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Your baby’s smile, especially the first, is one of the most rewarding moments of parenthood. In that instant, the sleepless nights, never-ending diaper changes, newborn stress – it all seems worth it. And you, in turn, will have a silly grin on your face as you beam back and try your hardest to recreate the smile.

That first grin – even if it’s a “gas smile” – isn’t just good for mom’s ego. It’s an important developmental milestone that’s as important for mom as it is for baby. Over the first year, your baby’s grins will give you a window into their development – expressing pleasure, communicating with you and developing a sense of humor:

Understanding Your Baby’s Smile from 0-12 Months:

0-6 weeks (Reflexive): These are the earliest smiles, the ones you see appear when the baby is getting drowsy, experiencing REM sleep or simply passing gas. Often more of a grimace, these smiles are purely a physical reflex and last no longer than a few seconds. Blink and you’ll miss it!

6-8 weeks (Responsive): This smile is a sign of pleasure. It’s a reaction to stimuli such as hearing mom’s voice, seeing your face or cuddling. Don’t get too excited just yet. These cute little lopsided smiles are just a reaction to sensory experience, but social smiles are coming soon!

2-3 months (Social): Now your baby is smiling on purpose, usually in recognition of someone special, such as a parent, sibling or family pet. This baby’s smile is more symmetrical than earlier smiles, lasts longer and involves the entire face. Pay special attention to the eyes. A social smile is all about engagement, and the baby will expect a response.

6 months (Undiscriminating): During this period, the baby just enjoys smiling. It doesn’t matter if it’s with family or stranger. Everything elicits an approving grin.

9 months (Selective): As the baby begins to distinguish between friends, family and strangers, smiles become selective. New faces cause anxiety, even crying. Don’t be embarrassed! This is a perfectly healthy development.

12 months (A Sense of Humor): At around a year old, the baby is starting to develop language skills and smiles become part of a more defined personality. Take advantage of this baby’s smile, because nearly everything you do will be FUNNY.

Keep in mind that this is not a strict schedule. Just like some adults are quicker to smile or laugh than others, so are babies.

In our next blog we’ll explore tips for making your baby smiles, including games and other social activities that’ll get a smile out of them, and what to do if your baby is not smiling yet.