takes the prize. After hearing the sound of his laughter, my daughter made some giggles of her own.

Discovering hands and feet: Around the 4-month mark, while lying down, my baby slowly started bringing her hands together and examining them in front of her face. Two weeks later, she found her feet, which led to constant sock removal. The discovery of both is a picture worth taking.

Sitting up/playing by herself: At about 5 months old, while holding my daughter up in a sitting position, I slowly let go. She stayed upright, hunched over in tripod position. A few days later, I wanted to see if she could use this new talent to play by herself, and she was successful. I put a musical piano in front of her, and she pushed the keys (still hunched over), showing one of her first signs of independence. I had to snap that!

Eating solids: My daughter tried her first taste of gourmet rice cereal at 5 months. While most of it ended up on her bib, there is little that is cuter than a tiny face full of mush.

Cruising and pulling up: Around the 8-month mark, my daughter showed the first sign of wanting to walk, when she held onto her toy chest and pulled herself up to a stand. A week later, with the help of her activity table, she began slowly moving her feet -- only walking to her left. Eventually, she learned to walk right, and before I knew it, she would be across the room in a second.

Crawling: My baby was cruising like a rock star before she showed any interest in crawling. She would mostly lie on her belly, kicking her legs and arms like a frog swimming, while we placed her favorite toys just a bit out-of-reach. It wasn’t until she turned 11 months -- and a mere 2 weeks before she learned to walk -- that she decided to become mobile and crawl.

Waving: Hearing the song, "Open Shut Them," in a music class helped my daughter practice opening and closing her hands. At 10 months, she used that skill to do the motion in response to “bye bye” and “hi,” communicating her ever-increasing friendliness.

Clapping: Around 8 months, my daughter’s claps consisted of fist-bumping herself. We clapped and celebrated seemingly everything she did, so she learned pretty quickly through imitation. She began clapping for everything she did, particularly in response to “yay” and “hooray.” There is nothing like patting yourself on the back.

Walking: My daughter cruised for months before taking her first steps, but once she got it on her own, she took off and hasn’t stopped since! It took the comfort of seeing her parents across from each other, knowing we would be there to catch her when she fell.