When do babies smile?

At what age do babies start smiling and cooing? All you need to know about this special milestone...

Editor / February 27 2019

When do babies smile?

Is it a smile? Is it wind? Your baby's first smile is one of the most memorable moments you'll have as a parent. But just when do babies smile? And just what does this milestone mean for their social and emotional development? Find out.

Believe it or not, your baby learns to smile in the womb - but these are called reflex smiles. Just as your baby learns to move her arm or kick her leg, so she is learning to smile in utero and it's a natural and normal part of her development. As a newborn you might see your baby smile in her sleep, and these are also reflex smiles.

Your baby's first proper smile says a lot about her development after birth. It usually occurs from around six weeks to 12 weeks in age (although many mothers report it being slightly earlier at four weeks or later around 14 weeks).

You can tell the difference between a reflex smile and real smile by the timing of it and the length. 

By around the six week mark, your baby's eyesight will have developed and she should be able to recognise your face, and if you smile at her she might just smile back!

She will also smile to express pleasure, excitement, contentment, and happiness. Often you will see a happy emotion expressed in your baby's eyes with a real smile.

 

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Getty

 

How can I encourage my baby to smile?

  • Talk to her often. It may sound silly to ask a newborn questions but if you give her time to respond she might just take up the cue.
  • Make eye contact frequently, and smile at her throughout the day.
  • Singing lullabies. Making funny faces or noises - she will love the interaction. Make funny sounds, or blow gentle raspberries on her tummy.  Even a game of peek-a-boo can work a treat. But don't go over-board. Young babies are easily over-stimulated or over-whelmed and they might look away or cry to show they're getting too much stimulation. 

 

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Getty

 

What if my baby doesn't start smiling?

Don't panic! If she doesn't smile at around six or seven weeks it does NOT mean that there is anything wrong or that she's unhappy. Every baby is different and will hit different milestones at different times. Some babies might need a few extra weeks. 

If your baby isn't smiling by around 16 weeks and you are concerned, ask your GP or early childhood nurse about it.

When do babies coo?

At around three months your baby should start making noises - cooing and little babbles. You might even get giggles and the occasional belly laugh! By around five months your baby should be squealing and laughing - but again it's completely normal if this is a little later or earlier. 

As her vision improves, you should get more reaction from your bub. He'll start to see people's reactions and imitate them and with tickles, and cuddles you'll sense how much enjoyment she gets from these interactions.  

 

Frances Sheen has been a magazine and website journalist & editor for the last 20 years - both in Australia and the UK. She's appeared on countless TV and radio shows to discuss parenting and launched her own social media parenting brand. She's the mum of two little girls and juggles that with a busy working life.