Motherhood Not What You Expected? First-year milestones to keep you going

Despite all the preparations expectant mothers do, most moms still don't know what to expect from their newborns. For all the beauty small infants possess, they really don't really do much, and they do even less to reward their parents for the day and night care they're providing.

For first time parents the whole experience of having a baby is like a giant bombshell: not only are you impacted by the original blast, but you're dealing with the fallout well after the event.

Childbirth itself is arduous – after months of anticipation you're thrust into the centre of overwhelming medical procedures and a physical process beyond all rational contemplation. Then, in the days and weeks following the sacred event, you find that your newborn is not the chubby, giggling thing you were promised in diaper ads. In fact, he's strangely silent – aside from all the crying.

The bad news is, you're right – newborns are not like the babies you see on TV. The good news is, your baby will become the rolley-polley cutie you had every right to expect. You just need to give it enough time. The following are some really important, amazing milestones your baby will pass during the first year. They will each make your life as a caregiver incrementally easier. As your baby learns to do more things and be more independent you'll have (slightly) more freedom to be your own person. Beyond that, each of these new abilities will make you fall even deeper in love with your baby.

7 The First Smile

Parents are generally surprised when they first hear that their freshly born bundle doesn't even smile, but it is true: babies don't usually smile until they're a little older. When newborns first arrive, they sleep – like, a lot. When they are not sleeping, they will want to eat. And in the few fleeting moments between meals and naptime, babies are full of expressionless stares.

Don't be afraid, you will love the blank face with all your being. You will love the sleeping face maybe even more. You will not miss the smiles before they arrive, but when they do you will be glad to see them.

Opinions are varied on when babies actually start to smile for keeps. The consternation is caused by trying to figure out which smile is borne of happiness and love and which is a reaction to a nasty gas bubble. The first time I was sure my baby was smiling at me was when he was about three months old.

Regardless of when it happens or which bodily function has caused it, the first smiles will be like Heaven's light shining on your head. Seriously, you might even hear angels sing.

In those first few gummy grins, you get your first sense that your baby is a real little person, and that he loves you very much. If he happens to fart immediately following, you will find the experience is in no way diminished.

For all those naysayers who say they're 'fake' smiles, rest assured: no smile is fake, really. Are the baby's lips curled up into an adorable arc? Check. Can you see her flash her lovely gums? Check. There you have it: baby has acheived a smile. It doesn't need to pass any test of origin once you look at it, just be glad you've been lucky enough to see it.

After you've seen The Smile for the first time, you will find yourself waiting up to see it again, and doing anything to try to coax it out of your baby. I'm sure you've seen all kinds of adults making goofy noises and grinning broadly at a largely unimpressed baby. There's great news about our love affair with baby smiles: the interaction we're giving them as we try to make them laugh is really good for their sense of security and confidence in the world. So keep it up, and reap all the smiles you can.

6 Sitting Up

After the First Smile phenomenon, it might seem like a long wait to witness another miracle from your baby. The baby wiggles around a lot, she still nurses a lot. And now she's a pro at bestowing that disarming grin on you and probably anyone else that cares to make eye contact with her. But she's still not giving a lot back to you and it's hard to tell what her personality will be like. You can go ahead and enjoy the quiet time you're getting, because before long it will seem like your youngster's personality is all up in your face for at least 15 hours a day (that's assuming she's going to be a great sleeper for you).

In the grand scheme of things, it's a meager two or three months to wait for baby to sit up all on her own.

If you've never experienced this transition, it's hard to imagine what a blessing it will be for your whole existence.

Picture your current daily routines: step one – you wander out of bed and start groping around the kitchen for the coffee pot, when you trip over the baby swing/bouncy seat/car seat that resides there for holding the baby while you prepare meals. Step two – you enencumber your arms by putting the baby down in the seat. If the baby has started crying, you might hand her a toy to keep her occupied. Step three - before you move to any other location in the house, including the bathroom, you need to pick up the baby and the seat, and relocate them both to your desired location. Step four – return to the kitchen with babe in arms, and curse your poor judgement in having moved the seat, because now you can't set the baby down and use two hands for serving yourself some coffee.

