How to decode babies’ cries?

A study on the crying of 24 babies, girls and boys, recorded during the first four months of their existence, made it possible to identify three of the most frequent causes linked to this crying: hunger, discomfort and isolation. .

Martin Ducret, doctor and journalist at Doctor’s Daily tells us today about babies’ crying, following a study involving the University of Saint-Etienne, the CNRS and Inserm, which sought to decode their meaning, and to evaluate our ability to differentiate them.

franceinfo: Tell us about this study?

Martin Ducret: For this work, researchers analyzed nearly 40,000 cries from 24 babies, girls and boys, recorded at home, during the first four months of their life. They first identified the cause of the crying, based on the context that had triggered it, with the help of the parents.

And three common causes were being studied: hunger, discomfort (when the diaper is full, for example) and isolation (when the baby feels alone). Once these three causes were identified using the context, they played the recordings of infant crying to artificial intelligence and also to humans.

And what are the results?

Well, neither the human ear nor the machine was able to differentiate between these three causes. “That is to say, it seems impossible to know why a baby cries, just by listening to it, Professor Nicolas Mathevon, from the University of Saint-Etienne, one of the leaders of the study, explained to me. He still told me “that a cry can provide information about the degree of distress of the infant.” In case of pain, for example, a baby will cry with more power, and especially more roughness in the voice.

Does that mean we should worry as soon as the crying becomes more intense?

In most cases no, fortunately. In fact, it is normal for a baby to cry, sometimes intensely, when he is hungry, feels uncomfortable or when he is in pain, in cases of digestive colic for example. Crying is an important communication signal, to alert those caring for the baby, and to seek their help.

If crying, the first thing to do is to take the baby in your arms, to reassure and calm him. Then, you must try to identify the context in which the crying occurs, feed him if he is hungry, or change his diaper if it is full, for example.

But in some cases, the crying continues and intensifies, and parents often find themselves helpless in the face of their infant, especially if it is their first baby. You should not hesitate to talk about it with a doctor. But we also need to reassure ourselves. Contrary to what we usually think, being a parent and knowing how to interpret your baby’s cries is not instinctive, it is learned through experience.

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