Decoding Baby Crying

Decoding Baby Crying

Oh…baby is crying! You leap to attention to answer his calls. You give him a little breastmilk, change his diaper. Feels like you’ve totally got this—until baby won’t stop crying.

The thing is, painful as it may be, it is also completely normal. And, in moderation, crying can even benefit baby. Let’s a look at why babies cry, decode what different crying baby sounds mean, and share tips to help your baby stop crying.

In general, your baby is trying to give you cues with her cries. In the end of the day, crying is the only means of communication your baby has. She may be trying to tell you several things, like she’s hungry, bored, tired, or has a dirty diaper. But to a new parent exactly what that message is at any given time can feel like the greatest mystery in the world.

Priscilla Dunstan, a mother and former opera singer had a special ear for sounds. She noticed that her own baby’s cries seemed to correspond to particular needs.

She identified five different words or “sound reflexes,” each coordinating with a different need—hunger, discomfort, gas, sleep, and burping. Here the “language” Dunstan identified:

  • Neh: When the sucking reflex is triggered, the tongue is pushed to the roof of the mouth, creating the sound “neh.” Baby is hungry.
  • Owh: Reminiscent of the sound created by an adult yawn, “owh” means baby is tired.
  • Heh: Dunstan says this sound is produced to communicate stress when baby feels skin discomfort. “Heh” means baby is uncomfortable and might need a fresh diaper or outfit change (too hot/too cold).
  • Eairh: When excess air is trapped in baby’s system, the intestines tighten in attempt to release the air. This causes baby to make an “eairh” sound. Baby likely has gas or an upset stomach.
  • Eh: Excess gas may also get trapped in baby’s chest. When this happens, baby makes an “eh” sound, indicating they need to be burped.


Here is a trully fascinating video, where Priscilla explains the sounds on Oprah Windrey’s show with the real live examples. Every time you feel anxious about your little one crying go back to this video and study it:


All in all, when paired with body language, certain cries have real, identifiable meanings. So look out for the following signs:

  • – sucking reflexes; baby is hungry;
  • – eye rubbing, blinking, yawning; put your baby to sleep;
  • – fussiness and avoiding eye contact, head turning; the baby is overstimulated and has to be soothed to sleep;
  • – baby’s body becomes tense and rigid, they pull their knees upward to their chest; their face is scrunched with pain and their tongue wiggles; your baby is in pain.
  • – goose bumps on the body, cold hands; your baby is cold.



By tuning into those cries and paying attention to your babies body language will allow you to promptly and appropriately meet their needs in a healthy way and make your bond even stronger. In turn, once your baby realizes that you understand his messages, they will feel at ease and will glow with happiness. You will experience less and less tantrums and the whole parenting journey will be a pleasant experience.

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