Behind That Little Smile

It’s truly amazing to see the baby’s first smile. It makes adults forget about everything bad happened (if there’s any) in the day. Thus, a baby smile is precious, genuine and can bring joy to everyone. But what could be the reason behind those first cute smiles?

Babies according to some researchers can give their fleeting smile as early as newborn and according to Paige Wiser from Parents Magazine, “those first gummy grins are actually just a reflex, but over the course of the next 12 months your baby will start to smile as a way of expressing pleasure, communicating with you, and, finally, developing a sense of humor”.

Let me take you to the stages for better understanding.

0-6 Weeks: Reflexive Smile

You’ll spot your newborn’s first grin when he’s asleep. You’ll see him twitch, startle, and — is that a smile? “During REM sleep your baby’s body goes through physiological changes that activate certain reflexes, and one of those is a smile,” says Pamela Garcy, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Dallas. At this point it’s probably just a physical reaction, not an emotional sign.


6-8 Weeks: Responsive Smile

As your baby grows, she’ll start to smile at things she finds pleasurable — cuddles, voices, and faces. But don’t expect too much at this stage. Her smile is a reaction to sensory experiences, not a social response. “You might like to think this smile is some sort of acknowledgment that you are the best mom in the world,” says Charlotte Cowan, MD, a pediatrician in Boston. Of course you are! But these smiles aren’t proof of it right now. “Your baby doesn’t have a clear sense yet of who you are.”

2-3 Months: Social Smile

At this stage, he wants to connect. Your baby will smile when he sees you and will react when you make silly sounds (try mooing, oinking, and beeping). He’ll also learn that he can get a reaction from you by smiling — not just by crying. The gurgling, the grunting, the strange humming are all attempts by your baby to express himself. Now there’s no question. You’re his favorite. “He’ll squeal and laugh when he plays with you,” says Mary Ellen Renna, MD, a pediatrician in Woodbury, New York. He’ll also respond to you by getting his whole body in on the act — moving his arms and legs for emphasis.

6 Months: Undiscriminating Smile

Your child may start smiling at everyone else around her when she sees that it gets a response. At the same time, her grins are becoming more meaningful. She might smile because she’s learned a new skill — or because she’s glad to see you. “Your child is developing memory, so her pleasure may be greater when she sees you because she’s aware that you were gone,” says Dr. Renna.

9 Months: Selective Smile

This is the age when your baby starts to know you as special and distinct from other people, but there’s a downside to that: Stranger anxiety sets in. Your formerly friendly baby is likely to stop smiling at strangers. While it can be disappointing that your baby doesn’t “perform” quite as well, distinguishing faces is actually a sign of healthy development.

12 Months: A Sense of Humor

“Babies this age laugh and laugh if you make silly noises,” says Dr. Cowan. When your baby thinks something is funny, she wants to get a reaction out of you, too, so laugh along with her. Drop something on the floor, or make a funny face — she’ll find it hysterical.


In the end, as parents, it’s hard not to feel overjoyed when your baby stares at you adoringly while flashing a brief but unmistaken smile. Whether it’s just the reflex or gas perhaps it really doesn’t matter.

Encourage your baby to smile and help him develop his brain and his self-esteem at an early age. In that way, it lets him know that his feelings are important above anything else.



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