Baby’s first breaths and what you didn’t know about her first cries

Dear Dr. Mo: I’ve read your post on C-section and I wanted to know more about what you’ve said were risks for ‘increased respiratory problems of the newborn’ with C-section delivery. Also, why do babies always cry when they’re born?

Oxygen isn't just explosive - it burns

Oxygen isn’t just explosive – it burns

Dear reader: Your questions about newborn’s breathing at the instant of birth and crying are important and could prompt a very technical answer, which I will try to avoid here.

Let’s just imagine a baby floating in water for 9 months – this is the baby’s natural environment in the womb. The baby doesn’t breathe the way she will breathe after birth and so the water fills up her lungs. The natural act of birth is so important because the birth canal through which the baby is traveling pushes on the baby and squeezes out that fluid (almost all of it) from the lungs and compresses the lungs so much that at the instant both of baby’s shoulders are delivered, the lungs automatically and involuntarily inflate taking that first and only passive breath the baby will ever take. Every following breath, for the rest of her life will be active breathing effort.

So you see, if this natural pathway of delivery is circumvented via C-section, the baby’s lungs don’t have the assistance to expel the fluid out and the newborn may have some problems with breathing in the first few hours – this manifests itself as a very rapid breathing called tachipnea and it’s in most cases transient. Sometimes though, more serious breathing problems can occur and if this rapid breathing does not go away within 4 hours, we always have to rule out sepsis as the most dangerous complication.

Now about that crying, there’s a myth here to debunk:

So, as soon as that first breath occurs, a huge amount of oxygen passes through the baby’s nostrils all of a sudden, which burns her nose and it is that pain that prompts the baby to cry – it’s not due to any slapping of her behind or due to some complete shock from being born to the world, no, it’s because the oxygen in such high concentrations burns the nostrils (it generally burns tissues in very high concentrations).

And the more the baby cries in these first moments, the more fluid leftovers are being expelled from the lungs so don’t you worry about those cries, they are helping the baby clear the lungs.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo

  • Alice F

    Wrong wrong wrong and wrong. Babies don’t have to cry when they’re born, we need to stop believing this, as doctors and nurses end up pinching or slapping the baby to make it cry, but if a baby is happy and feels safe then they won’t necessary cry.
    They cry because they’re scared, cold, taken away from their mothers, because their faces are suctioned, because the cord is cut to early and they have to gasp for air as they need oxygen, anyone wold cry if they were in this situation.
    “weirdly” most babies born in a hospital cry, and most babies born at home don’t. I wonder why…