The First Cry: Why Do Doctors Spank A Newborn Baby – A Practice Revisited

The age-old practice of spanking newborn babies to stimulate their first cry has been a dramatic part of many birth stories.

What’s the history behind this practice, and is it still used today?

This article explores the once common practice of spanking when babies are born to induce their first cry.

Though a practice more associated with a bygone era, it still holds a fascinating place in medical history.

Understand why the first cry is always so significant, the methods employed today, and the transition from traditional to modern neonatal care.

Dive into this comprehensive guide to discover the myths and realities of newborn spanking, how it was believed to encourage the first cry, and the current medical perspectives.

Why Spank a Newborn?


What’s the significance of a baby’s first cry?

The first cry of a newborn is a sign that shows that the baby’s lungs are functioning properly and can serve as an initial indicator of overall health.

It helps clear the amniotic fluid from the baby’s nose and mouth, aiding in their ability to breathe well.

Why was spanking once considered necessary?

Spanking was believed to be a way to stimulate the baby’s first cry , ensuring that the child is born alert and responsive.

The classic method of spanking was practiced by many doctors in delivery rooms to ascertain respiratory effort and muscle tone.

The Historical Perspective of Spanking Babies Right After Birth


How was the practice carried out in the past?

A doctor would hold the baby upside and spank it . This was thought to help clear the airway and make it cry .

Did spanking harm the baby?

Modern studies show that spanking may have been an unnecessary practice that could harm the baby . Today, gentle massage and other methods are used instead.

The Science Behind the Neonatal First Cry


What triggers the baby to cry right after birth?

The baby’s body senses the sudden change in environment and temperature, leading to the first cry. The placenta no longer supplies oxygen, so the baby must breathe on its own.

How does crying help the newborn?

Crying clears the birth canal of secretions and stimulates the baby to breathe well .

Modern Methods to Stimulate a Baby’s First Cry at Birth


How do doctors stimulate a baby’s cry today?

Many babies start crying immediately after birth naturally. Medical personnel may use suction  and other gentle methods as additional measures if the baby’s not crying within the first few minutes after delivery.

Why has spanking been replaced?

Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics  and scientific research highlight that other methods are safer and more effective to get the baby to cry.

The Role of Placenta and Umbilical Cord


How do these organs support the newborn’s ability to breathe well?

The placenta and umbilical cord continue to support the newborn’s respiration right after birth , providing a supply of oxygen.

C-Section vs Natural Birth: A Different Approach?


How does a C-section birth differ in stimulating the baby’s cry?

Babies born through C-section may require extra attention to stimulate their cry, as they might not experience the same effort to push through the birth canal.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines


What are the current guidelines regarding newborns’ first breath?

Modern guidelines focus on non-invasive techniques to encourage the baby to cry, including suctioning the nostril , avoiding unnecessary practices like spanking.

Potential Problems if the Baby is Not Breathing


What additional measures are taken if the baby’s not breathing?

Medical personnel take additional measures like Resuscitation , artificial tubes if standard methods fail .

When is the baby shifted to the ICU?

The Doctor has a good idea of how a new baby appears and behaves  using the APGAR score.

The Apgar score is a quick assessment tool used to evaluate the physical condition of a newborn immediately after birth.

Developed by Dr. Virginia Apgar in 1952, the score helps healthcare providers determine if the baby needs any immediate medical assistance.

The Apgar score evaluates five criteria, each scored on a scale of 0 to 2, with the total score ranging from 0 to 10.

Here’s a breakdown of the criteria:

  1. Appearance (skin color )
  2. Pulse (heart rate)
  3. Grimace response (reflexes)
  4. Activity (muscle tone – baby should be quite alert with limb movements)
  5. Respiration (breathing rate and effort)

Each of these criteria is given a score between 0 and 2, with:

  • 2 indicating a normal response or condition,
  • 1 suggesting a moderate response or condition, and
  • 0 showing a concerning or absent response.

Typically, Apgar scores are taken at one minute and five minutes after birth. A score of 7 or above generally indicates that the baby is in good health, while a score below 7 may mean that the baby needs medical attention.

It’s worth noting that the Apgar score is a preliminary assessment tool and does not predict long-term health outcomes for the baby.

If the newborn’s Apgar score is low or if the baby does not have a healthy pink and shows signs of a struggle, the baby may be shifted to the ICU.

Resuscitation and Other Medical Interventions


How are artificial tubes used to supply oxygen to the body?

Artificial tubes are used to supply oxygen if the baby is not breathing well or needs additional support.

What happens if standard methods fail?

If standard methods fail, more aggressive interventions may be taken, including the use of tubes to supply oxygen to the body .

Myths and Facts about Spanking Babies


What are the common misconceptions about spanking babies?

The myths include beliefs that spanking is required to make the baby cry and that it has no negative effects.

How has science disproved these myths?

Scientific research shows that spanking is unnecessary and can be replaced with safer methods, like gentle suctioning


Read on to know more about this fascinating subject, as the article delves into the unique world of newborns, first cries, and the evolution of medical practices in the delivery room.



Why was spanking newborns once a common practice?

Spanking newborns was historically believed to stimulate their first cry, ensuring that the baby was alert and had a functioning respiratory system.

The act was thought to help clear the baby’s airway and get them breathing.

Is spanking newborns still a standard medical practice today?

No, spanking newborn baby after birth is no longer a standard practice in modern medicine.

With advances in neonatal care and a better understanding of newborn physiology, medical professionals now use more gentle and effective methods to stimulate a baby’s first cry, such as suctioning the baby’s nostrils or gently rubbing their back.

What does a newborn’s first cry at birth signify?

A newborn’s first cry is crucial as it indicates the baby’s lungs are functioning properly. It helps clear any amniotic fluid from the baby’s nose and mouth, thus aiding their ability to breathe.

Additionally, it often serves as an initial indicator of the baby’s overall health and vitality.

How do medical professionals stimulate a baby’s first cry in modern delivery rooms?

Today, many babies cry naturally right after birth. If a baby doesn’t cry immediately, medical personnel might use gentle methods like suctioning the baby’s nostrils, rubbing their back, or providing a gentle pat.

These methods are non-invasive and have been found to be effective in stimulating the baby’s cry.

Are there any risks or harm associated with spanking newborns?

While spanking was a common practice in the past, modern studies suggest that it may have been unnecessary and could potentially harm the baby.

Today, neonatal care guidelines prioritize the safety and comfort of the newborn, recommending gentler methods to stimulate crying.



This post is written and edited by Sandy who is a clinical pharmacist with over 20 years of experience specializing in pre-natal and post-natal care.