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Why is My Newborn Baby Crying? Interpreting Your Baby's Cries

Updated on September 8, 2016

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.

Crying Jules


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.

Helpful Tips

  1. 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.
  2. React to the dominant word. If you hear more than one word being said, pay the most attention to the most dominant sound.
  3. 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.
  4. It's natural for babies to use more words than others. Don't worry if some words aren't being said as often.
  5. Listen for the distinctive sound in each word, e.g., the "n" in "Neh".
  6. 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.

What is this newborn telling you?

How about this one?

Questions & Answers

    What do you think they are trying to say?

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      • profile image

        Krystal 5 months ago

        Wow this really helped me. My baby is 3 months and I had a hard time when she was younger as she's my first. This article helped me realise what she needs and saved me from sleepless nights of crying. Only thing is when you tell health professionals or midwives how you know what she wants they look at you like you're crazy lol

      • louromano profile image

        louromano 5 years ago

        It's helpful news for me. thanks.

      • profile image

        Andy 5 years ago

        All very helpful but where are the answers to the two You Tube clips?

      • profile image

        Sam 6 years ago

        These cry sounds at 100% spot on, I currently have my 4th newborn & have used these interpretations for my last 3 children. I'll be forever grateful for this info as my last 3 cry rarely, feel more secure & are easy to settle.

      • profile image

        lisa 6 years ago

        My baby cries at nappie changes as if she is in pain n at bath times she cries until she is red in the face until I'm finish she onlý stops when I pick her up,just wondering why

      • profile image

        tm4 6 years ago

        i just looked this up to see which cry my baby was doing and it sounded mostly like "eh" so I patted her back and she burped and stopped crying!!!!! So cool!

      • profile image

        cllano 6 years ago

        This is really helping me help my newborn. Thanks!

      • profile image

        Hanna 6 years ago

        I don't think this is true for all babies... I heard about this before we had our daughter, so I listened for different cries. But she just used neh (or rather nah, nah, nah) for all her needs. Maybe because hunger was what bothered her most... (And still is, at 6 months)

      • profile image

        Claire 6 years ago

        This was really helpful and then I found this great device. It's called whycry and shows why the baby's crying.

      • pisethz profile image

        pisethz 6 years ago

        that's wonderful to know as I am starting to notice my newborn baby language when I refer to your tips here. thanks for sharing.

      • Debby Bruck profile image

        Debby Bruck 7 years ago

        Wonderful hubpage. I would like to see many more examples and answers so we could really learn and understand the sounds of each type of cry.

      • profile image

        Rosie69 7 years ago

        When my sons were newborn I found with each child (they are 4 years apart) that cries were of a different tone. Generally we found that high pitched cries were associated with discomfort and pain - Colic, tummy ache or generally unwell. lower more broken cries associated with hunger, nappy needing changing etc. We also found that playing classical music soothing, combined with a mobile over the cot rotating really helped get baby off to sleep.

        When children are a little older holding their hand by the bedside really helps with singing or soothing music. I am a firm believer that children should stay in their own bed. You must make children realise this is where they go to sleep and be firm. My son still listens to classical music at night, he is now 10! he says it helps him think about the day he has had and he loves music!

      • profile image

        Jessica-Kay 7 years ago

        i had this page open when my patner and i were trying to settle our little one, and i really cant tell what cries he was making.

      • profile image

        Jessica-Kay 7 years ago

        i had this page open when my patner and i were trying to settle our little one, and i really cant tell what cries he was making.

      • profile image

        victoria 7 years ago

        wow this is soooo helpful and true, I knew that my baby was trying to tell me something, but I wasn't always getting it right!!! But some of it i was!, wich is great. Kool

      • maruthirp profile image

        maruthirp 7 years ago from Hyderabad

        This is very funny. Does cry has so many meanings? But is very fantastic to read.

      • rose56 profile image

        rose56 7 years ago

        Very helpful hub. I am sure it will come in handy

        for this new generation. So thank you for the hub.

      • profile image

        Translator Chicago 8 years ago

        Since babies cannot speak yet, crying is one way of telling us that they need something. And amazingly, through practice, mothers can understand! Wow!

      • tdarby profile image

        tdarby 8 years ago

        Great hub. Thanks for the tips. I think there are many first time parents who would benefit from this simple, concise, and extremely beneficial message.

