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Little Triumphs

Two days after I brought my daughter home from the hospital, the novelty wore off. No one had told me that aside from feeding, sleeping, and filling their diapers, newborns don't actually do very much. Pretty soon I was longing for those big breakthroughs, that first smile or first word  -- signs that Eve appreciated all my hard work.

But what I hadn't factored in was that those major milestones depend on a whole series of invisible achievements. And just because your baby doesn't seem to be doing very much doesn't mean she isn't watching and absorbing what goes on around her. All of these milestones count toward those big baby firsts you can't wait for.

Understands what you tell her

Eve knew what I was saying long before she learned how to form words  -- I used this skill to train her to fetch my slippers for me!

How you'll know it's kicked in: Even before she starts to babble, your baby is tuning in to the sound of words. By around 4 months she'll recognize her name and start trying to copy the noises she's heard you make. By about 6 months she's heard certain speech sounds  -- such as the "ee" in Mommy, Daddy, and doggy  -- thousands of times, and can pick out that sound clearly in speech. By 1 year she'll probably be able to show that she connects those words to the things they label. I'd ask, "Eve, where is the doggy?" and she'd glance over at the family pooch.

Why it's important: She's using what she hears to learn how to talk. This is where her copycat skills come into play. When she starts to vocalize and you take turns to coo at each other, she'll try to copy your tone and accent. And though you may not understand what she's saying, you'll notice that she sounds different when she's excited or surprised or asking a question.

Games you can play: This is easy. Your baby loves the sound of your voice, so let her hear it. Talk to her while you're out walking or doing things around the house; repeat things over and over. Or sing. You don't have to go overboard (babies like a little quiet time, too), but at this stage she's happy to listen to what you have to say.

Kate Brophy lives in Florida and has written for All You.