Granted, most mothers get pretty adept at carrying their bundle of joy around the house and doing, well just about everything with one free hand. But keep in mind that while babies are maturing and learning all these skills, they're also growing. At six months of age your baby might be 12 or 15 pounds of squirming, reaching weight on your arm. It's likely no coincidence that by the time your kiddo gets that heavy, she gains the strength and stability to sit on her own. The upshot of this newly acquired ability is that you no longer need bouncy swings or seats located strategically around the house. Suddenly, if you have a need to use both hands, you can plunk that bundle down on her butt, and pick her up exactly where you left her when it's convenient for you.

Bonus: while you're celebrating freed hands, your baby is rejoicing in a new view of the world. She can see the cat walk by, she can watch you do your daily chores, and she can play with toys that happen to be within reach. Win-win situation.

5 Eating Solids

Don't get me wrong here – I am very pro-breastfeeding. Still, there is something wonderful about a baby who eats solid food.

Doctors these days are recommending babies be solely nursed for the first six months of life. In truth, that number can be fudged just a little in each direction. When your babe is old enough to be interested in eating (grabbing at your meals is usually the big giveaway), and strong enough to sit upright in the highchair, suddenly he has a new favourite activity. Fun! At first it's an activity for two: a parent has to be right there, spoonfeeding mush of some sort into his mouth. But then, all of a sudden, he can get some slightly chunkier mush into his own mouth! Miracle!

Now, a banana can be a twenty-minute activity while you do the dishes. A baby cookie can placate even the fussiest younster for a few minutes. And, slowly but steadily, your baby becomes a little less reliant on his mother for feedings. Dad can take over some of the mealtimes, and mom can head out for the night at the movies. The possibilities seem endless!

There are two sides to this remarkable step in your wee one's development. On the one side, nursing is wonderful one-on-one time with a quiet baby. It's a reason to slow down and enjoy the moment. And it means your baby needs you (which is nice, considering you know you're totally hopeless without him, too). Also, is ia heck of a lot tidier to nurse a baby than to feed one solid foods.

However, putting aside the extra kitchen-floor cleaning that will be necessary, and the never ending cooking, cutting, and mushing of food, it is quite amazing to watch a baby grip a chunk of food in a chubby fist, and push it into his mouth. Still more when your toddler can do some rough work with a spoon. You'll burst with pride.

4 Crawling

Your baby's ability to move independently follows right on the heels of learning to sit up. When babies be upright without support, it's not too hard to roll to their hands and knees, and they rock and shuffle until they get the coordination to move along the floor. Usually the first attempts at crawling are at eight or nine months of age.

I've heard lots of parents complain about having a mobile baby, but secretly I think they're all pretty pleased that their little ones are learning to fend for themselves.

No doubt, there are some tricky features of a crawling baby – she has no fear, so she will gladly tackle any ungaurded stairs you may have around the house; she loves to touch everything, including electrical cords and unattended beverages on the coffee table; and the knees of her pants will never be the same again. Also, your munchkin will try to eat your pet food (after all, it's right at her level).

Despite all of the extra fires you'll be putting out throughout the day, there are so many great things about having a baby that can move around on her own. She can follow you (albeit slowly) so you don't always have to pick her up and carry her room to room. Because she can move around the room, she doesn't have to rely on the toys that are immediately within her reach, so she's much more capable of keeping herself busy and entertained. There are new ways to play and interact with your baby now that she's mobile, too.

It's wonderful to watch your little one exploring the world, going from station to station around the house and checking things out. You can see her touch things just to see what they feel like, or pick up objects and turn them over in her hands. Suddenly, she can check out all the things she finds interesting, and the world is her oyster.

All in all, crawling is usually a pretty short stopping point on the way to walking. Almost as soon as babies start to move on their knees, they begin trying to pull themselves to standing using the furniture. 

3 Noises and Words

Babies are pretty noisy creatures. Burping, fussing, crying, and sometimes just grunting through a feeding are all everyday noises for your little critter. And while those noises are definitely meant to convey thoughts and feelings, they are not very specific. Although many moms claim that they can tell the difference between a lonely cry and a wet cry and a hungry cry, they're all geared toward letting caregivers know that there's something baby needs, now.

At about two or three months of age, babies will start cooing or gurgling, and sometimes make some vowel noises. While they are cute, they're still a bit hard to read.

