Why Do Babies Cry When They Are Born?


The Theories About Crying

There is a common notion out there that babies need to cry when they are born, because that helps them use their lungs to breath, and expel all the amniotic fluids they were submerged in while being inside their mother. (more information about amniotic fluids later if you are interested) However, unlike what most people make you believe, babies don’t have to cry to do all of that.

A lot of people make this assumption, because while the baby is still in her mother’s womb, she relies entirely on absorbing her mother’s oxygen through the umbilical cord attached to her belly button, so her lungs were in standby mode.

While the mother is pregnant with the baby in her womb, the baby’s lungs are completely filled with amniotic fluids. The theory is that when a baby is born, and her umbilical cord is cut, the baby instinctively cry to aggressively expel the amniotic fluid buildup in her lungs, and begin to breath. (It is instinctive because just like sucking on nipples, breathing is an inherited function so it requires no conscious input or training)

While it is true that crying can help a baby learn to breath, but it is not necessary right after birth. In fact, it is not even the most important method for babies to expel the excess amniotic fluids.

During normal birth through the birth canal, the narrow passageway squeezes out most of the amniotic fluids that are in trapped in the baby’s lungs. Of course, there will definitely be leftovers that didn’t get forced out. However, a strong enough cough from a baby is more than enough to expel any amniotic leftovers. Crying is not necessary.

This is also one of the disadvantages of c-section. Without the squeezing effect of the birth canal, the baby is still stuck with the most of amniotic fluids in her lungs. Crying itself is not enough to expel all of the amniotic build. This is why that babies through c-section requires more medical attention compared to baby born vaginally.

What Happens When Babies Don’t Expel The Leftover Amniotic Fluids?

If the amniotic fluids don’t get expelled properly, the baby develops something called transient tachypnea, also known as “wet lung”. It sounds scary, but it is normally not a big deal. Within the first three days, sometimes shorter, the baby will breath really fast to compensate for the blocked up airways. If necessary, doctors might give them more oxygen through a tube to compensate for this problem.

Tachypnea itself is not a big issue, but it can get in the way of the doctor’s diagnosis of other problems. As you can see here, crying seems to serve practically no purpose in terms of breathing and unblocking the lungs. Does that mean crying is not necessary?

Does Crying Serve No Purpose Then?

No, it actually does serve a purpose. However, the purpose is to satisfy the doctors and the doctors’ tests. When a baby is born, hospitals use something called an APGAR score to assess a baby’s health at birth. APGAR is an an acronym that stands for:

  • Appearance (color of the skin) 0 – 2 points
  • Pulse (the speed of heartbeats) 0 – 2 points
  • Grimace (response to stimulation, usually crying) 0 – 2 points
  • Activity (muscle tone and active movement) 0 – 2 points
  • Respiration (breathing capability, which can be a cough, sneeze or crying) 0 – 2 points

It was invented by the anesthesiologist(the pain-killer doctor), Virginia Apgar. Each criteria of the APGAR test has a maximum of two points. If a baby has maximum health in every criteria, she gets a perfect ten points.

As you can see here, if your doctor can stimulate your baby to cry nice and loud, that is already 4 points scored on the APGAR test. If your baby has at least 7 points and above, she is considered healthy, and no extra heavy medical attention is needed.

However, this scoring doesn’t have to be done right away. The mother can hold the baby a little right after birth and give the baby some bonding and skin to skin contact. This can be done even if your baby did not cry at birth. In other words, your baby doesn’t have to cry until the doctor does APGAR testing on her afterwards.

A high scores on the APGAR test doesn’t mean that your baby will skip regular checkup and monitoring, but nothing else major and “emergency-like” would be done. Of course, APGAR test only serve to see if the baby needs medical attention at that moment. It can not predict the baby’s development and health towards adulthood in the future.

What The Doctors Used To Do Back Then

Back in the old days, doctors spank the baby’s butt right after birth to have the babies cry. I can understand why they did that, because a loud cry is already four points on the APGAR test. You can literally score two tests with on spank.

Of course, most hospitals nowadays have discontinued this practice, because of concerns of damaging the fragile life by resorting to such aggressive stimulation. Doctors still have to resort to other forms of stimulation to get the baby to cry, sneeze, or cough, because it is common for babies to not cry at birth.

It Is Common For Babies To Not Cry At Birth

When my daughter was born, she only made little tiny “wahh”, and that was all the crying I heard for the next two days. I have also heard similar stories among many other parents.

According to the doctors my daughter was perfectly healthy. Her APGAR score was 9.

What Do Amniotic Fluids Actually Do?

I talked a lot about amniotic fluids earlier. If you are interested in knowing what that stuff is then here it is.

After a baby is born, all that build up amniotic fluid becomes a nuisance, and possibly a problem for the baby. While the baby is inside the mother’s womb, it is a fairly important substance. It does the following:

  • Cushions the baby from trauma (this is why the mother has such a big belly during pregnancy. Most of it is actually the amniotic fluids surrounding the baby)
  • Maintains a stable temperature (amniotic fluid is watery which has a high specific heat after all)
  • Prevents infections from germs (with antibodies)
  • Reduces the effects of gravity, so that your baby can stretch, move and workout her muscles, and bones without being restricted by the weight of her body parts
  • It nourishes the airways, lungs, and digestive tract to help them develop for future use

I hope this answered your question as to why babies when they are born. If you have anymore questions, please leave it in the comment section below.