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Baby’s Cries — Decoded!

ByKylie McConville
Updated
March 2, 2017
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Image: Shutterstock / The Bump

A scientist from Brown Medical School has found that the acoustics of baby’s cries might provide parents with clues about his health. Though in the past studies have shown that the cry of an infant can suggest his medical risks, Linda LaGasse found that if a baby is crying at a higher and more variable frequency than normal but at lower amplitude with shorter utterances, it might be because he has a respiratory problem or increased tension in his vocal tract. Translation: Baby’s high-pitched, guttural cries might not mean he’s ready for a diaper change — they may be a sign he’s having breathing issues.

She said, “The cry signal has enormous potential diagnostic value; for example, very high pitched cries can tell us that something may be wrong with the infant, so the cry signal can be an early warning that leads to further neurological testing.” LaGasse’s co-author, Barry Lester, wrote that at-risk infants with undetected neurological damage might give off warning signs through their cries that help parents and specialists identify what’s wrong.

Baby’s cries, LaGasse believes, might even indicate his risk of SIDS. The research, published in the journal of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, found that other signals like high resonance (which indicates the richness and depth of the cry), may be an indicator of an infant at risk for SIDS. LaGasse and Lester write that these cries are noisy and broken-sounded. But while the research is interesting, it isn’t enough to conclude that baby’s cries are always symptoms.

LaGasse writes, “Resonance is identified by a computerized analysis of the cry signal. A detailed analysis of the cry signal is an important part of understanding the ‘full message’ of the cry,” which is best left to professionals at this point. She adds that though a professional opinion should be most trusted in these instances, a parents perspective is encouraged — and welcomed. “Parents can usually tell the difference between pain and non-pain cries which guides the urgency of their care taking, and helps parents deal with infants with colic.”

Do you think baby’s trying to tell you something when he cries?

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