By contrast, the noises and early words that come out of your baby when she's six or seven months old can tell you all different types of things about what she's thinking. Screaches of excitement, moans as she tries to go to sleep, singing with music she hears on the radio – your baby is starting to react to things just like older kids do.

Sometimes parents and experts get a bit wrapped up in trying to recognize the first 'real' (i.e. English) word that baby speaks (“Did she say 'dada'? Is that what she said?”) But the real joy is learning baby's words for things. I always know when a cat has walked into a room by my baby's very specific vocalization. Whatever the noise sounds like to English speakers, she's most definitly telling me “Kitty! Yeah mom, look, the cat's here!” (or something very much like that, anyway). Too bad for the kid all that loudness usually scares the cat back out of the room.

These noises are great because you can get a much better picture about your baby's state of mind. You can talk with her and get a response, and as you count all the different noises you hear, you also know baby is getting closer to learning a language others will understand, too. When that happens your kiddo will be much easier for other caregivers to look after.

Also, the utter cuteness of your baby's noises makes other people appreciate her almost as much as you do.

2 Games and Reactions

Spending time with a newborn is very much like being alone. You have nobody to talk to (except yourself, of course), and nobody to play with or to stave off the boredom borne of hours cooped up in a house. Sure, a little one can keep you busy, but not entertained. Diaper changes and bi-hourly feedings are not very stimulating, so you're left to catch up on your tv shows or your reading.

Before your baby turns a year old, usually around nine or ten months, something very interesting happens: his personality starts to shine through. It's like after months of an impossible communication barrier your baby is learning your language.

This milestone is my personal favourite because it is the first time you get to interact with your baby person to person – it's like you're getting to know him all over again. This little being who was only able to give you vague ideas about being hungry and wet is very suddenly playful and fun. He will laugh at peek-a-boo, and yell at things that interest him. He will smile an especially large smile, and even talk to a favourite person who enters the room. This, at long last, is the fun and smiley baby you were promised all those months ago.

Suddenly, you're talking to him while you make a grocery list, you give him your very compelling arguments about politics, and you point out interesting things you see out the window. Now you have company in your home, the days aren't as lonely. At this point, you and your baby will quickly become best buddies.

It's good to remember that your baby still has a limited comprehension of what you're saying, and thereby chatting away to him in the grocery store may garner some funny looks from strangers. But never mind all that, you'll be having the time of your life, and having a shopping partner (and for that matter a dinner helper and a laundry mate) makes the whole deal a lot more fun. And if you look goofy holding a blanket over your head to hide from your baby, nobody will hold it against you.

1 Falling Asleep Without Help

I've never met a parent who has an infant's bedtime routine completely down to a science. How to get a baby to sleep, sleep sounder, and sleep longer, has to be the most-written about topic of self-help parenting books in history. Getting a newborn baby to sleep is not that difficult. However, getting that same baby to lay down on her own is next to impossible. Infants want to be able to hear and smell their favourite people at all times. So putting one down in a crib is a bit complicated.

Generally, getting a wee one to sleep requires rocking or nursing baby until she's all the way asleep. Then, when the only sign of life is the rise and fall of a sleeping snore, gently – gently – laying the baby down in crib.

This change of altitudes will no doubt wake up the slumbering youth. While she's on the mattress, squirming in an angry reaction to being so rudely awoken, you may try to pat or jiggle her belly to get her to sleep. When she inevitably squirms herself into a tizzy and starts to cry again, you pick her up, nurse or rock her to sleep, and begin the process again. For a tired and overextended parent, this process can be impossible to handle. What happens more often is that in the process of putting baby to sleep, the parent falls asleep, too.

After awhile, falling asleep at your baby's seven o'clock bedtime seems a bit unreasonable. At some point, you'll likely want to be a grown-up again and have your evenings back.

And then the blessed event occurs. Luckily, at some point your baby will become secure enough and, yes, tired enough she will learn to put herself to sleep. One day, you put your baby in a crib, and she closes her eyes and dozes off all by herself. It's not always pretty: sometimes she gives a bit of a fight about it, but once she's on a roll, learning to self-soothe, she can put herself to sleep for naptimes, bedtimes, and any time she's just had enough of the world. And you've gained back your sanity. Congratulations.

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