From Tears to Joy: Understanding the Significance of Baby’s First Cry

Ever wondered why babies cry right after birth? There are interesting beliefs and grandma’s tales about babies crying soon after birth, none of which can be testified. But there is much more science attached to babies’ first cries. Here’s what you might want to know:

Crying right after birth is essential for your baby’s survival. All the while your baby had been growing inside your uterus where it would derive its oxygen from the umbilical cord which also takes away carbon dioxide from the blood stream. This means that he does not use his lungs to breathe. This changes when he comes into the new world as he would have to breathe on his own.

Right after birth, your baby would cry between the first thirty seconds and one minute of his life. The crying is essential for its survival because by doing so he will suction off the amniotic fluid and other secretions present in his lungs and nose before his birth.

In case where the baby doesn’t cry on his own, he is made to cry by stimulation. Doctors hold the baby by his feet with his face down and spank his bottom. This procedure is slowly falling out of favor as doctors opine that it could lead to risks such as the baby slipping away or being injured due to complications. The old method is being replaced by gently massage the soles of the baby’s feet or rubbing his back.

The sudden shift in environment, going from dark and cozy to a lot of light, also makes the tired and hungry baby cry.

Difference In Temperature

Your baby feels cold due to the sudden fall in. While in the womb, the temperature of the fetus is usually 37°C while that in the delivery room could be an average of 22°C. Also, there is a transition from a liquid environment to a solid environment. Your baby is naked and wet at birth, so the sudden drop in temperature can frighten your baby. As a reaction, it takes a deep breath and cries with its might. Your baby would face a very strong resistance against ventilation, but with subsequent exhalation over the next few hours, the resistance goes down. Your baby’s first cry is the hardest but makes its respiration more and more effective subsequently. It takes about forty minutes to reach normal lung compliance after birth.

Exchange Of Gasses

During labor, the uterine contractions cause a gas exchange between the mother’s and the child’s blood to shift toward a higher carbon dioxide level. With every contraction, there is an increase in the carbon dioxide level in the child’s blood, especially during the second stage of labor which is also the expulsive stage when the mother would completely stop breathing for short intervals. This acidosis of child’s blood induces the baby to breathe.


Since your baby has spent nine months in the womb in a fluid environment (amniotic fluid), it feels lesser weight than its actual weight (Archimedes principle). But right after birth, your baby would feel the apparent loss of ‘weightlessness’ and feels heavy by several times thereby triggering off your baby’s cries.

The Umbilical Cord

The normal length of the umbilical cord is 30 to 60cm. If it is longer than 60cm, it could wrap tightly around the fetus or the newborn. If the cord is shorter than 25cm, there can be a premature detachment of the placenta due to strong pulling, or a rupture of the umbilical cord. It could also affect the oxygen supply to the baby during birth and also influence its first breath. The other most important thing is to allow the umbilical cord to cease to pulsate for about 1 or 1.5 minutes to allow the sufficient blood reserves in the placenta to help the complete expansion of the lungs.

Incidence Of First Cries

If your baby cries beyond the first few minutes of life and the first feed, it’s very likely that they are bruised or sore from the trauma of birth. However, they would be so exhausted that they would sleep off for the next eight hours or so. There is a huge difference between your baby’s first cry within the first 20 seconds after birth or at a later point or after suctioning. At times the cry might occur too early, even before the baby’s shoulders are born. The baby might also start breathing when there is no optimum air available as yet, but the high carbon dioxide in blood would trigger the reflex in the respiratory center of the brain thereby resulting in the aspiration of amniotic fluid.

The Quality Of Your Baby’s First Cry

  1. If your baby’s first cry is very shrill, it could be a sign of a high intra-osseous pressure in the cranium.
  2. If the cry is hoarse, it could be a sign of cramped muscles.
  3. If the cry is like that of a cat, it could be a sign of a genetic disease.
  4. If the cry is very weak or next to negligible and does not get stronger despite initial measures taken by obstetricians, it could be a sign of severe neurological disorders or other abnormality.

Babies With First Cries Vs Babies Without First Cry

Children without their first cries grow restless, suffer frequently or repeatedly from congested sinuses or colds in the first year of their life. There might also be future incidences of infections of throat, ears, nose or chronic inflammations of the middle ear leading to deafness or speech retardation.

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