When Do Babies Laugh?

One of the most rewarding aspects of parenting is hearing your baby let out peals of laughter. Here's when to expect your baby's first laugh, and how to encourage the important developmental milestone. 

laughing mom playing with baby girl on bed
Photo: Sam Diephuis/Getty Images

In the first few weeks of life, infants express needs that demand immediate gratification—most notably for milk, sleep, or a cuddle. But it's often not until that first smile, when they're between 6 and 12 weeks old, that we realize babies want social interaction as well. The smiles express that they're happy, content, and enjoying what's going on around them. Soon enough, though, smiling takes on an auditory dimension and turns into laughter. Here's when to expect your baby's first laugh, with tips for encouraging the developmental milestone.

When Do Babies Start Laughing?

Once your baby masters smiling, he'll realize that it brings positive reactions from those around him. He'll start adding sound effects, such as cooing, to his gummy grins, according to Mark Gettleman, M.D., a pediatrician and owner of Dr. Goofy Gettwell Pediatrics in Scottsdale, Arizona. Cooing will turn into small giggles, and eventually your baby will laugh out loud.

Every child reaches milestones at a different time, but you can expect your baby's first laugh around 3 or 4 months. Full-out belly laughs might appear around 5 months of age.

What Makes Babies Laugh?

Most experts agree that the root of humor is taking something in its familiar form and turning it upside down or making it offbeat. That's why very young babies really don't have a sense of humor—they're still learning how the world looks, feels, and sounds in an ordinary context, so they don't "get the joke" when something's out of whack. Hence, a baby's first peals of laughter (around 3 or 4 months) tend to be a response to arousal. A ride on a bouncing knee, for instance, gets a laugh because it's physically stimulating.

But just a few months later, funny sounds coming from a toy will evoke a smile or a laugh. Starting around the 6-month mark, babies have enough information about the world around them to be surprised —and delighted—at the unexpected. "Infants experience pleasure from processing information that's a little bit new and a little bit similar," says Paul E. McGhee, PhD, a developmental psychologist and author of Understanding and Promoting the Development of Children's Humor. Peekaboo becomes a funny-bone favorite now, and almost anything that is decidedly out of their ordinary realm of experience gives kids the giggles.

How to Encourage Baby’s First Laugh

A baby's first laugh is usually reserved for the people who first made him smile: Mommy and Daddy. It begins with parents making faces and funny noises to get the baby excited and interested, notes Doris Bergen, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. A baby's relationship to the adult doing the funny stuff matters as much as the physical sensations and funny noises; he'll laugh and play only if he feels secure.

After the first few chuckles, what makes an infant giggle is primarily physical and feels pleasurable: blowing raspberries on his belly, tickling his feet, picking him up and flying him gently through space. At about 4 months, a baby begins to laugh at things he can see and hear. He'll delight in nonsense humor —an exaggeration of things he typically experiences, such as faces with wide-open mouths and big eyes and wacky sounds such as toots and trills.

Your baby's giggles mean he's having a good time, but he doesn't yet have a true sense of humor. He'll begin to develop one within the next six months, when he has the cognitive ability to find an idea funny.

When Do Babies Become Ticklish?

Try to tickle your newborn, and you'll discover that he doesn't laugh. Why isn't he ticklish? Maybe it's because he doesn't understand that other people are separate from him, says child development expert Lawrence Kutner, PhD, co-director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media. If you've ever tried to tickle yourself, you know it doesn't work. "But within the first few months, babies become ticklish, so one theory is that this may be a marker of the child realizing that other people are separate from him," says Kutner. However, he adds, we can't confirm this because "infants make lousy interview subjects."

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