By Raising Children Network
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Baby girl smiling

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When your baby sees you smile, it releases chemicals in her body. This makes her feel good – and the chemicals (called opiates) also help her brain grow.
A simple smile from you can improve your baby’s self image and brain development.

Most of us can’t help smiling at our babies every chance we get. The urge to make them smile back can keep us busy for hours.

Smiling at your baby is important because it:

  • plays a part in the connecting and attachment processes
  • helps your baby feel secure and safe
  • helps your baby develop and learn about the world.

Babies and young children also read their parents’ faces. They use parents’ facial expressions as a guide for behaviour.

The emotional experiences a child has with other people (especially experiences during the first years) help shape emotional responses throughout life. Children develop their own minds and emotions through interaction with other people.

Neuroscientist Doug Watt has said our positive early experiences are the unforgettable things we can’t remember.

The science of a smile

Scientific research tells us that when a connection is made between a parent and child, it’s helped along by chemical reactions in the body. On the other hand, if a baby is feeling insecure or stressed, the levels of stress hormones in that baby’s body will increase.

Different chemicals interact with the baby’s nervous system in different ways, and even play a role in how the brain grows and develops.

The smiling baby flowchart (PDF doc: 173kb) shows some of the important things that happen as the result of a simple smile. This scientific side of smiling has been investigated by researchers looking at body chemicals and brain activity.

No smile is wasted

It’s worth remembering that a simple smile is one building block for your relationship with your child. Your face is where your child looks for reassuring, comforting responses and attention.

Not every single response you give is vital, but each smile your baby catches sends a great message.

Video Bonding

In this short video, parents share their experiences of bonding with newborns. Parents describe joy and also the experience of not feeling an instant attachment to their child. These parents discuss how they formed that bond later.
  • Last updated or reviewed 18-05-2010