      • profile image

        Jessica 8 years ago

        i am a new mum my newborn cries 247 and im feeding him 247 i have hardly any sleep i know that that's normal but i am feeling really low about it and this info has helped me to understand what he may need apart from a feed thanks!!!

      • profile image

        mommy2bsomemore 8 years ago

        I used this when my first child was born. I got lucky enough to see it on Oprah when i first brought my son home. Once I started listening to his cries, i realized they did have a distinct sound to them. I was able to please him immediatley and he was always such a happy baby. Everyone always commented on how happy he was too. I highly recommend any new parents to try this out on their child because it really pays off. Thank you so so so much for sharing this advice!

      • jimnicer profile image

        jimnicer 8 years ago from Philippines

        Good tips...That's totally fun..Its very useful for every mom on hubpages..Have a great day!

      • profile image

        Molly 8 years ago

        this is great! I am babysitting my little sister at the moment, who is 6 months old, and I could not, for the life of me, figure out why she was crying. The moment I read the criteria for each cry, i figured it out. It was sort of an "Owhehhh!" sound. So, I burped her and put her to bed.

        Thanks again. :D

      • shezz3085 profile image

        shezz3085 8 years ago from Philippines

        HAHAHAHA... This is a great tip for mommies out there. Well, I have a newlyborn nephew and when he cries we couldn't identify what he need. Because sometimes my sister used to breastfeed him and yet he's still crying. Thanks for these tips, at least my sister could use it how to identify her child's needs when crying.

      • profile image

        Yvette Kelly 8 years ago

        Well if you cant afford the dvd all you do is make sure they have been fed,that the diaper is clean,that they have been burped,dont have a fever and you have cuddled a bit.If baby still cries then its wind or colic.Colic is disastrous and I pity Moms who have babies with colic.The best way is to try to remain calm coz a fussy mom is going to aggravate the colic for sure.

      • michelle willow profile image

        michelle willow 8 years ago from Croatia / Europe

        Watched that episode of Oprah on TV. Very useful! And yes, they are talking! And it makes sense! Great hub!

      • topstuff profile image

        topstuff 9 years ago

        I love these beautiful insights.

      • Sparks profile image

        Sparks 9 years ago from South Korea

        Thanks so much for this wonderful hub!

      • Teeny Tots profile image

        Teeny Tots 9 years ago from USA

        Thank you for you amazing hub. I don't know before the babies sound have meaning like this.

      • mahrina profile image

        mahrina 9 years ago

        wow really next time for my 2nd baby I must follow the tips, and especially NEh..hungry one because when my daughter used to be hungary when she was 1-3 months age I was feeding her every half an hour apart and she kept on crying but i was unable to understand now wht to do but i am sure this i will not misinterpret my next baby. Thanks robin for your useful information God Bless You.

      • Sheila K-R profile image

        Sheila K-R 9 years ago from Australia

        As a great grandmother, as well as an alternative practitioner I have had may years of experience with babies. Some babies who cry continually may have a misalignment of the cranial plates, the bones of the skull from the birth process, which creates an acid stomach and a want/ need for feeding constantly. This also may follow on into the child who is in the fridge all the time complaining that they are hungry and into adulthood and often may be a reason for people being overweight or needing to .snack all the time. We should be greatfull that they do othrwise they may suffer from stomach ulcers

        Anotherreason for a crying baby can be anxiety from conception or birth trauma, both of which are easily treatable.

      • privateye2500 profile image

        privateye2500 9 years ago from Canada, USA, London

        What babie need:




        comfort of the clean diaper type

        comfort of love (hugging, rocking, etc...)

        to feel safe

        to be *engaged* - smiling, playing....

        Brightly colored things to look at for mental stimulation

        To be talked to

        I don't think all babies have a *universal* ANYTHING. Just like grown-ups; they each display their joy or dislike or discomfort in their own individual ways.

      • nicolap profile image

        nicolap 9 years ago from Dorset, UK

        She's right about their only being 5 things babies want - I used to try each of the 5 until I found the right one.

      • profile image

        Matthew Perry 9 years ago

        I really admired your article. its really nice and educative. Hope 2 write sound thing like you did.

      • profile image

        Ronald Daniar 9 years ago

        It should be interesting for my cousin

      • guidebaba profile image

        guidebaba 9 years ago from India

        Thanks Dear. This is going to be very for me.

