When babies smile

Written by Beau Rikefe

When you have a baby, it is easy to lose track of time just watching them. Watching them eat, watching them sleep, watching them breathe, watching them smile. It’s a very comforting moment to see your newborn smile.

There are a lot of beliefs about why babies smile, some more probable than others and some a bit far-fetched. One of the sweeter reasons I’ve heard for why babies smile is that they have seen an angel. A newborn smiles to communicate with the angel. While there is no empirical evidence to either support or refute this, for people who believe it, it is their truth.

The easiest and by far the most heart-warming reason I have heard as to why babies smile is that they want to communicate that they are happy. I quite like this explanation because my first child was a smiler. And I was the mother cooing o

ver my infant, ecstatic in the belief that she recognised my voice and was smiling to tell me how happy she was that I was near, and that I was her mother.

That was until about two weeks after we got back home from the hospital, when a friend of mine visited. She helped me bathe the baby and get her ready for bed. As my baby was falling asleep, she gave my friend a really beautiful smile. Now to me, a first-time mum, that was a polite thing to do. She was smiling at my friend to say thank you. We were cooing and ahhh-ing about the smile when my friend gave me a harsh jolt to reality: “Oh she is passing gas!”

“Wait, whaaat?”, I replied.

“She’s passing gas. Newborns smile when they pass gas,” she replied very matter-of-factly.  

I read up about it. Apparently, it’s true. It has nothing to do with angels or recognising your voice or face or smell. When newborns smile, it is often a sign that they are passing gas.  

That said, between six and eight weeks old, babies do start to smile socially. This is an intentional gesture of love meant for you, and when you smile, they smile back. It is also an important developmental milestone in their lives. It’s a clinical milestone that a health visitor will ask you about and note in your baby book. At this age, your infant is developing social skills. They are learning to get your attention by smiling. It is a developmental communication milestone that shows your baby’s brain is developing.

Humans are social beings, and baby humans are too. Parenthood is a great journey and milestones like these are not only precious moments, but are also very rewarding. Who would have thought that a smile could mean so many things? A smile is a great communication gesture. It says hello, it says welcome, it says I’m happy, it says I feel safe. It is a beautiful thing. However, it only starts meaning these things around the six-week mark, before then it’s either an angel or gas!

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