When my daughter was born, I was so wrapped up in the moment of oh-my-goodness-this-is-my-child that I barely processed anything that was happening around me. That coupled with, you know, birth and it wasn't until later that my husband told me the nurse listened to her cry and said, "Those are some nice, healthy lungs!" It might seem trivial in the long list of post-birth questions and concerns, but a solid cry means your little one is doing A-OK. But what does it mean if a baby doesn't cry when they're born?
"A baby may not cry right away because it may be sedated by pain medication, if there has been a cord around the neck, if the mother has been pushing for a long time — these are things that reduce oxygen to the baby," Dr. Yvonne Bohn, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Romper in an email interview. "The baby sometimes needs time to transition after birth to out of uterine life. As long as the baby has a good heart rate, good muscle tone, and color, the cry may be delayed." Bohn says at birth your healthcare team will do things to stimulate a baby and make it cry, like rubbing the back vigorously, drying the baby off, and suctioning fluid out of mouth and nose.
Dr. Allison Hill, a board-certified OB-GYN and author of Your Pregnancy, Your Way, tells Romper in an email interview that when a baby is first born, they cry because "they are exposed to a cold room and the unfamiliar sensation of being in the outside world." Crying, she says, works to expand the baby's lungs, and expel mucus and amniotic fluid.
Abby Reichardt, a student midwife at The Florida School of Traditional Midwifery, agrees, adding that babies don't have to cry if their respirations and heart rate are normal. "But it's reassuring when they do cry because it typically means they are breathing well," she tells Romper in an email interview.
"Babies who are able to have immediate and prolonged skin-to-skin with their mothers tend to cry less than babies who are separated from their mothers at birth for immediate bathing, measuring, or monitoring," she tells Romper in an email interview. "The temperature, brightness, or volume in the room can also affect how they respond. Having a warm room, with dim lights and quiet voices can help a baby transition more gently."
Dr. Salli Tazuke, OB-GYN and co-founder and co-medical director of the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in San Francisco, California, tells Romper in an email interview that during the infant period of your baby's life, crying will be the way your child signals a need or discomfort, such as hunger, a dirty diaper, or colicky gas pain. "Some babies simply do not cry as much because of their personality," she says. "Some babies are more sensitive or more irritable and cry a lot."
On average, newborns cry for about two hours each day, according to Baby Center. But between birth and six weeks of age, you can expect about three hours of crying per day, noted the website. This is simply the result of you becoming accustomed to your baby's needs and learning what different cries mean.
However, too little or too much crying can point at underlying medical conditions, like apnea or illness, Tazuke says. "Some babies also need to be woken more regularly to take breast milk or a bottle, and, if they don't, then they can get dehydrated," she says, adding that most parents will be able to assess the difference between what is normal and abnormal once they become accustomed to their child's crying habits. If you ever feel like your baby's cry is out of the norm, then contact your healthcare provider.
So, basically, expect crying. But you already knew that part, right? And if your baby is quiet when they are first born, then take comfort in the fact that, on average, they just need a bit of time to adjust to the world. You know the feeling you get in the morning when you first turn the lights on? It's like that, but only it comes after nine months of total darkness. Have some sympathy, mom.
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