When do babies start smiling: Insights into this (super cute) Milestone

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Updated on Jul 12, 2024 · 7 mins read
When do babies start smiling: Insights into this (super cute) Milestone

I'm just going to say it. Being evicted out of the womb does not sit well with babies! For one, you never see them smiling in the first few weeks—unless they're passing gas—and the only time you know they're not "unhappy" is when they're not crying for milk or sleep.


From funny faces to blowing raspberries, those little grumps don’t smile or get the joke.

So what is it? Tough crowd? Or has Dad lost his touch? Oh no! What if you just gave birth to the grumpiest baby on earth?

Well, here’s a fun fact for you: while your baby may be upset about the eviction, (hey, the womb was cosy and quiet), you did not give birth to ‘Oscar the Grouch’.

Your baby is still in the newborn stage and just hasn’t developed the ability to smile. As for when to expect that cheeky grin (and your jokes can get the appreciation they deserve), that’s what we’re here to answer.

Early smiles and development


The much-awaited gummy grin. Your baby’s first smile is such a special moment between the two of you.

But did you know it’s actually so much more than just a smile?

Sure, smiles symbolise the bond you share with your little one (and are just super cute). They’re also the foundation of all their social development and are critical in their developing communication skills as they grow into big kids and, eventually, adults.

It is a crucial part of your baby’s brain development and plays a huge part in building their awareness of self and fostering healthy self-esteem.

Those cheeky grins – and conversely, frustrated frowns – are one of your baby’s first forms of communication (along with crying, of course).

When do babies start smiling? Well, it’s earlier than you think!


The timeline of your baby's first smile


Many parents get very excited when they notice their newborn smiling in the first few weeks. Some have even noticed their baby “smiling” on ultrasounds even before they were born.

Generally, this is considered more a sign of passing gas, or a “reflex smile,” like a jerky arm, than an intended smile from your child. 

When do babies start smiling that ‘real’ smile?

Usually, babies smile their ‘real’ smile between 6-8 weeks.

We also call it a “social smile” or a true smile. Babies smile socially due to a genuine reaction to a feeling of joy or warmth directed at familiar faces, you, or other caregivers.

(Heads up, though, these first smiles have the potential to melt hearts! )

Reflex smiling versus real smiles

While the “reflex smile” is not a first real smile from your baby, (that smiling baby had those particular facial expressions because he was gassy,) it’s still a smile. So how can you tell the difference?

Well, the difference between a reactive smile and a social smile is that a baby smiles a real smile – it’s with their whole face, not just their mouth. In a baby’s first real smile, their whole face will light up and you’ll notice the emotions in the baby’s eyes.

Reflex smiles tend to be shorter and more random, whereas social smiles happen in response to something, like seeing their parent’s face.

But why do babies smile in their sleep?

Those REM sleep smiles from your baby aren’t necessarily because of super sweet dreams, even though it’s a lovely thought. But these are usually reflexive smiles since your baby’s facial muscles are still activated during sleep.


What is my baby’s smile telling me?


Is smiling important? Yes! It is your baby’s way of telling you they feel safe and secure.

Smiles and frowns are a way for your baby to communicate, relate, and bond with you. When your baby starts to smile at you, their brain releases a chemical response that strengthens that bond.

The social grin is not only endearing, but it also plays a crucial role in a baby’s social and emotional growth. Your baby will learn that their ideas and feelings matter when you consistently attend to their indications about when they are ready for play and when they need a break.

When newborns smile at their parents, they receive such a regular response that they begin to feel like they have some influence over their environment. The child’s self-worth begins to develop even at this early age.

When to worry about your baby not smiling


While babies start smiling quite early, don’t be worried if your baby takes a little longer to pop a smile. Some babies – like some adults – are just naturally less expressive than others. Continue trying to build your bond with them, and don’t forget to show them how it’s done.

If your baby is engaging with you, making eye contact and responding to verbal cues then you generally have nothing to worry about and chances are they will ace the social smile in their own time.

Do I panic if my baby isn’t smiling at 2 months of age?

If your baby isn’t smiling by 8 weeks, and you are concerned about your baby’s responses and emotional development, seek trusted medical and expert advice. Your doctor or pediatrician may check for other developmental delays before providing a full diagnosis and treatment.

Real baby smiles and reflex smiles for premies

If your baby was born prematurely, it may take a little longer for their first grin or social smile to happen. This could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. If you’re concerned or feel your baby’s first smile is long overdue, seek professional medical advice from your doctor or consult medical professionals to understand your baby’s development.

Tips to encourage your baby to smile


Save the knock-knock jokes and get ready for peekaboo sessions with the little one. Whether you want to see those first smiles, hear those giggles, or simply see their happy face, here are some ways to encourage baby to smile:

  • Monkey see monkey do: Infants frequently mimic the smiles of others. Make eye contact and grin at your baby, and then reward your baby’s smile with a soft touch or encouraging verbal gestures.
  • Do that funny voice again: High-pitched, melodic voices are hilarious to babies and tend to elicit a response from babies. So act silly, or gather the stuffed animals and do that funny voice again.
  • Tickle: Encourage that wide smile and cute giggles by tickling your baby. While some babies are smiley and happier, others may need a little encouragement, which is perfectly normal.

Developmental milestones following the first smile


Developmental milestones that typically follow after babies start to smile include

  • Enhanced social engagement: You’ll see your baby smile at people and you in return, and he or she will become more receptive to your smiles.
  • Eye contact: During conversations, your baby should maintain eye contact longer, indicating better visual tracking abilities.
  • Head control: Your munchkin will be able to keep their head erect when resting on their stomach and, ultimately, while supported sitting as they develop greater control over their head motions.
  • Goo-goo, gaa, gaa: As your baby experiments with different vocalisations in reaction to stimuli and social interactions, you’ll notice them babbling and cooing more frequently.
  • Grasping: Your little monkey will reach out and grab items.

Why is all of this smiling back and forth so important?


Spend lots of quality time with your little one, looking them in the eyes, singing songs, playing games, and talking to them. Make sure you smile a lot yourself; show them how it’s done and soon you’ll see your baby smile back! Remember, practice makes perfect.

That said, it’s also important to remember that even the simple act of engaging with you at this age is tiring for small babies. Their brain is absorbing so much (the tiny sponges that they are) and if you see them turn away or look disinterested, don’t get disheartened. This is a sign your baby is tired or over-stimulated and needs a break. It does NOT mean they don’t love you.

The secret to building a solid relationship and getting newborns to smile is to be consistent, patient, and show genuine affection. Just like grownups, all it takes is a little love to make us grin.

Sources


Messinger, D.S. et al. (2008) ‘Infant smiling dynamics and perceived positive emotion’, Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 32(3), pp. 133–155. doi:10.1007/s10919-008-0048-8.

Mendes, D.M. and Seidl-de-Moura, M.L. (2014) ‘Different kinds of infants´ smiles in the first six months and contingency to maternal affective behavior’, The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 17. doi:10.1017/sjp.2014.86.

Tenuta, F. et al. (2017) ‘I look, you smile: The first mother–child communicative interaction: A longitudinal study’, SAGE Open, 7(2), p. 215824401770671. doi:10.1177/2158244017706715.

Related Articles

Loved this article?

Share with a friend

Hey parents!

img
img

Get paid to review the latest brands and products

Join Now - it’s FREE