Developmental milestones: When do babies smile?
Say cheese! 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?
Smiles not only symbolise the bond you share with your little one – but are the foundations of all their relationships as they grow into big kids and eventually adults. They also play a huge part in building their awareness of self and fostering healthy self-esteem.
Smiles – and conversely frowns, are one of your baby’s first forms of communication. (Along with crying, of course).
When do babies smile?
Many parents get very excited when they notice their newborn smiling in the first few weeks or you may have even noticed your baby “smiling” on ultrasounds before they were born. Generally, this is considered more a sign of passing gas, or more a “reflex smile” than an intended smile from your baby. But that doesn’t make it any less cute!
Usually between around 6-8 weeks babies can develop a “social smile” which is a genuine reaction to a feeling of joy or warmth directed at you.
The difference between a reactive smile and a social smile is that they will smile with their whole face, not just their mouth. Their face will light up, and you’ll just know!
Note: If your baby was born prematurely they may take a little longer to show off their first grin. This could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. If you’re concerned, always check with your doctor or paediatrician.
Real smile vs reflex smile
Many parents get very excited when they notice their newborn smiling in the first few weeks or you may have even noticed your baby “smiling” on ultrasounds before they were born. Generally, this is considered more a sign of passing gas, or more a “reflex smile” than a real smile from your baby. But that doesn’t make it any less cute!
The difference between a reactive smile and a social smile is that they will smile with their whole face, not just their mouth. Reflex smiles tend to be shorter and more random, whereas a social smile happens in response to something, like seeing their parent’s face. In a baby’s first real smile, their whole face will light up, they’ll make eye contact, and you’ll just know!
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What is my baby’s smile telling me?
Smiling 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 you and your child share a smile the brain releases a chemical response that makes you both happy and strengthens that bond.
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Why does a baby smile in their sleep?
Those rem sleep smiles from your baby aren’t necessarily because super sweet dreams, even though it’s a lovely thought. These are usually that reflexive smile we were talking about, as your baby’s facial muscles are still activated when’re sleeping.
What role does smiling play in their development?
Smiling is the foundation for building relationships which is a crucial part of your baby’s brain development. Helping them learn to communicate and express emotions is crucial.
How to help your baby smile
Some babies are natural-born smilers, and others need a little encouragement which is perfectly normal.
Spending lots of quality time with your little one, looking into their eyes, singing songs, playing games and talking to them are all key to building your bond with them. And not to mention making sure you smile lots yourself – show them how it’s done. 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 everything around them and so 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 doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
Helping them also does have to be so specific, if they are tired and not interested in singing songs or games, cuddles and affection are just as important. Remember you can’t spoil a baby with love and affection.
What if my baby doesn’t smile?
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, chances are they will get there in their own time.
However, by around 4 months of age, if you’re still yet to see a smile or are concerned in any way about your baby’s responses, you should speak with your doctor or paediatrician.
This is such a fun age, discovering your baby’s personality and getting to know each other. Seeing your baby smiling and interacting with you or your partner is a truly special experience. Before long your baby will be laughing, babbling and before you know it they’ll be talking to you!
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