- Family and Parenting
Why is My Newborn Baby Crying? Interpreting Your Baby's Cries
The Secret Language of Babies: The Five Cries of Newborns
Priscilla Dunstan, featured on the Oprah show, claims she has a photographic memory for sound: she can hear textures, colors, and vocal resonance. She used these skills with her newborn son and began to see patterns in his cries. Dunstan has used this new-found knowledge to research the cries of over 1000 babies and has found five distinct cries that are universal; babies of different races and cultures all have the same five cries. She claims this similarity is because all of the cries are based on reflexes, and since all babies have the same reflexes the sounds are the same.
The following five cries are similar, but if you listen carefully they can be distinguished. These five cries are only present in babies from 0-3 months old and are most pronounced during a baby's pre-cry.
When you've finished reading about all of the cries, test yourself with the baby cries below.
Cry #1: "Neh" Means "I'm Hungry"
"Neh" is the "I'm hungry" cry of a newborn. It is based on the sucking reflex. A newborn has a strong sucking reflex, and when they combine this reflex with a cry the result is "neh". When you hear this cry, nurse or give your newborn a bottle.
Cry #2: "Owh" Means "I'm Sleepy"
The cry to express tiredness is "owh." The "owh" sound is based on the yawning reflex. The first "owh" sound can be long and pronounced. When you hear this cry help your baby go to sleep. We always found that the more tired our babies became the harder it was for them to go to sleep. Look for other clues of sleepiness: rubbing the eyes and yawning.
Cry #3: "Heh" Means "I'm Experiencing Discomfort"
The cry "heh" is used when a newborn is feeling discomfort. This sound is different than the "I'm hungry" cry because there is a strong "h" sound at the beginning. If you hear this cry in your newborn, they may need their diaper changed or to be put in a new position.
Cry #4: "Eair" Means "I Have Lower Gas"
When babies have lower gas pain they often pull their legs towards their chest and make the cry sound "eair." We always found that when our newborns had gas they liked a bit of pressure on their tummies. We would either lay them on our legs perpendicularly and rub their backs or hold them in the elbow of our arm with our elbow supporting their head and their legs straddling our arm. (Be sure that your baby's head is always held securely.) This can also be a good time for a baby massage with slow circular motions on your baby's tummy. Gas tablets or medicines never worked for our girls.
Cry #5: "Eh" Means "I Need to Burp"
You'll know when your newborn baby needs to burp if you can hear the "eh" in his or her cry. This cry is short and is repeated over and over: "eh, eh, eh." When you hear this sound place your baby on your chest with their head over your shoulder and gently pat them on the back.
This is an amazing DVD on interpreting your baby's cries.
- Your baby's cries are more easily identified during the pre-cry stage, before the baby becomes hysterical. Try to Listen, Decide and Act before the cries become too difficult to distinguish.
- React to the dominant word. If you hear more than one word being said, pay the most attention to the most dominant sound.
- If you can't understand the cry, change the position of your baby; e.g., put them over your knee, shoulder, or on your lap.
- It's natural for babies to use more words than others. Don't worry if some words aren't being said as often.
- Listen for the distinctive sound in each word, e.g., the "n" in "Neh".
- If you can't understand the word and feel distressed, just comfort your baby as best you can and listen for the word next time.