Check out more from our Baby & Toddler Development package to read more about thrush in babies, jaundice, baby hiccups, why babies look bow legged, toddler flat feet, newborn eye color, baby watery eye, flat head baby, baby acne treatment, baby dimples, and bone structure in babies.
It’s one of the most anxiously awaited and celebrated moments in parenting: seeing your baby smile for the first time. In fact, we want it to happen so badly that we often tell ourselves the way our newborn’s mouth curls at the corners during sleep is the real deal. And while those technically are baby smiles, there’s a big difference between them and “social” smiles — the kind that truly means something.
Don’t worry if you didn’t realize there was a difference; it’s a distinction many new parents don’t make. But you obviously don’t want to miss the authentic first-smile moment when it comes, so here’s a guide to your little one’s gummy grin.
Why is a baby’s smile such a big deal?
Aside from melting your heart into a puddle of gushy mommy goo, baby’s first smile serves another important purpose. It’s an early, pre-verbal form of communication. Basically, it’s one of the tools in your newborn’s arsenal that they might use to get your attention since they can’t yet speak. It’s also a major social milestone because it facilitates your little one’s interaction with the outside world.
What’s a reflex smile?
So, here’s the letdown, Mama: Your newborn isn’t a smiling prodigy. Yes, we all get giddy and go completely soft when our one-week-old seems to shoot a smirk in our direction. However, smiles at this stage fall into the “reflex smiles” category. Despite what their name suggests, these smiles aren’t really a response to anything. They’re random but often occur when a baby is gassy or sleeping (more on that in a minute).
It may interest you to know that reflex smiles actually star in utero! Between 25 and 27 weeks gestational age, baby smiles for a purely perfunctory reason — to practice the skill.
How early can a baby really smile?
Now, for the good stuff. If you’re on the lookout for a legit baby smile, keep your eyes peeled starting around week six. Baby’s first “true” social smile often takes place between that point and twelve weeks, frequently falling in the six- to eight- week span. Anything before that point is likely just a reflex smile.
How can you tell the difference?
If your nugget is right on the cusp of that real-smile window and gives you a little lopsided grin, you might wonder if it’s a reflex smile. Well, look for context clues. Is your baby looking at you? Are they alert? Does their smile look symmetrical? These are all signs you’ve been blessed with your first social smile. Because true smiles are a social activity, baby will want to engage with you — they’ll probably try to hold eye contact and/or the smile until they get a reciprocal smile from you.
Why do newborns smile in their sleep?
You might notice your newborn smiling in their sleep the very first week you bring them home. Naturally, your inclination will be to celebrate, take a million pictures, and post that sweet sleepy smile all over your social media feeds. Hey, go for it! Cuteness like that should always be shared. In all likelihood, though, what you’re looking at is a reflex smile. These faux-smiles are super-common for a sleeping newborn.
What gives? These smirks could be the result of gas. Or, they could just be your baby’s way of trying on different facial expressions.
When do babies start to laugh?
You’ll have to wait a wee bit longer to hear the heavenly sound of your baby laughing: around 12 weeks or so. Obviously, it’s well worth the wait. Besides, once your baby starts smiling at you, you’ll be totally obsessed with that for a while. It’ll make the time fly by until they bust out with their first giggle fit.
What if baby isn’t smiling by 8 weeks?
One of the most impactful things you can remember as a parent is that every child is different. Just as grown-ups are their own individuals, so are babies. While we all love the idea of the chubby grinning baby, that might not be your offspring’s vibe just yet.
What you can watch for are other signs that your baby is interacting and engaging with the world around them. By three months, they should definitely be “communicating” in some way with their caregivers or even strangers. If your baby isn’t smiling and is exhibiting other possible signs of developmental delay, bring up your concerns to their pediatrician.