YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERTS
MEG FAURE OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE SENSE SERIES OF BOOKS
I SWEAR I SAW MY TWO-WEEKOLD SMILE IN HER SLEEP, BUT MY HUSBAND SAYS IT WAS JUST A REFLEX. WHO IS RIGHT?
The first few weeks with a newborn is a lot of hard work and there will be days when it seems pretty thankless. Each day is filled with feeds and attempts to settle your little one to sleep and cope with levels of crying that you probably did not anticipate. It is exhausting and so it’s with great anticipation that you will await that first little smile.
Your baby’s smile is a very important milestone – it’s her first real social signal. For the vast majority of babies the first social smile emerges by six weeks. But for some babies it does emerge a whole lot earlier than this. You will find yourself debating for weeks whether that little flicker of the lips is in fact a smile.
In the hours and days immediately after birth, newborns have the amazing capacity to imitate a facial expression. This usually occurs when your baby is in the calm alert state and making eye contact. In this state, many babies imitate a facial expression by sticking out their tongue in the same way mom is or lifting their lips in a smile like way to imitate mom or dad. While not a social smile, this is an early response to another person and so is a social signal.
After a few weeks, your baby will start to produce little smiles as she sleeps or even during awake times. Many of these smiles, especially early on, are not social smiles but occur in response to internal sensory input. We believe this is the body’s way of preparing the facial muscles for smiling. If your baby smiles while sleeping or while looking into space – this is probably a reflex or response to a wind rather than a social smile.
There will come a time, often much earlier than six weeks, that you could swear your baby is smiling. She is lying calm and alert on your lap, making eye contact and you smile or make a noise and she smiles back – just a small upturn of the lips. In this case, this is certainly early smiling and is a precious social signal.
You will know for sure that your baby is smiling when: She is awake, in the calm-alert state. She is making eye contact with a person or a fascinating toy. Her little lips curl up in response to the visual or sound stimulus.