Health Hazards for Crying Babies?
By Dr. Panchajanya Paul, MD

As a new father, my sleep is often disturbed by the cry of my son. It seems babies cry too long and for too often, and often it does not make sense. Human are purposeful mammals. Everything we do serve a purpose- be it work, obligation, leisure, fun, survival. Does the cry of a baby have a purpose or it is just an anomaly. The healthy new born announces her arrival to the world with a loud cry. Babies have no language. They can only express themselves with sounds and gestures. Cries of the baby serve many purposes. Mammalian babies are born helpless and week. They make excellent target for the predators as they have no defense. The cry is often a call for help to summon the caregivers against any real or imaginary danger. As I write this, my toddler plays on the floor near my feet. I get up and say to him, I am leaving now and walk out and close the door. Suddenly, the squeal of joy stops. The toys are dropped. He stands and runs to the door and cries. I stand on the other side of the door, wait a moment, and then open the door. He lunges to my feet. I pick him up on my lap and soothe him. He stops crying.

Cries of the baby if sustained should never be ignored. Contrary to popular myth, prolonged crying is never helpful. The old belief that the cries make the heart and lung stronger is wrong. The only time cries are good is at birth. The loud cries help to clear up the fluid from the lungs of the baby and ease its transition to a terrestrial environment from the aquatic milieu of mother's womb. Tears of joy and tears of sorrow for the adults are different physiological mechanisms not to be confused with the heart wrenching shrill cries of the babies. There are many reasons which will make a baby cry. Babies have immature temperature control. They are more prone to get heat and cold. Babies will cry if it is too hot or too cold for them. Reports of babies dying by heat after being locked in the car are not uncommon. Babies can die of cold if not adequately clothed and heated. No one likes to be wet. Same is with babies. They will also cry if diaper becomes too wet, or if they soil their clothes. Babies also need physical touch. They need to be embraced, held, cuddled, and touched. Constant physical touch with a caregiver, also called kangaroo care has shown to improve survival in early born babies in the hospital. In Harry Harlow's controversial experiment- baby monkeys preferred the mother figure which provided physical touch more than the mother figure which provided food. Babies also cry when they are hungry. Give them a bottle of milk or mother's breast, it will sooth them. They also cry when they are thirsty. As most houses use Air-conditioning and heater for temperature control, babies can become dehydrated. Feed ample of fluids to keep the baby hydrated. Many parents use pacifier to sooth babies. Some use is ok, but too much use of pacifier interferes with the proper alignment of teeth and formation of the dental arches.

Babies sleep a lot. Half of their sleep contains dreams. The dream sleep also known as REM sleep is the longest at birth and decreases as we age. Babies sometimes will wake up from sleep and cry. Scary dreams bother them more and their will cry during or after sleep as an expression of fear. They need to be close to the care giver to the soothed and reassured for their safety. That is why it is risky to make a new born sleep in a different room in the first year of their life. The American Pediatric Association has recently changed its recommendations and now urges that new born be slept in the same room as their parents, but on a separate bed or bassinet close to the parents' bed.

Some parents believe that crying to sleep is OK. Nothing can be further from the truth. Yes it is true that babies left on their won will eventually stop crying and sleep. Babies will learn this routine and sleep eventually. But they will also learn another lesson. "When I cry, no one comes for help". These babies growing up will struggle to ask for help. The American culture emphasizes individualism and parents are encouraged to make their children independent as early as possible. This is good in theory, if only done in the right order. Independence can only be learned after one knows how to be dependent. Human are social animals. No one can survive too long in isolation. True independence can only come after someone has learned how to trust and depend on others. An unheeded crying baby will forced learn to be independent early on. But she will also learn that when she asks for help no one will come. As an adult she will struggle to ask for help and trust others. Trust problem will breed insecurity in her relationships. People with insecure attachment are at risk for depression, anxiety, paranoia, and other mental health problems.

Stages of Psychosocial development by Erik Erikson: (from Wikipedia)

In summary, we feel sad, miserable, pained, stressed, frustrated, depressed, angry, when we hear a baby cry. It disturbs our peace of mind and equilibrium. This is because that is the exact purpose. Babies are born defenseless and helpless and rely on the caregivers for their survival. If unheeded, the cry will go up, to summon help at any cost. The common reason for cries can range from hunger, thirst, and cold, hot, impending danger, scary dreams, loneliness, and for physical touch. If the cries of the baby does not stop after taking care of all the above, there may be medical problems. Common ones can be fever, cold, allergy, constipation and abdominal colic. Some babies also experience tooth and bone pains. There may be serious ailments- like infection, trauma, abuse, injury, and others which will make babies cry inconsolably. If this happens consult your doctor or take baby to the nearest emergency room or urgent care. Take any cry lasting more than few minutes seriously and heed to it.


Dr. Panchajanya 'Panch' Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, FAPA - is an American Board certified - Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He holds an adjunct faculty position at Emory University School of Medicine; University of Georgia, and University of Central Florida School of Medicine. Call 7704541252 or email to schedule an appointment with Dr.Paul at Georgia Behavioral Health Professionals. He is also the author of 2 books- Stress Rescue and Sleep Coaching available at Amazon.