Updated: March 6, 2019 4:10:34 pm
Nothing gives parents more joy than when they see their baby smile for the first time. You may have seen parents or personally been in situations where you have tried every possible gesture to make the baby smile. But did you know that a smiling face doesn’t necessarily mean that the baby is doing it intentionally?
Turns out, the baby smiles even when in the womb, paediatrician Dr Charu Kalra told Express Parenting. “This smile is just the flexing of muscles. It can start as early as when in the womb also. And that’s an involuntary smile. Parents often find that their newborn, who is not even two days old, smiling in his or her sleep. But that’s just the twitching of the muscle and not a real smile as we usually understand it,” she explained.
When does a baby smile?
A baby develops the “social smile” (or what we usually define a smile as) when he or she begins to recognise the mother or responds to certain gestures.
So, what is a social smile? “This is when the baby smiles intentionally, usually when he or she recognises the mother and smiles. It can start as early as four to five weeks after the baby is born, which is normally seen in girls, and it can be as late as two-and-a-half months. Boys take a little longer to smile as there is a gap of about two to three weeks in their development as compared to girls,” Dr Kalra said.
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How is the smile related to a baby’s development?
The baby’s smile is one of the first signs of his or her development. “What is worrying is if the child doesn’t start smiling by three months of age. If a child doesn’t recognise the mother or a certain gesture and smile, that’s a developmental delay. At this time, the baby’s vision is just eight inches and so he or she would only see people who are very close, which is mostly the mother,” said the paediatrician.
So, if the baby doesn’t smile, what could it mean? “This could be a soft marker of some genetic disorder like Down Syndrome or of cerebral palsy, which the baby might develop eventually. It could also be a very soft sign of autism, if he or she is not particularly looking at something or responding to some sound and smiling. Although the absence of a social smile doesn’t really confirm any disorder, it could be one of the first signs to pick up and evaluate the baby’s health further,” she said.
How to make your baby smile
If your pediatrician says that the child is healthy, you can take steps to make the baby smile. “In most cases, the interaction with the baby is very less, thinking that a newborn will not be able to interact. But that’s not the case. The more you talk to the baby, keep them close to your face, give them some responses or gestures, it can help him or her in their development. Again, babies who are breastfed develop faster because the breastfeeding mother would have a better bonding with the infant as compared to one who is bottle fed, which might make the baby smile more. One can also smile at the baby, who in turn will try to imitate it. But all of this should be tried before the baby is three months old,” Dr Kalra suggested.
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