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What Does Your Baby's Crying Really Mean?

Previous articles I've posted about the persistent crying of babies prompted me to review a recent overview of studies that analyzed the acoustics of a baby's cry and how it may be linked to his or her declining health.

For example, the characteristics of a cry can indicate problems in a baby's nervous system, as well as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Other studies have repeatedly shown infants at medical risk -- think premature babies as well as those who have been exposed to lead or drugs -- cry at a higher and more variable frequency than normal, but at lower amplitude, and with short utterances.

These types of crying signals point toward a capacity problem in the respiratory system as well as an increased tension and instability of neural control of the vocal tract.

Researchers also found high resonance and changes when crying were consistent markers associated with SIDS. Resonance is the characteristic of a sound's richness and depth that helps humans distinguish a specific note on a piano versus a guitar, and mode changes are noisy, broken-sounding cries that indicate poor neural control of the vocal track.

Based on their review, scientists also urged doctors to pay attention to how parents respond -- or don't -- to their baby's crying, particularly in light of the high prevalence of depression in young mothers.

Science Blog May 16, 2005

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