When Do Babies Smile? Here's How to Encourage Their First Smile

When Do Babies Smile? Here’s How to Encourage Their First Smile

ParentingUpdated December 28, 2022

by Aimee Ketchum

Pediatric Occupational Therapist

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Nothing makes a new parent swoon like when babies smile their first toothless smile!

The first, not really real, smile:

The involuntary smile is adorable but not sincere, as it is not on purpose. Even premature one-day-old babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will smile due to reflexes kicking in or twitching facial muscles. As other newborn reflexes are designed to help your baby eat (such as the rooting reflex) or protect them from harm (palmar reflex), I like to believe the involuntary smile is designed to help bond the baby and the parent.

Over and over again, I watch new parents fall a little more in love every time their baby breaks out that little grin. They yell out, “oh, look . . . she’s smiling!” Some healthcare professionals might say, “Well, she’s just grimacing. She can’t actually smile on purpose yet.” I just say, “Yes, she is! She loves you! Smile back at her.” Whether it is purposeful or not, it is stinkin’ adorable!

The first “real” smile:

Babies typically can smile voluntarily in response to something that makes them happy at around six to ten weeks old.

You can help encourage the first smile!

Because new babies can best see approximately ten to twelve inches from their face, hold your baby face-to-face in your lap. The adorable little giggle comes shortly after that. It is important to make it a point to make your baby laugh at least five times per day. Laughing releases endorphins that boost their mood and bond with who they are laughing with.

This all relates to the importance of early bonding and attachment between baby and caregiver. The early attachment sets the foundation for the child’s sense of security and self-confidence later on. Recent studies find that early attachment is even more important than we initially thought!1 Early bonding and attachment to a parent or caregiver is also a predictor of future academic skills and mental health, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

Here are some tips for bonding with your baby, making them smile, and even belly-laughing:

  • Give your baby a baby massage. This skin-on-skin contact is so crucial for bonding and development.
  • Look into your baby’s eyes and talk to your baby. Tell her stories and talk about your day.
  • Sing to your baby.
  • Read to your baby.
  • Blow raspberries on your baby’s belly.
  • Count her toes and tickle her tiny feet.
  • Dance with your baby.
  • Nibble on his ear.
  • Say nursery rhymes.
  • Use puppets and stuffed animals to make voices and make her laugh.
  • Be silly. Put her shoes on her hands and put her socks on her head to make her giggle.
  • Use funny voices.
  • During bath time, drizzle water on her belly.
  • Pretend to lose her. Call her name, and when she says, “here I am,” act surprised and hug her.
  • Play peek-a-boo (this also helps teach object permanence).
  • Hide stuffed animals under blankets and find them together.
  • Pretend she is an airplane and make her fly around the room.
  • Clap her hands together to music.
  • Clap her opposite hands and feet together (this also helps with brain development).
  • Make funny faces at her and see if she replicates it.
  • Allow her to look in a mirror with you and make funny faces together.

There are many milestones throughout the first few years, but don’t underestimate the importance of smiling and laughing every day. It can be easy to get caught up in child care and work and everything else we need to do daily, but try to make time for giggles!

Reference:
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2169321/

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