Your Baby’s First Smile

A baby’s first smile is a moment of warmth that fills your heart in so many ways. Any lingering thoughts about pain emotions of childbirth are wiped away when you see your baby smile. 

To many parents, their baby’s first genuine smile is the most beautiful sight they’ve ever seen.

But a baby’s smile is more than just a warm and fuzzy moment between parent and child; a baby’s first smile is a sign of growth and development. It indicates your child is developing physically and psychologically. The first genuine smile signifies that his brain and nervous system are maturing.

Many new parents have plenty of questions about how their baby reacts to its new world and what to expect developmentally every step of the way.

It’s expected as new parents to have concerns, but the good news is that our worries don’t mean anything serious in most cases. If you have concerns about your baby’s development, track their milestones as they grow. That way, if you have any questions, you can bring them up with your pediatrician at their next check-up. 

This article will examine when to expect your baby’s first smile and what to do if you have concerns about developmental delays.

Reflex Smile and Social smile 

For most babies, the first smile is an involuntary reflex called the reflex smile. A reflex smile can happen multiple times between birth and two months and is entirely random. For example, reflex smiles may occur when your baby is sleeping, going to the bathroom, or while observing the environment from a playmat. The reflex smile typically disappears around two months old. 

In contrast, the social smile is the emotion-laden smile and is a response to an emotional or social connection. Unlike a reflex smile, when your baby offers genuine smiles, their entire face will light up with recognition! 

When to Expect the First Genuine Smile

Science shows us that a baby’s reflex smile develops in the womb, which is how we know those initial smirks are not an attempt to interact with adults. A genuine, emotionally driven smile will develop sometime between six to twelve weeks.

Reflex smiles have a unique look; they are shorter and targeted at nothing in particular. On the other hand, the social or natural smile is a response to physical, social, or emotional input. For example, when seeing their parents’ faces or hearing the voice of a sibling.  

Leading up to your baby’s first genuine smile, you may notice other social cues such as a mix of vocal and visual responses. For example, turning their head at the sound of a familiar voice, cooing, and making eye contact. 

Babies are most likely to emit that smile around a trusted caregiver or family member; however, once they learn that their smile generates a positive response from those around them, they’re likely to smile a nearly everyone they meet!

Around three to four months, your baby may accompany their smile with coos and giggles. And, you can expect full-out belly laughs around five or six months.

What Does A Smile Mean?

Your baby smiles are a sign that their vision is maturing and that they can recognize faces and sounds. In addition, a smile is a social engagement. Your baby is learning how to interact with those around them.

Your baby will begin to become aware of their impact on others and how their smile is a connection with those around them, particularly his loved ones. Smile, coos, and laughter are all precursors to language and speaking, so spend plenty of time talking, smiling, and engaging in eye contact with your little one. 

What If My Baby’s Smile is Delayed?

Like other developmental milestones, some first smiles happen quicker; others later. So if your baby isn’t smiling right at eight weeks, don’t panic. Some babies will smile at six weeks, and for others, the grin could remain elusive for even three or four months. 

While it’s true that delayed smiling is an early indicator for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it’s rarely the only sign of ASD. For example, if your child hasn’t smiled by three months but exhibits other cognitive characteristics like vocalizing, responding to visual and vocal cues, and making eye contact, they may just not be ready to smile yet.

Babies born premature typically develop slower than peers of the same age, and you may need to adjust your baby’s age to the corrected age for development. The corrected age is based on their gestational age or due date. So a baby born one month early would have a corrected age one month behind their peers.

Here is an example of how corrected age works:

  • Baby A was born at 28 weeks gestation
  • She was 12 weeks premature (40 weeks – 28 weeks = 12 weeks = 3 months)
  • Today it is 5 months past the day she was born 
  • Corrected Age = 5 months – 3 months
  • Baby A is 2 months corrected age

There are various reasons a newborn may not smile by three months:

  • Vision problems
  • Hearing problems 
  • Autism
  • Temperament
  • Premature birth

If your baby is not smiling by four months old and is not premature, it may be time to speak with your pediatrician.

Tips to Encourage Your Baby to Smile

Most babies will smile on their own when they are ready, but there are a few tricks you can try to get that grin going!

  • Talk to your baby and smile at them. Engage in conversation and allow them time to respond with their coos 
  • Make eye contact when speaking or singing to your baby and have lots of face-to-face interactions.
  • Smile and make silly noises or repeat their cooing and babbling sounds.
  • Play games like peek-a-boo
  • Imitating animal noises and blowing a raspberry on their belly
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