Birth: a Newborn’s Cries and Screams

In the first seconds of its life, a newborn child shrieks and cries. The reaction occurs when air enters its lungs for the first time and makes its vocal cords quiver. The initial cry engages cardiac and respiratory functions. Also the bloodstream is activated independently, after being overseen by the placenta throughout the pregnancy. This first sound plays a vital role in the birthing process.

Beyond this purely physiological dimension, psychoanalysts believe that a newborn’s cries convey the trauma associated with birth, the great shock caused when passing from the warm and peaceful environment of the womb to the outside world.

The first shriek is a universal sign of a healthy baby and of a successful labour. That is why obstetricians and midwives used to hold the baby upside down, by its heels, and to whack its backside to make it cry. They believed it confirmed the child’s respiratory system was in working order. This custom is now considered obsolete since it has been established that a quiet baby is not necessarily in distress or suffering from health problems.

That being said, a baby’s first cries are taken into consideration in the Apgar score, a qualitative test performed a minute after birth to estimate the condition of an infant.

Respiratory effort and reflexes are both taken into account (as well as heart rate, muscle tone and colour). Therefore, a child with a strong and steady cry, and lively facial expressions, will obtain the maximum score for these criteria. Invented in 1952 by an American anesthesiologist named Virginia Apgar, the Apgar test has been widely used in the medical practices of Western countries since the 1970s, including in Québec.

Screams and Crying of a Baby

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Screams and crying of a baby.

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