      • Amber Arendsen profile image

        Amber Arendsen 9 years ago from Solana Beach, Ca

        I saw part of this episode when it aired. Truly fascinating stuff. Thank you for the synopsis, I am looking forward to getting pregnant with number 3 soon and look forward to using these infant language cues, in conjunction with my super mommy intuition :) great post.

      • oryzana profile image

        oryzana 9 years ago from asia

        I wish could have found this hub earlier. my baby is already 5 moths old.

      • profile image

        VinceSamios 9 years ago from Australia

        Parenting is scary stuff!

      • profile image

        6 pack abs 9 years ago

        THANKS!!!!!!! Great hub!

      • profile image

        Mike Geary 9 years ago

        If I only had read this one year ago......... I would have slept a lot more... Great Hub.

      • profile image

        Sign Language Alphabet Guide 9 years ago

        GREAT SITE !!!

      • ninja87 profile image

        ninja87 9 years ago from UK

        its the only way he/she knows how to express herself at that age. just ensure your baby is well fed, givin pleanty of attention and of course, has a clean nanppy - you know, all the usual :-)

        if all else fails, try you local GP

      • Shasta Cascade profile image

        Shasta Cascade 9 years ago from 1699 Highway 273, Anderson, CA 96007

        wow I cant believe I haven't heard more about this. That would be a great bit of knowledge for a couple of people i know.

      • profile image

        Medical Alert Calling Systems 9 years ago

        Great hub. Thanks for sharing this information with us!

      • solarshingles profile image

        solarshingles 9 years ago from london

        anyway, a little baby is far the best time in life (at least for me) and I regret only a fact, that I didn't take one or two years long holiday at that time to enjoy that time even more.

        Also, I believe, every baby is at least a bit different from other one(I've got two and they were totally different in behavior and crying, as well)

      • profile image

        Wambui Bahati 9 years ago

        Finally! I’m so glad to see this.

        My wonderful daughters are 23 and 26 now. However, when they were babies I could not let them just cry through the night - as every adult, including my mother, was suggesting. “You’re going to spoil the baby”, they’d say. That never made sense to me. I figured if they were crying there must be a reason.

        I finally decided that I was going to treat my babies exactly how I would want to be treated. I know I would want someone to comfort me if I was crying in the middle of the night. Thanks.

      • topstuff profile image

        topstuff 9 years ago

        Neh...Neh...Neh.This cry must be noticed by mothers early.

      • profile image

        clearwaterbeachbum 9 years ago

        What an amazing hub - you covered it all - having raised 4 kids I've heard them all. Wish this had been avaiable when we had our first - isn't the power of the internet amazing - knowledge at our fingertips and the videos are a great addition.

      • profile image

        RUTHIE17 9 years ago

        Very interesting hub. I hope you are following up with COMMUNICATING with baby by teaching sign language to your baby. My daughter did this with her son and it was amazing. He was able to "tell" us what he wanted instead of just fussing. She started about 2 months of age and just kept adding words as she went along.

        He's 4 1/2 now and has tested out as having a vocabulary of an 8 year old. It's also helped him to expand his imagination and thought processes way beyond his age, too.

        Sorry, didn't mean to sound like an overly proud Grandma.

      • profile image

        Lapband 9 years ago

        great hub. Should be required reading for all new parents

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 9 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks, Kenny! I appreciate the comment! ;)

      • Kenny Wordsmith profile image

        Ashok Rajagopalan 9 years ago from Chennai

        You are absolutely right. When we got our first baby, I read everything I could read on this subject, like most nervous fathers.

        For newborn babies, crying is a mode of communication, and we won't spoil them 

        by answering each and every cry. 

        After 4 months or so, however, they can start manipulating us, hehe.

        But I never new about how we could identify the different cries.

        I used to think Moms and babies were in telepathic communication. 

        Maybe moms react instinctively and accurately to each cry, 

        without being aware of it? 

        Great hub, useful for first time parents. 

        (And congratulations, Robin, on the latest acquisition!) 

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 9 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks, Jimmy! We are all so happy with her arrival. I'm sure it will be interesting with three!! ;)

      • jimmythejock profile image

        James Paterson 9 years ago from Scotland

        Congratulations Robin to you and your family, on the birth of your little girl Lila, I hope for a long and happy life for you all.....jimmy

      • CrystalSingleton profile image

        CrystalSingleton 9 years ago from HBeach,Ca

        Another reason babies cry is because they are just plain colic. There was no reason at all. If you are experiencing this here is a link to more helpful information. My daughter was colic for not 3 months but 12.

