S.T.E.A.M. Day

How do I know if my baby is happy?

The curious case of newborns

At the ages of around 0 – 2 months, newborns focus on making sure their caregiver meets their needs by crying. Generally, as long as your baby is not crying or showing discontent you should not be worried. 

Newborns cannot smile because they lack self-referential thinking- the cognitive process of relating surrounding information to yourself. Newborns also need to be able to retrieve short term memories to feel happy and smile. During this time your baby’s brain undergoes rapid neurogenesis (process where new neurons are formed) and typically does not form memories. 


Once your baby starts smiling and grinning 

Once your baby can smile, understanding their emotions is still relatively simple. Researchers found that babies are either: in high distress, somewhat in distress, or not in distress. Although babies are limited in expressing emotions, they are much more receptive to their parents’ emotions. Babies understand and explore their surroundings through parent filters and will feel if their parents are happy or distressed. 


Smiling means my baby is happy… right?

From an anthropological view, smiling is a primal reflex to demonstrate hostility (by showing our canines) or submission. Facial expression experts distinguish between an open toothed/lipped smile and a smile where lips and teeth are relaxed. The former smile may be a primal reaction showing fears and intimidation while the latter smile is associated with feelings of pleasure.  


Other signs my baby is happy 

Separation anxiety

  • Is a sign of secure attachment with parents 
  • This means that your baby trusts you and is most familiar with you 

Mouth open wide: 

  • If your baby open their mouth when you are close it may mean they are trying to take in more of your fragrance 
  • Babies recognize their mothers natural fragrance 
  • Research suggests these pheromones play a role in mother-infant recognition