Why Do Babies Cry?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
November 30, 2017

Scientists now have clues when a baby is angry, frightened or in pain. The answer to“Why do babies cry?” is we might ignore them otherwise.

Infants cry about two hours a day. And it turns out that when baby mice were stripped of neurons that allowed them to cry, their mothers ignored them, and they died.

Would humans ignore a silent baby? We don’t actually know, but the baby would surely get less attention.

Why do babies cry?

Adults are wired to respond to infant crying about twice as fast as we do to other loud annoying sounds. It’s very hard to stay in bed, for example, through the sound of a baby crying in sleep. But you don’t necessarily want to wake your little one up.

One reason we rush to respond is that cries change unpredictably, instead of remaining on one note, much like an emergency siren. Cries from different animals are similar, in ways that make them noticeable to adults. In one conference, a biologist played an audio clip of cries from a fawn, kid goat, and human baby, and asked the audience to guess which was human. Most got it right, but many weren’t sure. A deer will come running towards the sound of a baby bat, a sea lion pup, a kitten, and kid goat.

Some baby animals have more distinctive cries. A cheetah cub separated from its mother chirps. Baby kangaroo cries sound like coughing.

We want to respond, but the sounds of baby crying don’t really communicate the nature of the problem. Is Cupcake having a nightmare? Is Daisy’s diaper wet? The cause could help a parent decide what to do about a baby crying at night, or how long to let a baby cry it out.


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April 07, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN