The first time your baby smiles at you, all the sleepless nights, morning sickness and newborn stress will suddenly seem worth it, a million times over. There's just nothing sweeter than an infant's face lighting up with happy recognition or delight.
Smiling is also a welcome sign of baby's growing social skills, now that your newborn is making the transition from sweet sleepy lump to a sociable, irresistible little person.
When will my baby smile for the first time?
You've probably already heard — from your mother-in-law, your pediatrician and all your friends with kids — that a newborn infant's smiles are most likely "just gas" until baby is at least 1 month old. The unfortunate truth is, they're right. (But if you prefer not to believe it or care, that's just fine!)
But newborn babies do actually smile for reasons other than gas: Some smile because they're falling asleep, are feeling comfy and content, or are peeing. Feel free to revel in those sweet first smiles, no matter what their cause. Who could blame you?
Before she launches her first full-fledged social smile, you may see your baby doing lots of smile trial runs, practicing and exploring how her mouth moves. Her first "true" social smile is most likely to occur sometime between weeks 6 and 8 (and usually not before weeks 4 to 6), and it will most likely be in response to recognizing someone very special: Mom or Dad. For a social smile, she'll use her whole face, not just her mouth — you'll notice the difference when you see it!
How can I encourage my baby to smile?
To help your baby along, smile to her, cuddle her, play with her and talk to her often. You can't spoil a newborn, and numerous studies have shown that babies who get lots of parental care and affection early on develop faster, have larger brains and are more sociable. So if you can't wait to see those first real smiles, snuggle away, and smile at her like she's the best thing since sliced bread (which, really, she is).
What if my baby isn't smiling yet?
Just as some adults are quicker to smile than others, some babies are, too. If your 1-month-old still isn't smiling, don't be alarmed. That first "real" smile can seem frustratingly elusive, because for even some of the happiest babies, it can happen any time between 4 weeks and 4 months of age.
You may have heard that a delay in smiling is considered an early indicator for autism spectrum disorder. And while this is true, a delay in smiling is very rarely the only symptom that a child on the autism spectrum will exhibit. If your child hasn't smiled by 4 months but vocalizes, makes eye contact and responds to verbal and visual cues from you, she just might not be a naturally smiley personality — at least, not at this early stage in her development. Discuss any concerns you have with your pediatrician.
What’s the next baby milestone to look forward to after the first smile?
At around the same time your baby first smiles, she’ll likely also be practicing her first coos — putting her well on her way to another thrilling social development: baby's first laugh. Enjoy it all!