      • seamus profile image

        seamus 9 years ago

        Interesting. What are the answers to the videos?

        I think I most knew what my newborn wanted from her movements rather than sound. She would move her mouth around in a unique way, and that meant she was hungry. If we are not good at figuring out the exact sounds, I guess we find additional ways to figure out what is going on.

        Anyway, I enjoyed your hub! Nice work. =)

      • profile image

        annajgreenwood 9 years ago

        I love this woman! I met her at a mall, where she was shopping with her son and couldn't resist talking to her. She is even nicer in person than she appears  on the Oprah show! Both my sister and I have used her words and they really worked for me, esp the eairh and eh.

      • profile image

        hosting coupons 9 years ago

        Wow What adorable babies.

      • profile image

        kerri michalica 9 years ago

        any way to get the answers to the videos? I still cant tell which ones are what cries?

      • profile image

        ADELE AYO OPEYEMI 9 years ago


      • MrMarmalade profile image

        MrMarmalade 9 years ago from Sydney


        I am certainly glad my days are gone even for grandchildren.

        Non on the horisement

        I am a little yone death, what happens then?

      • sminut13 profile image

        sminut13 9 years ago from singapore

        haha thks for this. i ccan def use it for my sec babe now. hehe my first one turned out real clingy. maybe i misintepreted his cries n he kept hangin on to me after tht. hehe

      • dvdpro profile image

        dvdpro 10 years ago from Studio City

        I have discovered that the three things to look for when a baby cries is that they are either: Tired, Hungry or Wet

        Handle any of these first will help accustom each parent to what the baby is communicating. Walking around your home with the baby and having them "Look at_______ or Touch that________" repeatedly helps after the 3 basics are handled first.

      • profile image

        Education Articles 10 years ago

        A great bit of information. Thanks for putting this hubpage together, it's a great read that I'll be sharing elsewhere. - Peace, Paul

      • profile image

        sipoom99 10 years ago

        My Baby not in your description, he cried overnight; i didn't know why until i found some spin fiber on hand glove tight around his finger and the color is green, I'm so sorry to less concern him after that we go to doctor everything is ok. my baby :P

      • maricarbo profile image

        maricarbo 10 years ago

        Excellent information.....Thanks. I'll pass it on.

      • profile image

        Steve (proud dad of new baby) Mason 10 years ago

        This is really interesting stuff. It definitely is true that babies do have a different sound to their crying for different situations. It is great to see it written in an article.

      • profile image

        jeannebean 10 years ago

        If you start off reading this's rather interesting..but as you read down the comment's kind of interesting as well, how one individual indicates that "its usually the low income mothers and fathers" that kind of blew me away...where does money come into whether a baby could have colic..or be uncomfortable...and then we work a bit further down and we get a Shaklee commercial...c'mon people...keep it on topic!! really is kind of funny...

      • DJane profile image

        DJane 10 years ago from Fort Worth

        Wow I never knew this information and could have used it a year ago when my son was born. Actually I could have used it 5 years ago when my daughter was born. She cried more often. This is so interesting and useful for any and everyone!

      • profile image

        michaela 10 years ago


      • profile image

        Joan 10 years ago

        Babies sure do know what they want!!! Thankyou for the education. As a grandmother, it is very useful when caring for my daughter's newborn. I also encourage using only natural, pure household products around a newborn or any children. Sloan Barnett was on T.V. the other day. She is the wife of Roger Barnett, the CEO of the Shaklee Corporation. She showed how the Shaklee products were so concentrated that they last forever...and the purity and biode-gratability...and safety of these products were unbeatable. The environment of the home is crucial to a newborn. And, the ability also to interpret what he is trying to tell a mother. We all want the best for our children, home, and environment.

      • Stacie Naczelnik profile image

        Stacie Naczelnik 10 years ago from Seattle

        This is so interesting--I'll have to see about that DVD. You know, this would make a great "book on tape"--I'd definitely consider purchasing something like that.

      • profile image

        Joan 10 years ago

        How precious are newborns. Yes, they can certainly let you know what they want. They also are very sensitive to chemicals. Oprah also had some great products that she presented on her T.V. show for 'going green'. It really made me think..I changed by products. My daughter is having a newborn soon...and I want the best, non toxic environment for my grandchildren.Joan-

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks, Caroline! Great information!!

