If there’s one moment in time that you could record and play on repeat, it would probably be your baby’s first smile. It’s an image that will never get old! It’s easy for parents and caregivers to quickly become obsessed with their child’s glowing grin, sometimes before it even happens. It’s common to anxiously wait for the tiny corners of your baby’s mouth to curl up into the world’s cutest smile. But, when will this smile happen? And what is he actually smiling at? Let’s explore the evolution of your baby’s smile!
Newborn Reflexive Smile
In the first 4-6 weeks of your baby’s life, you may spot a smirk here or there, almost like he’s practicing a smile. While it’s heartwarming to think that your baby is smiling at you, these short-lived grins of the first few weeks are reflexive smiles rather than intentional or responsive ones. Reflexive smiles actually began long before he arrived -around 25-26 weeks en utero. At that time, babies start to move their facial features around in different ways to prepare for a variety of different talents such as sucking, blinking, crying, and of course, smiling! Reflexive smiles in the first month of life will mostly appear when he’s sleeping, when he’s gassy, or when he’s filling up that diaper.
The Social Smile
Around 2-3 months, you get the real smile you’ve been waiting for: He’s finally smiling at you! You’ll know the difference between a reflexive smile and a social smile by his eye contact and the fact that his social smile will last a lot longer. Social smiles happen when he’s fully awake and ready to connect. This is a big step towards communicating and bonding with others. He’s also learning that he can grab your attention with his social smile, which he’ll soon realize is a pretty handy skill! While babies’ smiles all evolve in their own unique ways, social smiles are considered developmentally important. Child development experts recommend talking to your pediatrician if your baby hasn’t shown a social smile by age 12 weeks.
The Anticipatory Smile
Around 9-12 months, your baby’s smile becomes a bit more sophisticated. You’ll notice this change through joint attention that leads to anticipatory smiles. Your baby will initiate joint attention through staring and smiling at an object, such as a new toy penguin wearing a hat. Then, he’ll turn his attention and his smile at you and then look back to the toy. It’s almost like he’s saying, “Check this out! Pretty funny penguin, am I right?” He’s not only expressing a positive emotion, he’s also sharing this emotion with you. This is the beginning of him building his sense of humor and social skills, too.
Encouraging More Smiles
It’s important to remember that some babies smile more than others. Temperament plays a big role in the evolution of smiles and other expressions. That said, there are a few fun things you can do to encourage that smile.
Get up close, personal, and silly. Even before your baby can smile back, cuddle up close to him (about a foot away) so he can see your face. Sing, talk, make silly sounds, and smile! Be dramatic with your expressions so he can engage with you and see what a smile looks like.
Utilize the element of surprise! Any kind of stimulus with an element of surprise will likely get your baby smiling. A friendly game of peek-a-boo, a classic jack-in-the-box, or any toy that squeaks are just a few baby favorites.
Have physical fun. Babies are known to share a grin or two when they’re engaging in physical fun. Try bouncing together on an exercise ball, blow in his ear, tickle his tummy, or gently squeeze his nose. When his senses are excited, he gets excited too!
Your baby’s smile marks the beginning of something beautiful. Smiles are a universal symbol of happiness, trust, love, and deep connection. The good news is, they never run out! Enjoy your lifetime supply!