It also has an important purpose for parents with hearing impairments.
In those early, often overwhelming days of parenting, we often think I wish they could just tell me what they need as the baby is crying again. But, in their own way, they are: Babies actually cry in different ways to express different needs. Chances are good you'll be able to learn what each cry means, but in the meantime, though, a new app developed by UCLA researchers promises to help decode baby cries.
ChatterBaby was created at the UCLA Code for the Mission with the intention of alerting deaf or hearing-impaired parents to their infant's vocalizations. The app also characterizes the cries or babble into different "states," such as hungry, fussy, in pain, happy or neutral—all by using acoustic features and an original algorithm.
"Research has consistently shown the vocalizations made by a baby can promote bonding, decrease parental stress levels, and allow communication of baby needs such as pain or hunger," the researchers say. "Far from a random biophysical phenomenon, the cries of infants show remarkable predictability."
For example, the algorithm knows that babies in pain cry more energetically and with fewer breaks versus babies who are fussing. Using this kind of data, they say they are correctly able to label pain cries 90% of the time. They also believe that rate will improve as more parents "donate" audio of their babies' vocalizations to the study, which is currently awaiting academic review.
This is a game-changer for parents with hearing impairments by giving them more confidence in meeting their baby's needs. But the researchers say they've also learned how helpful it can be to all parents, especially as they work to add more data that can predict cries from colic, gas, fear, exhaustion, boredom and even dirty diapers. (In the meantime, a simple check can help with the last one.)
We already know that the sound of a crying baby has a unique effect on mamas' brains, which are tuned to respond urgently and sensitively. Still, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a technological side-kick—especially if that means being able to help baby more efficiently.