Parent’s, here’s what you need to know about the thing you’ve been waiting for since you gave birth – seeing your baby’s smile.
What can you read in this article?
- The meaning behind baby’s smile, according to science
- Why do newborns smile in their sleep?
- When will baby smile for real?
Those adorable first baby smiles are so much more than just cute. Starting from birth almost, your baby’s smile can give you a peek into his or her emotional and social development, say scientists.
And what is perhaps even more important is how you react to those sweet smiles, because this “can help program babies’ brains for a lifetime of social interactions.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, attempts to decipher babies’ smiles are not new and even date as far back as Darwin’s time.
Now, modern efforts see researchers using heart monitors, brain scans and the observation of recorded interaction, and have revealed amazing “cognitive and emotional sensitivities in very young infants.”
Baby smile and development: One of the types of baby smiles that you’ll read about on the next page is “the newborn smile”.
Researchers unveiling baby emotions through smiles
Scientists at the University of California recently programmed a baby-like robot to smile at volunteers in the same way a four-month-old babies smile at their mums.
Next, using mathematical calculations, “they concluded that while the mothers timed their smiles to maximize mutual smiling, the infants, knowingly or not, smiled just enough to make their mothers smile.”
Meanwhile, developmental psychologists at Johnson State College in the United State made a hypothesis that young babies would not be able to pick up on something that is humorous unless their parents were laughing too.
But what they actually observed was different to their hypothesis. They noted that five-month-old babies will laugh at a funny sight — such as a person balancing a book on his head — even if no one else was laughing.
1. Spontaneous smiles or “dreaming of angels”
Moms wait eagerly to see that first darling little newborn smile. These smiles, which occur in newborns mostly when they are sleepy or asleep, are known as spontaneous smiles because they are “seemingly unconnected to any outside stimulus.”
It is still not known what causes these fleeting smiles. As Dr. Messinger, professor of psychology at University of Miami jokingly says, “We ask them and they don’t tell us.”
And while some may tell you that these first smiles are caused by gas, researchers have ruled this out as these early smiles seem unaffected by feedings.
It’s more likely that newborn smiles come from a primitive part of the brain and this impulse to smile is not yet connected to systems of cognition or emotion. These beautiful first smiles are appropriately known in Italian as sognando gli angeli, or “dreaming of angels”.
Your darling 6-8 month old baby is turning into a social butterfly, with smiles to go along!
2. Social smiles
As cute as those newborn or reflex smiles are, as parents, we still wonder, “When will my baby smile for real?”
When your baby is around six to eight weeks old, he or she will start smiling in response to external stimuli, such as hearing your voice and seeing your face.
Your baby will smile less when alone and more when people are around, especially favorites like mom, dad and siblings.
You only have to think of the “still face” experiment, where little ones aged three months and older will become upset if an adult who has been smiling at them suddenly stops.
Also, at around the same age, babies who are smiling and gazing at a parent will look away on their own while still smiling.
Experts believe this indicates emotion regulation — they are taking a break from the intensity of one-on-one interaction.
3. The Duchenne smile
Image from Pexels
Between two and six months, infants increasingly employ a so-called Duchenne smile — cheeks raised, eye muscles constricted—to respond to parents’ smiles, which researchers say indicates intense emotion.
This smile in babies aged between two to six months of age. It is characterized by raised cheeks and constricted eye muscles and takes place in response to their parents’ smiles.
This kind of smile indicates intense emotion, say experts.
4. The “open mouth” or playful smile
Tickle your little one at around age eight months and you’ll see this smile, which is a raised-cheek, curled-lips, open-mouthed grin!
According to researchers, it is the strongest expression of joy in a baby of this age and usually occurs when you are playing with your little one or engaging with them in another positive way.
“Mum, these toys are so cool!”, is probably what your little one is trying to tell you with her “anticipatory smile”
5. Anticipatory smiling
When babies are around six months old, they increasingly involve toys into their interactions with people.
For example, they will gaze at a toy then back at an examiner with and without smiling.
“This is a sign that they can flexibly engage their own attention and recognize it in others,” Dr. Messinger says.
This kind of smile, when it happens, is a developmental milestone known as anticipatory smiling, first identified by researchers in 1990.
Investigators got babies between the ages of eight and 12 months to play with toys, with their mothers sitting behind them. When the toys made a noise, the little ones would smile in reaction, with some of the older babies also turning to their mothers while still smiling.
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Once baby has mastered his heart-melting smile, he will soon start to make other noises like cooing, babbling, until eventually, he starts making those belly laughs we can’t get enough of.
Researchers observed that before they can speak, babies laugh at funny situations, even creating them themselves at around nine months of age.
Psychologist Vasudevi Reddy, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., found that most babies under the age of one will exhibit quite a few “clowning” activities that adults engage in, such as blowing raspberries to offering a toy and snatching it back.
Little ones at this age also become more and more aware of their audience’s reaction to their antics, which is another sign of their developing ability to engage with others. Some babies at around seven months old will even start laughing and then stop of others close to them didn’t join in.
Experts say that this behavior shows how little ones, even at such a young age, are aware of other people’s emotions and will “adjust their emotional responses to match.”
Parents, with all this information, it’s important to not get worried if your baby is not smiling in a particular way by a certain age. Instead, just savor these special times with your baby. As Professor Messinger said,
“What’s important is to be there, be calm and enjoy the moment.”
How to encourage your baby to smile
As we’ve learned, there’s a difference between a reflex smile and a genuine smile. So how do you know if your baby’s smile is really directed at you and not out of reflex? Simple – it’s not just the mouth that shows, but her whole face lights up at the sight of you.
And once your baby start’s smiling, it’s almost impossible to get enough, and the cycle of doing whatever we can to keep our babies happy continue. How do you encourage your little one to keep showing her gummy grin? Here are some things you can try:
- Shower her with love and affection. Babies respond to cuddles and kisses, especially from their parents.
- Use a high-pitched voice. Ever wonder why parents and grownups love using sing-song voice on babies? It’s because research show that babies listen more to high-pitched voices that almost sound like music to their ears.
- Be playful. Games like peek-a-boo and rhymes like “This Little Piggy” can get your little one’s energy going and will surely generate a smile from your baby.
- Put on a happy face. If all those first ideas fail, just smile! Babies imitate the people around them, so you’ll know you’ll see your baby’s smile soon enough.
As a parent, you’ll learn that all babies develop on a different schedule. So don’t worry too much if you don’t see your baby smile as much. Maybe she’ll show her enthusiasm in a different way. With your encouragement and support, you’ll find your little one showing her toothless grin soon.
If your baby has not smiled at around three months though, don’t hesitate to bring this up on his next doctor’s appointment.