Why Do Babies Cry Right After Birth?

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The moment a newborn enters the world, their first cry marks an extraordinary milestone. It’s often a signal of life, vitality, and the start of their journey outside the womb. But why do babies cry right after birth? To understand this instinctive behavior, we must delve into the physiological, psychological, and environmental factors that trigger this crucial act.

The Physiological Reasons Behind the First Cry

The First Breath of Life

The baby’s first cry is typically tied to their initial breath. Inside the womb, a baby relies on the umbilical cord to receive oxygen-rich blood from the placenta. However, at birth, the baby must transition to breathing independently. This transition involves:

  • Clearing Fluid from the Lungs: During pregnancy, the lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. At birth, the process of crying helps expel this fluid, allowing the lungs to inflate and facilitate air intake.
  • Activating the Respiratory System: The cry initiates the baby’s respiratory system, expanding the lungs and enabling the flow of oxygen into the bloodstream.

Circulatory System Changes

A newborn’s circulatory system must also adapt at birth. Before birth, the baby’s blood bypasses the lungs via the ductus arteriosus and foramen ovale, two fetal blood vessels. The first cry helps close these pathways and redirects blood to flow through the lungs, enabling efficient oxygen exchange.

Stimuli from the Delivery

The birth process itself, whether through natural vaginal delivery or C-section, provides a series of stimuli that can trigger crying:

  • Temperature Changes: The sudden exposure to a cooler external environment can shock the baby’s system, prompting a cry as their body adjusts.
  • Physical Sensations: Contact with air, touch, and gravity creates a cascade of new sensations for the baby after the confined, warm environment of the womb.
  • Handling by Medical Staff: Routine post-birth procedures like suctioning the airway or clamping the umbilical cord can elicit discomfort, leading to crying.

Psychological and Emotional Aspects

Communication and Bonding

From the very beginning, crying is a newborn’s primary means of communication. The first cry reassures medical staff and parents that the baby’s lungs are working well, creating an immediate emotional bond. This early form of communication lays the groundwork for the baby’s later ability to express hunger, discomfort, and other needs.

Stress and Relief

Birth is a challenging and stressful process for a baby, requiring immense physiological adaptation. Crying after birth can serve as a release of stress, a way for the baby to adjust emotionally to the sudden, overwhelming change in environment.

Medical Perspectives on the First Cry

Assessing the Newborn’s Health

The first cry serves as an important indicator of a baby’s overall health. Medical professionals often look for a strong, sustained cry, which suggests that the respiratory system is functioning well and the baby has good muscle tone.

The APGAR Score

A newborn’s cry is part of the APGAR score, a quick assessment tool used to gauge a baby’s condition immediately after birth. It measures five criteria: Appearance (skin color), Pulse (heart rate), Grimace (reflex response), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration (breathing effort). A strong cry positively impacts the Grimace and Respiration scores, indicating that the baby is adapting well to life outside the womb.

Conditions Affecting the First Cry

Sometimes, babies don’t cry immediately due to specific medical conditions. This could be due to prematurity, difficulty in clearing lung fluid, or birth complications requiring medical intervention. In such cases, the absence of a cry does not necessarily indicate long-term health problems.


A baby’s first cry marks the beginning of their life outside the womb, signaling their transition to breathing independently and adapting to a new world of stimuli. This first wail serves a dual purpose: it initiates crucial physiological changes in the respiratory and circulatory systems and provides emotional reassurance to parents and medical staff. Although it can be alarming when a baby doesn’t cry immediately after birth, healthcare professionals are well-equipped to assess the newborn’s health and provide the necessary support. Ultimately, the first cry embodies a baby’s resilience and strength as they embark on their journey in life.

Jenny Zhang

Jenny holds a Master's degree in psychiatry from the University of Illinois and Bachelors's degree from the University of Texas in nutritional sciences. She works as a dietician for Austin Oaks Hospital in Austin, Texas. Jenney writes content on nutrition and mental health for the Scientific Origin.