When Do Babies Start Smiling?
A smile. It's such an ordinary occurrence, but when it's your baby's first, it's nothing short of extraordinary. A baby's first smile is a major milestone, and one of the most heartwarming firsts for parents.
Here's what it means, when to expect it and how to encourage more cheek-splitting grins. Before you know it, they'll be graduating to belly laughs.
Babies Often Smile in Their Sleep From the Start
If you've ever seen a newborn smiling in their sleep, you're not imagining things. Babies have the ability to smile from a very young age, but there's a difference from these early, adorable reflexes and the real thing. Early facial expressions may be reactions to physical sensations, like hunger or even gas.
Doctors have yet to determine exactly what causes them, but we do know they're primitive and unpredictable. In other words, a 2-week-old's sleepy, ear-to-ear grin is very cute, but it's not an emotional response to parents or other caregivers. Yet.
Social Smiles Are a Special Milestone
In the first month of life, babies spend most of their time sleeping and eating. Those special, snuggly hours spent bonding with mom, dad or any other primary caregiver are critical to their growth and development. But month two is where it starts getting really fun.
By month two, babies start spending much more time awake, observing the world around them. Their vision sharpens, and they spend every waking moment learning about themselves, their surroundings and their families most of all. When their caregivers respond quickly to their cries, babies learn they can rely on their family to care for them.
Naturally, when mom gently picks them up and looks down at them with a warm, happy smile, babies feel happy too. Before you know it, they'll begin meeting your smile with excited grins of their own: their first real, social smiles.
Social smiles are important because they are one of a baby's first social tools. A baby's smile usually gets a predictable, positive response from parents, which gives them a sense of confidence that they can influence their own world. The first, baby steps to building strong self-esteem.
Additionally, sharing a gleeful conversation of smiles helps strengthen the bond between babies and their parents, siblings and other close relatives. Plus, it's fun.
When Do Social Smiles First Appear?
While the exact age at which a baby begins smiling socially, their first social smile typically happens by the time they hit eight weeks of age. It makes their two-month checkup one of the most memorable, too.
The best way to bring on your baby's first smile is by showing them how it's done. Express your excitement when you pick them up, read them books and sing them songs. Don't hesitate to be silly and over the top. Goofy mannerisms and exaggerated expressions are a big hit with babies.
A round or two of peekaboo might also do the trick.
What About Laughs?
Once a baby starts smiling, laughs aren't too far off. Babies usually start laughing by month four, but every baby is different. Some babies start laughing by three months, while others don't break into a fit of giggles until five months or later.
Every baby has their own sense of humor, so experiment to find out what hits your baby's funny bone. A few ideas to test out:
- Pretending to eat their fingers or toes
- Pretending to sneeze
- Putting something on your head and pretending you don't know where it is
- Blowing raspberries or making other silly sounds
- Playing with pets
- Gentle tickles
When to Worry If Your Baby Isn’t Smiling
Making eye contact can be intimidating for anyone, and babies are no exception. Some of them are less comfortable looking directly at their parents for a while, and that's OK. If it takes them a little longer to start interacting with smiles and coos, it's probably nothing to worry about.
While it's true that a delay in smiling can be an early indicator for being on the autism spectrum, it usually occurs in tandem with other symptoms. As long as they're interacting with you in some way by the four-month mark, responding to verbal and visual cues, then there's no need to panic if they aren't super smiley.
As always, any concerns about your baby's development should be brought up at their next well-baby visit.