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Baby Cries Sound Prenatal Drug Exposure

Update Date: Oct 22, 2014 05:39 PM EDT

Baby cries can detect maternal drug abuse, according to a new study.

Researchers found that babies born from mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy have increased amounts of 'hyperphonation'.

"These findings are important because studies of prenatal drug exposure in humans are always limited by not knowing if infant nervous system damage was due to the effects of a specific drug, such as cocaine, or the effects of other associated factors, such as maternal depression, poor prenatal care and other drug use, that are often linked with maternal drug use during pregnancy," lead researcher Philip Sanford Zeskind, PhD, of the University of North Carolina, said in a news release.

"The discovery of the similar spectral characteristic in rat pup vocalizations will allow for translational analyses that can be used to detect the isolated effects of cocaine or similar drugs on brain limbic mechanisms common to humans, rodents and other mammals," said Zeskind, a researcher at Levine Children's Hospital at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina and a research professor of psychology and pediatrics at UNC.

Previous studies reveal that "hyperphonation," the high-pitched spectral characteristic of the infant's cry, could signal nervous system damage in newborns caused by prenatal drug exposures.

The latest findings were published Oct. 22 in the journal PLOS ONE

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