10 Essential Baby Milestones
From smiles to reaching and grabbing
2. Social smile
(between 6 and 8 weeks)
This isn't the spontaneous smile that happens when your few-hours-old infant passes gas or your 3-week-old grins at the ceiling. A social smile is reciprocal, meaning your baby smiles in response to someone else's smile. It's a sign that several different parts of the brain are maturing. It says he's able to see short distances, make sense of an object (in this case a smiling face), and produce his own smile in return. A social smile also boosts bonding, since it's one of the first forms of communication between parent and child.
If despite your encouraging grins you don't notice a social smile by 3 months, bring it up with your pediatrician; rarely this can signal eye problems or an attachment disorder. Again, being patient and looking for times when your baby is well rested may be all it takes to see him smile.
(around 8 weeks)
During your baby's first several weeks, she communicates mainly by crying. But around 8 weeks, there's a lot of activity that begins to take place in the brain's front temporal lobe (the brain's speech center) that lets your baby coo. "I often half jokingly say that if she has a social smile, can follow movement with her eyes, and can coo, it means she has the ability to go to college, since there's so much that has to be working right in the brain for these things to occur," says Dr. Stein.
When she coos, she's using the back of her throat to create vowel sounds like ah-ah-ah and oh-oh-oh. Try talking back, and she may respond with another ah-ah-ah. Don't expect your infant to coo on cue though; she still needs time to master her coo conversation. One of the best things you can do to promote this is to narrate your life: "Mommy is putting on your shoes so we can go to the park. Do you like the park?" Whatever you talk about, your baby just loves the sound of your voice. If she doesn't spontaneously coo by 3 months, check with your doctor, who'll likely run hearing tests.
(3 to 4 months)
Eventually your baby will move on to babbling. This is different from cooing because it requires using the tongue and the front of the mouth (rather than the throat) to make sounds like nah-nah-nah and bah-bah-bah. Different situations inspire babbling in different babies. For Erin England Acosta's daughter, Samantha, a change of scenery seemed to be all it took. "Samantha hardly made a peep until she started daycare at 6 months, and after the first week, she was babbling up a storm," says the Orange, California, mom.
Once your baby begins babbling, she'll likely want to try out her newly acquired skill -- a lot. This practice will ultimately bring her to the next significant milestone at 6 to 8 months: reciprocal babbling. This shows that she's learned she can respond to another person's voice by using her own -- a crucial first step in early language. If you don't hear babbling by the time your baby is 6 months, talk with your pediatrician to discuss your concerns.
5. Reaching and grabbing
(between 5 and 7 months)
"When a child begins to reach and grab, it says she can act intentionally on the world," says Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources for Zero to Three, a national nonprofit organization devoted to promoting healthy development for infants and toddlers. "It shows desire, interest, and curiosity, which are all critical for learning."
To encourage reaching and grabbing, get down on the floor with your baby and place a favorite toy just out of reach. The more opportunities you create, the more you engage her senses and entice her to touch, smell, look, and learn about objects.