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Now that you’ve welcomed your baby into the world, an exciting new chapter begins. Amidst the new routines and round-the-clock duties are the rewards of being new parents, including endless cuteness and the thrilling firsts of your baby’s remarkable development.
So when should you expect that first smile? That first word? That first step?
Here are ten of the most awaited milestones, and when to expect them, during your baby’s first year. Remember, though, that these are general guidelines. All babies develop at different rates, so don’t worry or be disappointed if your little one doesn’t hit the mark on the timing exactly. As always, check with your pediatrician if you have concerns, and above all, enjoy these firsts.
While food and sleep are the main focuses for your new baby during his first three months, there are several markers to watch for as your little one prepares himself for life, physically, vocally, and socially.
Supervised time on his tummy helps your baby develop the neck, chest, and arm muscles that will help him move and lift his head to look around. The first brief lift of the head will occur in the first month. As your baby practices pushing up, first on his elbows, then on his arms, his upper body muscles strengthen, and soon he’ll be able to lift his head more steadily and for longer lengths of time. This same set of muscles later will assist him in other year-one achievements, such as reaching, sitting, and crawling.1
Crying and involuntary grunts, sneezes, and coughs will be the medley that fills your baby’s first few weeks. Soon, these noises will shift to more purposeful gurgling, squeals, sighs, and coos as he starts to form vowel sounds. Talking back to him will encourage these vocalizations as he grows his catalog of sounds that will lead to his very first word.2
While you may catch glimpses of smiles early on, these are not social smiles and are not caused by gas (a common misperception), your baby is just exercising his facial muscles.3 The first deliberate smile will come at around two months. At around three months, make some silly faces or noises, and you’re likely to turn those smiles into your baby’s first real laugh!
Four months mark the beginning of some significant developments for your baby. Not quite mobile yet, he is more aware of his surroundings, and reacts to and interacts with them ─ and with you.
Thanks to his tummy-time practice, by month four your baby is holding his head more steadily and can “sit up” when propped by pillows. He also pushes his legs down when you hold him in a standing position. Watch for one of his biggest month-four feats ─ a roll-over from his stomach to his back. The first may be an unintentional roll from one of his “pushups,” but soon rolling over will become a favorite stunt. It will take another month or two for him to roll from his back to his tummy.
Your baby’s need for nourishment drives his sleep/wake patterns. As a newborn, he needs to eat frequently. (Breastfed newborns need to breastfeed at least eight to twelve times every 24 hours ─ every 2-3 hours.).4 As your baby grows, he’ll be able to hold more food in his tummy, allowing him to go for longer periods of time between feedings. His longer sleep cycles eventually will sync with yours and, beginning at around the six-month mark, you’ll both start sleeping through most of the night, although he still may need a nighttime feeding.
As a newborn, your baby usually keeps his fingers curled into tiny fists.5 After a couple of months, he starts to use his little fingers and toes to interact with objects around him and to explore different textures and shapes. At four months, he discovers that he can bring interesting objects closer by reaching for and grasping them. Place him on a play mat or activity gym with plenty of enticing toys above and around him to prompt him to practice reaching and grabbing.
Your baby is about to mobilize, so get ready for some serious exercise! Interaction with others also increases as he further refines his communication and social skills.
Whether your baby creeps, scoots, or slides, crawling marks the start of mobilization for your little one and helps him discover more of the world around him. Timing varies: some babies crawl as early as six or seven months, others not until nine months, and still others skip crawling altogether. An early crawler doesn’t necessarily mean an early walker. In fact, those babies that skip crawling often graduate to walking earlier than crawlers who tend to be quite content to travel on all fours.6
From seven months on, your baby will start strengthening his leg muscles, using his recently acquired reaching and grasping abilities to pull himself up to stand ─ and using everything from your body to a piece of furniture to do so. Standing is the precursor to cruising (walking sideways while holding onto a couch or other object) and walking, so get ready! To dispel a common myth, encouraging your baby to pull himself up and stand will not make him bowlegged.7
Communication is both verbal and nonverbal. When that connection between a gesture (likely a wave) and a meaning (“hi” or “good-bye”) clicks for your baby at around nine months, it’s a big milestone! Pointing at objects begins around 12 months and marks another major developmental milestone that experts call “shared attention.” Your baby will point to show you something that he sees, wanting you to see it, too.8
University of Washington research shows that speech sounds stimulate babies’ brains, helping learn how to form words even before they begin to speak.9 This information reinforces the importance of talking to and reading to your baby. Your baby will understand his own name and the words for some familiar objects by around six months. As with other milestones, though, the timeline for saying his first recognizable word ranges widely and can occur anywhere from seven to 18 months.
The information included in this article and on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation.