The angry cries of babies

By John Pastor • Published: June 11th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Parents take pains to listen for the cries of their babies, staying within earshot of the nursery or a baby monitor. But can parents make a health diagnosis based on the woeful wails of infants?

For new parents especially, babies are more than just bundles of joy … they’re surprise packages that are not always easy to understand. Now, research sheds light on how newborns communicate their physical and emotional conditions by shedding tears.

The scientists studied the babies’ eye movements and the range of their cries and found them to be expressive of pain, anger and fear … if you know how to interpret the signals.

In a sample of 20 babies between three months and 18 months old, the scientists noted that babies keep their eyes closed because of physical distress, but their eyes are more open when they cry because of fear or anger.

A baby crying because of pain might open its eyes for a quick moment. But mostly they squeeze their eyes shut, and their little brows form frowns. Cries of pain begin at full force, and start suddenly and immediately.

Angry babies often hold their eyes half-open when they cry, and these cries may be just as intense as a cry of pain or fear. The difference is angry babies will start to cry more gradually, working themselves up in intensity and volume as they become angrier.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

A fearful cry is different still.

Babies who are crying because they are frightened will keep their eyes open most of the time. Researchers say they have a tendency to move their heads back, and when the cry finally comes out, it is explosive. Babies are subject to other explosions as well, but it’s hard to find a scientist who wants to study those.

That’s a job for parents.