1. Baby smiles evolve through stages: reflexive, responsive, social, and anticipatory.
2. Newborns show spontaneous smiles during REM sleep; it’s a reflexive smile.
3. Responsive smiles start around 6-8 weeks; social smiles begin around 2-3 months.
4. A social smile indicates interaction, recognition, and cognitive development in babies.
You’ve probably seen your baby’s first reflexive smile while they were sleeping, but once they look right into your eyes and smile, it will be a magical moment that you’ll treasure forever. How can you tell the difference between a social smile and a reflexive one? Keep reading and find out more about your baby’s smile.
If your little one is already one year old, you’ve probably seen that the reason they smile has changed as the months went by ーat first it was when they got a bath or were asleep, then when you made funny faces, or when you played with them. That happens because, during your little one’s first year, a baby’s smile goes through different stages. First, it’s a reflexive smile; then, they develop the responsive smile; after a few months, their social smile appears; and in the last months of their first year, they use the anticipatory smile.
What are the different types of baby smiles?
Newborns’ smiles during their first 6 weeks are usually spontaneous; it’s a reflexive smile that will probably happen when they are asleep. During REM sleep, your baby’s body goes through physiological changes and one of these produces a smile. However, at this point, it’s probably just a physical reaction, not an emotional one. This reflex can even be considered a part of your little one’s survival instinct, such as the rooting, sucking, and Moro reflexes, and it can appear too when you bathe your little one or when they feel comfy.
1 to 3-month-old baby smile
After a couple of months, playtime gets more exciting for your little one! Making funny faces, voices, and cuddling will make your baby smile in reaction to sensory experiences ーbut not because of a social response yet. However, you can try and encourage your baby to smile! This is known as a responsive smile and usually appears between 6 and 8 weeks of age.
So, when will a smile provoked by social stimulation appear? You can expect it when your baby is around 2 or 3 months old. At this stage, your little one will want to connect! Now, they will smile when they see you, and they will learn that they can get a reaction from you by smiling, not only by crying. During this time, their developing cognitive skills help them identify familiar faces as well as understand behavioral patterns. Your baby will start choosing what makes them smile and what doesn’t.
This social smile is important for your baby because, since they now spend more time awake than in their first months of life, they can pay more attention to the world around them, learning that you ーand their familyー will take care of them when they need something. They will also feel loved when people smile at them; that’s why one day they’ll be able to smile back.
This social smile is important for your little one’s development because when you respond to their cues, you are letting them know that their feelings and thoughts matter, helping them feel confident about their world and start increasing their self-esteem in the future.
9 to 12 month-old smile
When your baby is around 9 months old, they will have a stronger sense of object permanence ーmeaning they will know that something exists even when they can’t see itー and you can use this to encourage smiling! Try to play Peek-a-boo or “Now you see me, now you don’t” to incite a lot of smiles and laughs.
At this stage, your baby will also develop what is known as an anticipatory smile, in which they will pay attention to an object, staring and smiling at it, then they’ll turn to you and smile, and finally, they’ll look back at the object. They’ll communicate with you about the object or will use this baby smile to share the emotion they are feeling ーcontributing to their social skills and their sense of humor.
Finally, at around 12 months, a baby’s sense of humor emerges as they start developing language skills. That’s why they laugh if you make funny noises, and since they have developed their social smile before, they’ll want you to laugh along with them.
So, when will my baby smile at me?
As we mentioned before, throughout your little one’s first year there will be many occasions when they’ll smile at you. These are the most common moments in which you’ll notice your baby’s smile:
- When they are overjoyed.
- When you smile at them willingly, as a response to their actions.
- When they want to get your attention.
How can I promote a social smile in my baby?
You can contribute to the appearance of the social smile in your baby by doing this kind of activities:
- Playing Peek-a-boo.
- Being silly! Make silly sounds and faces.
- Singing to them.
Even if at first a baby smile is just a reflex, if you smile frequently at your little one, they will feel safe, creating a secure attachment and bond with you, which will help in their development. Your smile creates a bond with your baby because, when you smile, your little one’s body releases chemicals, making them feel safe and happy with you. With this in mind, it is important to mention that just as you can transmit positive feelings, you can also transmit stress to your little one. If that’s the case, your baby’s stress hormones will increase, interfering with their development.
Finally, if your little one is not smiling after a couple of months, don’t worry, this can be due to their temperament or personality. Remember babies develop at their own pace, but if you want some guidance about this, you can always consult with your pediatrician and ask for assistance, especially if your little one doesn’t communicate through sounds or expressions when they are 3 months old.
Remember to encourage your baby to smile. Try showing them affection with kisses or cuddles, choose games where you can delight them, and remember they learn through imitation, so share with your little one a happy or funny face and see if they imitate you!