ready, steady, grin: when do babies smile?

Let’s be honest here; looking after a newborn is hard work. There are nappies to change, cries to decipher and you can forget about sleep altogether. That being said, raising a little bundle is also pretty amazing. Nothing compares to that intoxicating newborn smell, those precious cuddles and their endearing gurgles. If that’s not enough to make you forget how exhausted and shower-deprived you are, just you wait for that first baby smile.

So as you drag yourself out of bed for the latest in a long line of night feeds or put your phone in the fridge because baby brain has outlasted your pregnancy, you might be longing for a little grin and wondering…

when do babies smile?

The short answer is between four and eight weeks old, though you might catch an unintentional baby smile much earlier. More on reflex smiles in a minute though.

When the real deal appears, you might not have your phone at the ready and a second smile could be slow to follow. However, it reflects an important milestone in your newborn’s development. A “learned” baby smile shows that they’ve moved beyond mere muscle reflex and are reacting to you. That also means their cognitive ability and vision have improved enough to be able to recognise you. Both are big steps forward from a simple reflex.

Young baby learning to smile

but what is a reflex smile?

Often appearing ahead of a real baby smile, a reflex smile might be seen before your little one is even born. While in the womb, your growing bundle will blink (even though there’s no light) and breathe (even though there’s no air). They might also give you a little grin. That could make for a nice surprise at your ultrasound!

The reason behind all those movements is practice and reflex. Your little one isn’t merely growing in there but getting ready for the big wide world. That means they’re testing out their muscles which can result in a mini baby smile before they’re born. Practical as well as cute, this helps pave the way for their first social smile.

how to tell a reflex and real baby smile apart

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when that long-awaited real grin makes an appearance. In the early weeks, babies may look like they’re smiling when they’re just letting loose a few bubbles or flexing their muscles in their sleep.

When they purposefully smile for the first time though, sometime around four to eight weeks old, they’ll use their whole face. That includes their gorgeously chubby cheeks and big round eyes, and it’ll last longer too. You’ll probably be smiling in their direction at the time or having a cuddle. If you’re interacting with them and they’re content, chances are you’re seeing their first purposeful (and very cute!) baby smile.

Mum and baby smiling at each other

encouraging your baby to smile

If your little one hasn’t busted out that big baby smile yet, don’t worry. Every growing bundle progresses at a different rate, so some smiles might take a little longer to surface. If you’re keen to encourage their development and their first social grin, here are a few things to try:

• Lead by example and get smiling (hard not to when gazing at their tiny features!)
• Make funny faces and silly noises, or try blowing raspberries on their tummy
• Natter at them while making eye contact and leave gaps for them to smile back
• Turn on the music and have a little boogie with baby like nobody is watching

The last (or perhaps first) step is all those natural parenting things that keep your little one oh-so happy. Like giving them plenty of cuddles, topping up their belly and taking lots of naps. If your little one is content and developing well, that elusive baby smile will soon make an appearance. And it’ll be all the better for brewing a little longer.


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