When Do Babies Smile And How To Make Them Smile More

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It’s worth a million dollars. Your baby’s smile is that precious to you, and you do whatever you can to bring that curve on their lips.

And one acknowledging smile from your little one makes all your efforts worthwhile. But when do babies begin to smile?

MomJunction answers that question and several other questions you might have on the priceless smile.

When Do Babies Start Smiling?

Babies start smiling even before they are born, i.e., when they are still in your womb. But the real smiles begin at around two months of age.

Confused? Let’s look at the types of smiles during various months in a baby’s life:

Reflex smile: Remember the first time your baby smiled at you and you got emotional about it? It might be disheartening to know that that smile is not in response to you, but a reflex action which is similar to the twitching of legs or arms. Reflex smile occurs from birth to six weeks (1).

These smiles are not intentional. A reflex smile is biological and occurs when the baby passes gas (2) or during sleep. It lasts for a few seconds and occurs randomly.

Social smile: Babies begin having a social smile at around two months of age (3). A social smile means your baby smiles in response to your smile. It’s a sign of their maturing brain. They also maintain eye contact when they smile at you and use their whole face not just the mouth. It means that they can see short distances, identify the object, and reciprocate with a smile.

A social smile encourages bonding and is the early tool of communication between the child and parent. Babies hold a social smile for a long time until they get your feedback in the form of a smile.

Real smile: The real smile appears by the time your baby is three months old. The baby gives a real smile as they recognize the mother or primary caregiver’s face, or see something they know (like a toy).

[ Read: Tips To Make A Baby Laugh ]

A study has found that babies of less than four months smile with an intention to make their mothers smile (4). Their brain has matured enough to understand that smiling is used to connect with people.

What Does A Smile Say About Baby’s Development?

Just like your baby’s other milestones, their smile is also an important indicator of development. It signifies their cognitive and socio-emotional development (5):

  • Smiling is a sign of your baby’s growing social skills. As babies grow they smile not due to reflex but as a response to what they see.
  • It means their vision has improved and the brain has developed to recognize faces (6).
  • The nervous system can control their reflex smile and they know when to smile to connect with people.
  • Your baby starts understanding that their emotions have an impact on others surrounding them. They begin smiling to show their happiness, excitement, and pleasure.

However, even after developing a social smile, babies continue to smile in their sleep. And every time they smile, you wonder what the reason could be.

Why Do Babies Smile In Their Sleep?

These smiles are spontaneous and occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep (7).

During the REM sleep stage, certain physiological occurrences trigger reflexes, such as a smile. Hence, when babies smile during sleep it doesn’t mean anything; it is purely a physiological reaction and not an emotional one.

[ Read: When Can Babies Have Dairy Products ]

When Will Your Baby Want To Smile At You?

The most likely situations when your baby smiles at you would be:

  • When they seek your attention
  • When they are happy
  • When their stomach is full after a feed
  • When you smile at them and they reciprocate

Now you know the reasons why your baby smiles at you. So, just make them smile more.

How Can You Make Your Baby Smile More?

If you want to see your baby smile, then talk to them, maintain eye contact, and smile at them frequently (8).

Make silly faces, imitate animal sounds, or play peek-a-boo.

Remember not to go overboard because, at this stage, babies are learning to regulate their emotions. So too much stimulation can make them turn away.

[ Read: Baby Teething Signs ]

What If Your Baby Isn’t Smiling?

Each baby is different and need not necessarily smile within the average timelines. Some babies start smiling as late as four months of age. However, if they are not smiling well beyond their age, then here are a few pointers to check:

  • If your baby maintains eye contact, makes noises, but isn’t smiling by four months, then it might be because she is not a smiling child naturally.
  • As long as your baby reaches the other developmental milestones, there is nothing to worry about. However, if he doesn’t smile after four months even when you encourage him, it is a red flag sign and you then need to bring up the issue with your pediatrician.
  • The delay in smiling need not always indicate autism.

Consult your pediatrician if your baby is not smiling but reaching other milestones.

A smile is a universal language. Your baby may not yet be talking to you but you can know if they are happy with their smiles. However, not all babies begin smiling by two months, and not all babies smile frequently. Some might often smile while some might reserve that privilege for special occasions. Do not worry much but enjoy those smiling moments with your little one.

[ Read: When Can Babies Drink Water ]

Share your baby’s smiling moments with us in the comments section below.

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Dr. Shashidhar A

Dr. Shashidhar is a qualified pediatrician and neonatologist currently practicing at St John's Medical College and Tiny Tots Clinic in Koramangala, Bangalore. He is a part of an accomplished team taking care of preterm and sick newborns until discharge and follow up. He is a teacher at various levels from undergraduate to post-doctoral medical students. Keenly interested in different aspects... more

Kalpana M

Kalpana Nadimpalli graduated in English Literature and Psychology. Her fascination for the corporate world made her do a Masters in Business Administration. Being a mother of two boys, she could naturally fit into the shoes of a writer at MomJunction. She wrote articles on new parenting and relationships. Previously, Kalpana worked as a product information specialist and technical writer. During her... more