When my sister had my niece, she quickly became a baby interpreter. Within a few months, she seemed to know exactly why her baby was crying…most of the time. A baby’s cry is one of their only means of communication for at least 10 months, but it can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling and what they want.

Researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital also feel that an infant’s cry can tell you a lot, which is why they developed a cry analyzer to help determine a baby’s health. They believe that even slight variations in a cry can be a “window to the brain” and could allow for early intervention to prevent diseases and disorders from forming or becoming life-threatening.

The new computer-based analyzer will conduct a finely-tuned breakdown of babies’ cries in hopes that it will reveal neurological or development issues. Stephen Sheinkopf, the assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown and a developer of the new cry analyzer, says that "There are lots of conditions that might manifest in differences in cry acoustics. For instance, babies with birth trauma or brain injury as a result of complications in pregnancy or birth or babies who are extremely premature can have ongoing medical effects. Cry analysis can be a noninvasive way to get a measurement of these disruptions in the neurobiological and neurobehavioral systems in very young babies."

It’s taken two years to develop the cry analyzer and it’s been a collaborative project between the faculty in Brown's School of Engineering and hospital-based faculty at the Women & Infants Hospital.

The analyzer works in two different phases. First, the analyzer separates recorded cries into frames that are 12.5 milliseconds. Then each individual frame is examined for various types of parameters including frequency, voicing, characteristics, and acoustic volume. After this, the collected data is used to give a broader view of the cry to see which parameters are the most useful.

The frames are then pushed back together and are categorized by a single cry or by the pause between cries. By the end of the analysis, the system assesses 80 different parameters, and each holds potential clues about a baby's health.

This system used to be done without the electronic analyzer, but now the information can be gathered with much greater detail so that more is revealed. Researchers are hoping that further investigation could lead to discovering things like autism in infancy so that the earliest possible intervention can be provided.

Source: Brown University (2013, July 11). Cry analyzer seeks clues to babies' health. ScienceDaily.