      • profile image

        Caroline Stephens 10 years ago

        Just went to the dunstanbaby website and the DVDs are now on sale for mother's day - $10 off - so now only $49.95. Well worth it at is has truly benefited me and my little girl. Highly recommend it to all Moms.

      • profile image

        Mary 10 years ago

        Wow! Got to listen to them more careful!

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        Hi Stephanie,

        I'm sure your daughter is a great mother. I consider myself a great mother too, but I'm always open to and appreciate more resources.

        Regardless of economics, mothers have a hard time adjusting to the cries of a newborn. I think we have to be careful with the "low income" label because it leaves mothers feeling isolated. I did a campaign with my first daughter for post-partum depression. This was before all of the press around Brooke Shields, which I think has been a huge step for women communicating about this problem. It was a common misconception that post-partum happens mostly in low-economic households; this creates a feeling of helplessness in those mothers who are not labeled in this way.

        I do agree that the tapes are expensive. I would always recommend checking out the local library for copies. Thanks for the comment!


      • profile image

        stephanie 10 years ago

        I am the Grandma of a newborn...The baby fusses at night...The mother is great with her...That is not really my comment...The ones who need these tapes are usually low economic mothers and fathers...Why are the tapes soooo expensive...Come on...

      • profile image

        jeepfan43 10 years ago from Topeka

        Very funny! It's too bad that they don't give enough teens that reality check!

      • Marvin DXN INT'L profile image

        Marvin DXN INT'L 10 years ago from Tanza, Cavite, Philippines

        Interesting topic.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        Hi Frances,

        Thanks for the comment. I'm so glad it's working for you! Anything to make the newborn experience easier is always a plus! Congrats on your new baby!!

      • profile image

        Frances 10 years ago

        A friend shared the same information with me in a magazine two weeks ago. We've been listening since, and it works! We haven't had to guess, and life is easier for baby, mom and dad! Thank you for having this information available!

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        Hi Jesse, I've seen that video before...hilarious baby laughing. Thanks!

      • profile image

        Jesse 10 years ago

        Robin, this is an interesting hubpage. Thanks for your great content on this page and many others. Do you have any idea what this baby is saying?

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks, Kelly. It's about $60 on I have found it brand new for $49 on eBay. Both have shipping added on to the price. You might be able to find a used copy on eBay, too. Thanks for the link!

      • profile image

        Kelly 10 years ago

        You can by the DVDs on - looks pretty interesting. Hope that helps.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        Hi Cheryl,I don't believe there is a book available yet, only the DVD.  I have a link above to the DVD available on eBay.  It's definitely more expensive than a book, but in order to really learn the different cries I think you need to hear them multiple times.  Your daughter-in-law can always resell it again on eBay.  Thanks for reading!!!  

      • profile image

        Cheryl Maxam 10 years ago

        Where can I get the book The Secret Languages of Babies? I want to get it for my daugher n law. I find the articles on the book and saw Ms. Dunstan on the Orph, but did not find out where I can order this book. Will You please help me.

        Thank you

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 11 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks, Elisa. She is amazing. I wish I knew about her with my first two kids!

      • elisa profile image

        elisa 11 years ago from Santa Clara

        I saw this woman on Oprah the other day- she's amazing! Just wish I had heard about her 8 months ago when Trent was a newborn. Priceless info for new parents! Thanks Robin, I'll keep your hub bookmarked for when I have #3- hahaha

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 11 years ago from San Francisco

        Ha! That's funny. It's probably a great exercise for teens. It's HARD being a parent; it's wonderful, but hard! There is nothing more exhausting than a crying baby. I hope this technique can help parents and possibly reduce the cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome.

      • jimmythejock profile image

        James Paterson 11 years ago from Scotland

        i was on a bus today and two teenage boys were sitting behind me,each of them were carrying those reality babies that you get from schools to try and teach you that having a baby isn't easy.i over heard their conversation and it was so funny boy (1)"the wee one kept me awake all night i only got about an hours sleep". boy(2)" mine cried for two hours solid so i took it out to the garden shed and locked it in there, the neighbors called the police because they heard a baby crying,they came up kicked open the shed door and found it i was so embarrased and the policemen laughed at me told me that if i did it again they would get social services involved and my baby would be taken into care." of course everyone on the bus at this point burst into laughter the boys never said another word and got off at the next stop.....jimmy