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A baby’s smile is one of the most precious sights anyone may ever see, especially when it’s seen from a parent. There is a lot of debate about when babies smile for the first time and mean it; this is called a Duchenne smile and whether or not a smile when they have wind is a real one or a reflex smile.
We’ve done the research both with experiencing it with our own child and by reading other people’s experiences of this event.
Why do babies smile when they have wind?
Babies can seem like they are smiling when they have wind because the discomfort of wind makes their mouth contort to seem to look like a smile. Babies who smile because of wind will often have their mouth closed as well as their eyes which means that they are not observing what people think should make them happy, also a Duchenne smile typically involves an open mouth and flexing of the cheek muscles – something very young babies can’t do yet.
A reflex smile from wind and a Duchenne smile from being happy are very distinct in both the way they look and how they are caused.
Some have supposed that a baby can smile when they pass wind to signal relief but this theory is also unlikely until they are at least 1 month old and even then their smiling will likely be social smiles – when they see someone special like mum and dad. If the smile goes and they are uncomfortable consider infacol or gripe water.
Believe it or not, babies will smile even before they’re born but as Parents.com note, it will be a reflex smile and not a deliberate one. As many doctors note, a baby does not have the mental development or physical development to associate ‘happy’ with cracking a smile. Until they are around 1 month old any smile is likely to be a reflex and not a deliberate show of being content.
Breastfed babies smile less because they get less wind (and other reasons)
Breastfed babies are less likely to smile for a number of reasons but one of them is because they need less winding. A common side effect of bottle feeding is ingesting air from the bottle which will lead to more wind and yes you guess it, more ‘smiling’. This has given breastfed babies the reputation of being grumpy but as we’ve explained this is not the case!
But, I am sure that my baby smiled at me when they had wind!
Parenthood is challenging especially the first time so thinking that your baby has smiled at you in their first week is perfectly fine and even after reading this article you probably won’t care! However, what we would say is that when you finally get to see a real Duchenne smile after the 1 month mark that it is totally different to the reflex smile you’ve seen when they’ve had wind. Their entire face is used and they will have an open mouth and their eyes will light up.
If I see my baby smile should I wind them?
Wind isn’t the only cause of ‘smiling’ when they are less than a month old. Anything that could cause them some form of discomfort could have the same effect such as having a poo or weeing.
We always recommend doing what feels best. A smile can sometimes be a cue for winding and other times it won’t. If they’re comfortable and content we say to leave them be but if a smile is followed by some grumpiness then seeing if they need winding won’t do any harm.