If you thought it was exciting to see baby smile that big gummy grin, just wait until you hear the first laugh. Wondering when it’s going to happen? If baby’s cooing and gurgling, it may be soon—these early noises are her way of experimenting with her voice and sounds and learning how to move her mouth and tongue, says Elizabeth Gerosa, MS, CCC-SLP, C/NDT, a speech language pathologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. It’s those cute preliminary noises that will lead to baby laughing, and eventually talking.
When do babies laugh for the first time?
By the time they’re about 3 or 4 months old, most babies will let loose their first real laugh—and the moment you hear it, you’ll likely laugh right back. That’s just what baby was hoping for. Besides loving the sound of his own voice, baby will get a kick out of the reaction he gets when he uses it. And it’s good practice for him. Over time, interacting with people like this helps baby develop key social skills.
What causes baby’s first laugh?
While infants are too young to get belly laughs from a Jimmy Fallon sketch, they can get the giggles from seeing a funny face or hearing a silly voice. “Early laughing is reflexive,” Gerosa says, which means that first laugh may just come out of nowhere. But as babies get older, laughter happens as more of a physical reaction to something that feels good, like when you tickle them or blow raspberries on their belly. And get this: Baby doesn’t only laugh when she’s awake. When you put your infant down for a nap, don’t be surprised if you hear a few little laughs coming from the baby monitor. Babies laugh in their sleep for the first time around 9 months, though it can happen as early as 6 months, says Stan Spinner, MD, chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Pediatrics in Houston.
How baby’s laugh changes
Listen closely to baby’s laugh as he grows: “Vocal tone changes over time as the larynx develops,” Gerosa says. “It will drop and change in intensity, tone and pitch.” When babies reach about 9 to 12 months of age, their laughter will also have more intent behind it compared with that of, say, a 4-month-old, because they’re able to understand more.
And the more baby understands, the more chances he’ll have to give himself a serious case of the giggles. Around 12 months, when baby has grasped the concept that things still exist even when you can’t see them (that’s called “object permanence”), baby is likely to laugh hysterically. Playing peekaboo will usually set him off, and so will a game of surprise, like when you repeatedly stack blocks and then knock them down. Since baby now gets that those blocks are supposed to be stacked, it’s endlessly hilarious to him when they topple to the floor.
But not everyone will be able to get baby to laugh out loud. “As babies get closer to 12 months, they start to differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar people, and can develop stranger anxiety,” Spinner says. So if you crack baby up but a friendly stranger makes him cry, it’s totally normal and you’ll know why.
How to get baby to laugh
Want to tickle baby’s funny bone? Try a physical trigger like tickling her toes, gently bouncing her up and down on your lap, blowing raspberries at her or on her, or playing a game of pat-a-cake. And don’t forget classic moves like making funny faces and silly sounds—both foolproof ways to set off hysterics.
“The more vocal and visual interaction you can provide, the better,” Spinner says. So prepare to perform your playtime antics over and over for your captive audience. Also make sure that baby is well-rested and fed—just like an adult, she’ll find your attempt at humor much funnier when she’s in a good mood.
What to do if baby isn’t laughing
If baby hasn’t giggled yet within the traditional time frame, not to worry: Babies develop at their own pace, and it’s perfectly normal for some to start later. And like with baby’s first smile, remember that some babies are just more serious than others. It may also take a while to figure out what baby finds humorous. Keep pulling different tricks out of your sleeve—something is bound to trigger that funny bone sooner or later.
Not laughing before age one isn’t necessarily a concern, Spinner says, as long as baby is cooing, smiling and generally interacting in a social way with others. But if you do have any concerns, don’t hesitate to bring them up with your doctor at baby’s next well checkup.
Experts: Elizabeth Gerosa, MS, CCC-SLP, C/NDT, a speech language pathologist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City; Stan Spinner, MD, a pediatrician and chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Pediatrics in Houston.