App helps hearing-impaired parents know when and why their baby is crying

May 23, 2018 by Simi Singer, University of California, Los Angeles
Delbert Whetter, who is a deaf father of two, helped test a new app called ChatterBaby, which alerts deaf parents when their baby is crying. Credit: UCLA Health

For parents Delbert and Sanaz Whetter a crying baby is a particularly difficult challenge. The Whetters are deaf, so when they're in another room they rely on cameras and remote noise-monitors to help keep an eye on their two children, one of whom is an infant. But those technologies, while helpful, have limitations.

"We have a child who is talkative. The alerts go off, but there is no way to distinguish between loud talking noises and crying," Delbert said.

But now the Whetters have a new tool—an innovative app developed by UCLA researchers—that will help.

Led by Ariana Anderson, assistant professor in residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, a team of scientists created Chatterbaby, which employs artificial intelligence to not only tell parents when their infant is crying, but also help determine why their baby is upset.

"I realized that the cries of my third baby were remarkably similar to the cries of the first two," said Anderson, who is also a statistician in the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. "As a mother, you instinctively know what your child is trying to tell you simply by listening to how they cry, even if you can't see them. As a statistician, I thought, 'Can we train an algorithm to do what my ears as a parent can do automatically?' The answer was yes."

In creating the app, Anderson and a team of researchers uploaded audio samples of more than 2,000 infant cries. Next, they built and tested algorithms that translated cries into three categories: pain, hunger and fussiness. The algorithms correctly flagged the type of cry, such as pain cries from receiving vaccinations or ear-piercings, more than 90 percent of the time.

"For the first time, we can confirm that our baby is crying, and then learn with a great deal of certainty what he's crying about," Delbert Whetter said. "That an app can do this is really amazing."

Credit: University of California, Los Angeles

The app, now available for free on iPhone and Android devices and at, allows parents to record and upload their babies' cries, which are then analyzed using .

Scientists hope that a new crying-pattern study launched through the app will provide insight into whether certain patterns can later be associated with specific infant development disorders, such as autism.

In addition to helping parents who are hearing impaired or deaf, like the Whetters, the is also designed to help new parents, who may not yet understand what their baby is trying to communicate. The app may also help some women with postpartum depression because research shows they may have more difficulty than women without depression discerning the meaning of their babies' cries.

But it's the baby who may benefit the most from the technology. Studies show that faster rates of appropriate parental response to crying can facilitate language development in children. A device that helps deaf and hearing parents respond more quickly and accurately to vocal cues may boost language development.

"The program looks at the types of frequencies that are in the cry and at the different patterns of sounds and silence," Anderson said. "For example, when you hear a cry that has a long period of silence in it, it's more likely that the baby is fussy. But when babies are in pain, the cries typically have louder, longer bursts and there's very little silence between sounds."

Anderson hopes information in the database will help identify other patterns or associations related to infant development, including . Deaf children have over twice the rate of autism compared to hearing children. Research has shown that babies at risk for autism show abnormal cry patterns even before they are diagnosed.

Anderson and her team will use Chatterbaby for a new study on the relationship between cry patterns and autism risk in both hearing and deaf children. A checklist of other risk factors for autism is also included in the app.

"This study is unique because it brings the lab to the participant instead of the participant to the lab," Anderson says. "It's open to anyone willing to download the Chatterbaby app on their iPhone or Android devices, record five seconds of their baby's cries, then upload it to the database."

Explore further: Study identifies brain patterns underlying mothers' responses to infant cries

Related Stories

Study identifies brain patterns underlying mothers' responses to infant cries

October 23, 2017
Infant cries activate specific brain regions related to movement and speech, according to a National Institutes of Health study of mothers in 11 countries. The findings, led by researchers at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver ...

For crying out loud!: Baby cries get a speedy response

January 11, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- The sound of babies crying is uniquely able to get adults to react at speed, Oxford University researchers have found.

Gender stereotyping may start as young as 3 months—study of babies' cries shows

April 21, 2016
Gender stereotyping may start as young as three months, according to a study of babies' cries from the University of Sussex.

Women's, men's brains respond differently to hungry infant's cries

May 7, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have uncovered firm evidence for what many mothers have long suspected: women's brains appear to be hard-wired to respond to the cries of a hungry infant.

Researchers study cry acoustics to determine risk for autism

November 27, 2012
Autism is a poorly understood family of related conditions. People with autism generally lack normal social interaction skills and engage in a variety of unusual and often characteristic behaviors, such as repetitive movements. ...

Recommended for you

First biomarker evidence of DDT-autism link

August 16, 2018
A study of more than 1 million pregnancies in Finland reports that elevated levels of a metabolite of the banned insecticide DDT in the blood of pregnant women are linked to increased risk for autism in the offspring. An ...

The inequalities of prenatal stress

August 14, 2018
Exposure to an acute stress in utero can have long-term consequences extending into childhood – but only among children in poor households, according to a new Stanford study that looked at the long-term impact of acute, ...

Promoting HPV vaccine doesn't prompt risky sex by teens: study

August 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Controversial state laws that promote vaccinating kids against the human papillomavirus (HPV) do not increase the likelihood that teens will engage in risky sexual behavior, a new study contends.

Grip strength of children gives clues about their future health

August 13, 2018
While other studies have shown that muscle weakness as measured by grip strength is a predictor of unhealthy outcomes—including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, disability and even early mortality—this is the first ...

Prenatal vitamin D pills won't boost babies' growth: study

August 9, 2018
(HealthDay)—For pregnant women who are vitamin D-deficient, vitamin supplements won't improve the growth of their fetus or infant, Canadian researchers report.

Giving kids plates with segments and pictures caused them to eat more vegetables

August 8, 2018
A pair of researchers at the University of Colorado has found that preschool kids ate more vegetables when presented with segmented plates with pictures of fruits and vegetables on them. In their paper published in JAMA Pediatrics, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.