How To Decode Your Baby's Smiles

Seeing their baby smile is one of the most joyful moment's in a new parent's life. So when should they expect to see it happen? And what does it mean in the grand scheme of baby's development?

Until fairly recently, scientists considered smiles from newborn babies to be a reflexive response. A smile might be triggered by passing gas, stool, or even just being comfortable and at peace, according to Healthline. But research in recent decades has shown that babies as young as 36 hours have the ability to self-regulate certain conditions. They can fuss to indicate the need for attention, fall asleep to avoid stress, and imitate smiles to display emotion as young as 36 hours old, according to The Conversation.

Smiles at these early ages are largely the result of mimicry and/or reflex, as they can also happen when babies are asleep. Still, the emergence of a smile is no less of a gift for watchful parents and loved ones.

Social smiles are the next step in their development

At about 2 months and 1 week of age, a baby may begin to show signs of their first social smiles. These are more intentional, interactive smiles that involve the entire face, including the eyes. They indicate that the baby is more aware of and engaged with other people's faces and their surroundings (via Healthline).

If you want to encourage your baby to smile at about this age, you should choose a time period when baby is well-fed and comfortable, hold them about 8-12 inches from your face, and give them a wide smile and say "hello" (via WebMD). Remember that babies reach milestones at different rates. Premature babies may take a bit longer to begin to smile. Also, social smiling is just one element along the continuum of social development that includes things like cooing, laughing, babbling, and speech.

If you have any concerns over your baby's social development, speak with your pediatrician at the baby's next well visit. It's likely everything is fine and they can quickly put your mind at ease.