A baby’s cry at birth signifies to the medical team that their lungs are healthy. Often parents will hear a doctor praise their baby’s cry at birth, but does this mean that a baby who doesn’t cry at birth is not as healthy?
The science behind crying
Of course, when a baby cries in a room, they make a sound. But there are many non-vocal elements of crying as well. Although a baby crying seems like a very simple action, it actually involves the coordination of several complex elements (1):
- Musculature of the face
A 2005 study found that the non-vocal elements of crying actually develop in the womb (1). In the study, vibroacoustic stimulation (applying a sound and vibration stimulus to the mother’s abdomen) was presented to 10 fetuses in the womb, and all of them showed fetal crying behavior as a response. They showed inhale and exhale patterns that mimicked post-womb crying, and they grimaced or frowned in the womb (2). The study revealed that, at 20 weeks gestation, the fetus has all of the motor skill coordination necessary for the non-vocal part of crying.
Crying directly after birth
When babies are delivered, they are exposed to cold air and a new environment, so that often makes them cry right away. This cry will expand the baby’s lungs and expel amniotic fluid and mucus.
Dr. Yvonne Bohn, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California explains that the baby’s first official cry shows that the lungs are working properly (3). However, the cry may be delayed because of a number of different factors, including a difficult delivery, a nuchal cord, etc.
When to worry
If a cry is delayed, it may not necessarily mean that the baby is not healthy. Your doctor may try to stimulate the baby’s first cry by drying the baby off or suctioning fluid out of their mouth or nose, if it doesn’t occur naturally.
If a delayed cry is accompanied by other emergency signs, the baby should be given immediate medical attention. These other elements of the evaluation of the newborn infant can be found in the components of the standard method of newborn health measurement, the Apgar score. The parts of the Apgar score are as follows:
A – Appearance (skin color)
P – Pulse (heart rate)
G – Grimace (reflex irritability/response)
A – Activity (muscle tone)
R – Respiration (breathing ability)
Each of the criteria is scored 0, 1, or 2 (which two being the best), and the total is found by adding all 5 scores together. Your doctor will usually do an Apgar test at one and five minutes after birth. Another Apgar test may be given at 10, 15, and 20 minutes if the score is low. If your baby has an Apgar score of 0-3 they are in critical condition; if it’s 4-6 they will likely need immediate medical intervention; if it’s 7 or higher, they are considered normal (though a recent study showed that Apgar scores of 7-9 could still be associated with adverse outcomes). A score below 10 should still be monitored, even if it’s in the 7-10 range.
ABC Law Centers is not run by medical professionals or associated with a medical facility. The above information should not be taken as medical advice. Always contact a medical professional when you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or any other concerning symptoms of pregnancy.
- Gingras, J. L., Mitchell, E. A., & Grattan, K. E. (2005). Fetal homologue of infant crying. Archives of disease in childhood. Fetal and neonatal edition, 90(5), F415–F418. doi:10.1136/adc.2004.062257
- Brusie, C. (2019, March 15). Is It Possible for Babies to Cry While Still in the Womb? Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/do-babies-cry-in-the-womb-4155181
- Shannon-Karasik, C. (2019, May 07). Here’s What You Need To Know If Your Baby Doesn’t Cry When They’re Born. Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://www.romper.com/p/what-does-it-mean-if-a-baby-doesnt-cry-when-theyre-born-experts-weigh-in-2480088