When Do Babies Start Smiling And 7 Activities To Encourage It

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Babies start to smile from the time even before they are born. Yes, you read that right. During the 11th week of pregnancy, your baby can smile and make complex facial expressions while still in the womb (1). These smiles, known as reflex smiles, may continue for a few weeks after birth as well. But from when do babies smile after birth?

Read on to know about when babies start to smile, ways in which you may encourage them to smile, and what smiling says about your baby’s development.

In This Article

When Do Babies Smile?

Babies begin to give a reflex smile from the time they are born.

Image: Shutterstock

Babies begin to give a reflex smile from almost when they are born. Reflex smiles are smiles triggered by certain stimuli or events. You may notice a smiling reflex when the baby relieves in the diaper, or you may notice the baby smiling in their sleep (2).

A baby progresses to a happy social smile at around the age of two months (3) (4). A social smile is a true smile that the baby shows in response to a parent’s voice or smile. By four months of age, babies use social smiles often to engage and gain the attention of those around them (5). It is not uncommon for a four-month-old to spontaneously smile at people around them for interaction.

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Seeing a baby’s smile could activate certain regions of the maternal brain, including those that inhibit negative emotions (10).

How To Encourage Your Baby To Smile?

Encourage babies to smile by playing peek a boo.

Image: Shutterstock

The simple, playful moments you share with your baby are often sufficient to encourage them to smile. You may try the following activities to achieve your baby’s first smile and have them smile often.

  • Talking to them in baby language
  • Smiling at them
  • Playing peek-a-boo or making funny animal sounds
  • Maintaining eye contact while talking
  • Enacting what you speak
  • Laughing with them
  • Making funny voices or faces

What Does A Baby’s Smile Say About Their Development?

A research study suggests that the grinning and smiling of a baby may help understand their emotional development and social skills (6). Research notes that babies may smile when they observe certain actions or events they perceive as humorous, even if no one around is smiling. Understanding your baby’s social cues is an essential part of parenting. Infant smiling may suggest healthy cognitive and social development, indicating the baby’s brain can detect humor or develop amusement independent of their parents’ reaction.

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A study revealed that infants begin timing their smile purposefully to make their mother smile for longer by the time they are four months (11).

It has also been shown that infantile smiling helps release certain hormones in a baby’s body that aid in their brain development and overall development (7). In addition, receiving smiles and giving them back in return may become the stepping stones for your little one to learn how to be social, bond with others, and have good relationships.

What To Do If The Baby Isn’t Smiling?

Consult a doctor if your child does not smile by the third month.

Image: Shutterstock

Early childhood is a vital time for baby developmental stages such as physical and emotional development including baby facial expression. If your little one is not smiling or showing signs of early grins or changes in facial expression by the end of two months of age, it does not necessarily mean that there is some problem.

The rate at which babies hit various developmental baby milestones may vary from one baby to another. Preterm babies develop according to their gestational age. So a smile may be naturally delayed in them. Even in full-term babies, each child doesn’t develop a social smile at exactly the same age. If your baby does not show any signs of smiling even in their third month, it is advised to consult a pediatrician. Even that may not indicate a problem with your child’s development, but then, the doctor is the best judge.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can babies smile at four weeks old?

Babies usually start giving social smiles during early infancy, when they are around two months old. But a newborn may show signs of reflex smiles since birth (8).

2. At what age do babies coo?

Your baby will start cooing and making similar sounds (such as ooh-ooh-ooh, ah-ah-ah) by the time they are two months old (9).

3. What are some signs that a baby’s smile is genuine and not just a reflex?

A reflex smile is brief and spontaneous, for example, it could appear when the baby is sleeping or engaged in bathroom activities, while a genuine smile is when the baby smiles in response to hearing the parents’ voice or during playtime (12).

4. What role do social interaction and bonding play in a baby’s smiling?

A baby’s smile also adds to its social and emotional development. Babies learn that their thoughts and emotions hold significance when parents respond to their cues and indications about when they want to play or not. This interaction and bonding enhance their self-esteem from a young age (8).

A smiling baby is a sight for sore eyes and an exciting moment for parents. Your baby smiling back at you means that they are acknowledging your presence and expressing their joy of seeing you. It also means that they are starting to become conscious of their emotions. You may try various activities to engage your baby and make them smile often. If you have any concerns about your baby’s achievement of this smiling milestone, do not hesitate to discuss it with a pediatrician.

Infographic: Effective Ways To Encourage Babies To Smile

Your baby’s smile is one of the most precious things in your life, but sometimes it can be challenging to get them to smile. The following infographic presents practical tips to encourage your baby to smile. So start implementing these techniques and cherish your adorable baby’s cute smiles!

how to make your little one smile(infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Babies start smiling during the 11th week of pregnancy while in the mother’s womb.
  • After birth, an infant usually begins smiling socially between two to three months.
  • The smiles in babies are triggered by external stimuli to express their emotions and feelings.
  • Smiling in babies indicates their social and cognitive development.
  • Peek-a-boo, enacting actions, talking in baby language, and other fun activities can encourage babies to smile often.
when do babys smile_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team


Discover how baby smiles offer insights into healthy development and aid in understanding a child’s growth and progress.

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
    1. Baby development.
      https://www.choicespregnancy.org/sexual-health/pregnancy-education/baby-development/
    2. Parents’ Guide to Understanding Baby’s Smile.
      https://pathways.org/watch/parents-guide-to-understanding-babys-smile/
    3. Developmental Milestones.
      https://depts.washington.edu/dbpeds/Screening%20Tools/Devt%20Milestones%20Table%20(B-6y)%20PIR%20(Jan2016).msg.pdf
    4. Milestone Moments.
      https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/parents_pdfs/milestonemomentseng508.pdf
    5. Emotional and Social development. Ages 1 to 12 months.
      https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/ue5463
    6. What Your Baby’s Smile Can Tell You About Her Development.
      https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/what-your-babys-smile-can-tell-you-about-her-development.html
    7. What’s in a smile.
      https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/connecting-communicating/bonding/whats-in-a-smile
    8. When do babies first smile?
      https://www.healthychildren.org/English/tips-tools/ask-the-pediatrician/Pages/When-do-babies-first-smile.aspx
    9. Hearing & Making Sounds: Your Baby’s Milestones.
      https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Hearing-and-Making-Sounds.aspx
    10. Sanae Mizugaki et al., (2015); The Power of an Infant’s Smile: Maternal Physiological Responses to Infant Emotional Expressions.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465828/
    11. Paul Ruvolo et al., (2015); Infants Time Their Smiles to Make Their Moms Smile.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4580458/
    12. When will my baby start smiling at me?
      https://pathways.org/when-will-my-baby-smile/
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