Smile, baby!

When do babies smile their first social smile? Mama knows best.

Learning Stages

By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

My baby has the cutest way of expressing happiness: he makes a little gurgling noise. My mother says he sounds like he is purring!

Emotional responses are my favorite milestones—that first social smile, the first baby giggle and those sloppy baby kisses!

Does your baby love you or is he just mimicking you? Or maybe it's just a reflex?

Researchers (as wll as all parents) have found fetal smiles in sleepy newborns as they fade into a nap. They say a true social smile, when you smile and baby smiles back, does not happen until baby is 6-8 weeks old.

When infants express their emotions, they use their entire bodies, wriggling and panting out their excitement or scrunching and howling their rage. Watching my baby, I am shocked that scientists ever believed babies do not feel emotion.

As it turns out, babies as young as 10 weeks not only mirror but actually respond dynamically to a mother's expressions of emotions. Not only do they return smiles for smiles but they also up the ante with wide-eyed excitement and giggles. What that means is that very young infants are capable of correctly interpreting your feelings and then responding in a kind of pre-verbal conversation.

So, next time someone tries to rain on your proud parent parade and tell you your baby is just passing gas, you can smile knowingly and give your baby a big hug. So much of what makes emotion is mysterious. Sure, we can detect biochemical responses to pleasure, pain and fear. Attachment, compassion, and love, though, remain elusive.

I smile, my baby smiles back. He giggles, I pick him up. Together we are warm and happy. Isn't that all that matters?