Why do babies need to cry at birth? And what happens when they don’t?

You’ve been waiting for nine long months, and now the moment has arrived; the sound of your baby’s first cry. A tiny roar out to the world, letting them know “I’m here!… Why is it so cold?!”. But what if it’s not like what you imagined or what you’ve seen in the movies? What if your baby doesn’t cry at birth? And what does that mean? Labour can be full of unexpected plot twists and a quiet baby (to start) might be one of them. Here’s all you need to know about your baby crying at birth.

Why do babies cry at birth?

Your baby’s first cry is like music to a mama’s ears (it’s also great for blocking out all those screams coming from the birthing suite next door). But why should babies cry at birth? What does it actually mean?

Your baby’s first big “waaaah” is a sign that their lungs are working well (your placenta was doing all the heavy lifting to get oxygen to your baby while in the womb). Up until their first  cry, your little one’s lungs have fluid and mucus in them, and crying is a way to help clear it out and kickstart their breathing. (Kinda mindblowing that they’ve been basically living underwater until this point!)

Why do some babies not cry at birth?

If your baby’s cry is a little delayed, don’t immediately freak out that something is wrong. While those extra seconds or minutes you wait to hear that little cry may feel like an eternity, trust that your birthing team have done this a bazillion times before, and know exactly what to look for to tell them if something is not quite right, or if your baby is in distress. 

Reasons for a baby not crying at birth may include: 

  • A baby’s cry at birth may be a little delayed if your doctor or midwife needs to suction fluid out of their mouth or nose, to help them breathe (and cry) on their own. 

  • Babies born via c-section may need a hot minute to register what’s going on and can even cough or yawn instead of crying. Which sounds adorable, to be honest.

  • They might just be a little chiller! While some babies find making their debut earth-side quite stressful, others just take it in their stride and are quite relaxed about it. Hang onto that one mama! #blessed. Your doctor or midwife might just need to prompt your laid-back bub to get those lungs going. 

  • Your baby might have a nuchal cord (when the umbilical cord is wrapped around their neck). We’re just going to jump right in here and say that yes, this is an obvious cause for panic from mum, but it happens more often than you might think. Research suggests that 20-30 per cent of babies are born with a nuchal cord and the majority of times, the baby is just fine. It also helps to remember that your delivery team know exactly what to do to help your bub if they’re in trouble. 

  • If labour is difficult and requires medical intervention like forceps or a vacuum, then your baby may be a little stunned when making their debut. Usually, they will be taken away briefly to be checked and get their breathing going.  

When your baby doesn’t cry at birth and needs a little help

While there are a lot of unconcerning reasons for your baby not crying at birth (fingers crossed for that chiller baby!), sometimes it does indicate that they are struggling a little and need some intervention from your birth team to help them figure out how to work those tiny lungs.

The Apgar test

Whether your baby is crying at birth or not, all babies are assessed at minute one and minute five after being born (straight to business!) using a system called the Apgar test. The test will score your baby’s heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, response to stimuli and skin colour, and will be given a score of 0, 1 or 2 for each. Your baby’s score will indicate how well they’re coping outside the womb so far and whether they may need oxygen to assist them. So rest assured mama, if anything is actually wrong with your babe, they’ll know right away.

What if my baby needs help breathing?

If a more worrisome scenario presents and your baby isn’t breathing correctly, they will be moved to the warming station where your doctor or midwife will clear your baby’s airways and help them breathe by giving them normal air via a special baby mask. This might only take a minute or less, or the mask may stay on a little longer until your bub gets the hang of breathing on their own. If things don’t look to improve, then oxygen may be given to your baby and they may need to spend some time in the NICU or special care nursery. 

We know this isn’t part of your birthing plan, but birth is wildly unpredictable, and sometimes a little scary. The most important thing to remember is that they are in great hands, and the best thing you can do is make sure they know their mama is here for them.

If your baby doesn’t cry at birth, it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong—sometimes babies just don’t cry! And if your bub does need help, rest assured your medical team know exactly what they’re doing. Regardless, meeting your little love for the first time is an incredible moment. Make sure you take it all in.

Read next: How to prepare for when birth doesn’t go to plan

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