While your baby’s fi rst smiles will be in the womb, these smiles are caused by muscle movement and are not intentional. Developmental Specialist and the founder of BabyGym®, Dr Melodie de Jager, describes a young baby’s first smiles as reflexive and “more grimace than smile”. It is only from around six to eight weeks, she says, that the first ‘real’ and intentional smile will appear. You may be wondering how you will be able to tell the difference, but rest assured that you will know it when it happens!
While a smile may seem like a simple thing for you and me, Dr de Jager explains that for your baby to smile intentionally she will need to have learnt a number of important skills, such as:
Hugs are another soft, warm gift you can look forward to.
If your baby is not smiling, this doesn’t necessarily mean that she is sad. “If a baby is tube fed or cup fed, and the facial muscles haven’t had opportunity to develop, a baby may seem sad because they are not smiling,” says Dr de Jager. “And if a baby is suffering from sensory overload, or is under-stimulated, their face may also appear to lack expression.”
By about four to five months, your baby’s smiles should progress into a delightful baby laugh.
Hugs are another soft, warm gift you can look forward to. Dr de Jager says you will start to receive these from the moment your child starts reaching their arms out for mom and dad to pick them up.
Opening their arms to be lifted naturally transitions into opening their arms for a hug. Says Dr de Jager, “An intentional love-hug requires social awareness and motor control, and will generally happen at around 10 – 12 months.”
The first kiss that your baby gives you will depend a lot on you, says Dr de Jager – as their primary role model, if you kiss your baby often, and they enjoy the experience, they are likely to start emulating your kisses from around five months. However, it will only be by around 16 to 18 months that they will start giving you kisses spontaneously.
Put the phone down! Connect with your baby. Make eye contact. Talk to your baby. Demonstrate the loving behaviour you would like to see them exhibit.
In terms of the kind of stimulation you should give your baby to help them learn these precious love milestones, Dr de Jager advises you “Put the phone down! Connect with your baby. Make eye contact. Talk to your baby. Demonstrate the loving behaviour you would like to see them exhibit.”
You should also keep in mind that it is possible to “over-do” it and over-stimulate a baby. You can tell this is happening if your baby exhibits what Dr de Jager calls “avoidance behaviour”, which is turning away, crying with their fingers splayed (to show STOP), as well as hyperactivity and poor sleeping. When this happens, give your baby some peace and quiet, perhaps in a darkened room, to help them to calm down.
If you are concerned that your baby is not reaching the correct milestones on time, Dr de Jager recommends that you join a BabyGym group and get first-hand tips and support. She also advises that you set realistic expectations from the beginning; “Development is not a race. Faster is not better.”
Development is not a race. Faster is not better