A few seconds was all it took before baby Isabela produced a “meme-worthy” expression that her mother could be proud of. Photographer Rodrigo Kunstmann captured the moment Isabela Pereira de Jesus, born on February 13, 2020, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, gave a long hard glare to the doctors who had delivered her immediately before.
Kunstmann, who photographs weddings and births, was contacted by Isabela’s parents to record the moment she entered the world. He shared the now-viral image on Facebook with the caption “Today is my birth and I don’t even have clothes for this.”
“She opened her eyes wide and didn't cry, she made a 'sulky' face, her mother gave a kiss and it was only after they cut the umbilical cord that she started to cry," Kunstmann told Crescer. Having just undergone cesarean surgery, Isabela’s mother didn’t recall her daughter’s first expression, which only lasted a few seconds. However, after seeing the photo she told Crescer that “my daughter was born a ready meme.”
Researchers have previously asked the question of whether babies develop facial expressions before they are born. They found that two “gestalts” (muscle configurations, rather than emotions) – laughter and cry – could be distinguished in fetuses at around 34 to 35 weeks.
However, over the last few decades, more thought has gone into understanding how babies react to the new faces that they see. In a paper from 1975, minutes-old babies were shown to be significantly more responsive to images of proper face patterns as opposed to scrambled versions of the same stimulus or to a blank.
Hours after birth, babies have exhibited the ability to differentiate between their mother’s face and the faces of strangers. Staring longer at images of their own mother as opposed to the other pictures. Even newborns as young as 14 hours old have shown a preference for attractive faces over unattractive ones (as judged by adult raters).
By the time children are 5 years old, their ability to recognize and label facial expressions is nearly on par with most adults. Although baby Isabela is a while away from that, her parents may see her “sulky” face reappear very soon.