Decoding a Baby's Cries

    Decoding a Baby's Cries

    Taking care of a baby, especially for first-time parents, is difficult – especially with the late-night feedings, tons of diaper changes, and, of course, the crying and the wailing. Among the three, the last is probably the most challenging for parents to address because their baby cannot directly tell them what is bothering them. However, experts are now suggesting that there are ways around interpreting baby cries. How can parents do it?

    The Newborn Essentials Checklist

    What to Expect about Newborn Crying

    Before we discuss the different types of crying in babies, let’s first talk about what you can expect about newborn crying.

    First, babies will cry a lot. Remember: Crying is their main for of communication, so expect them to cry or fuss throughout the day.

    On average, anticipate the cries to happen for 3 hours daily. Reports say that most of it happens in the late afternoon or evening, but each day may be different. Furthermore, some babies might cry for longer than 3 hours a day.

    Finally, assume that there will be intense crying when they are 6 to 8 weeks old. Some call it the “peak” of crying. While parents and caretakers might struggle during this period, take peace in knowing that it will eventually pass.

    Why is it Important to Respond to Your Baby’s Cries?

    You might hear that it’s not good to always hold the baby whenever they cry because you might “spoil them.” But understand that it’s important for you to respond to your baby’s crying.

    Think of it this way: your baby is new to this world. They are still discovering what the environment is like. If they cry and someone holds them and gives them what they need, they will learn that they can feel safe and be comforted.

    Moreover, studies have it that if you respond quickly to your baby’s cries and fussing, they might cry less often. This is because they feel secure. In other words, you can’t really spoil a newborn by attending to all their needs and discomforts.

    The Different Types of Crying in Babies

    It’s time to learn how interpreting baby cries is done. One technique is called the Dunstan Baby Language.

    The Dunstan Baby Language was established by an Australian opera singer, Priscilla Dunstan. By her accounts, Dunstan observed many babies and noted that they would make certain sounds before they cry or fuss. Her advice is to interpret these sounds before the crying becomes powerful.

    Additionally, the Dunstan Baby Language also makes use of baby gestures, such as fist clenching, back arching, and head rotation.

    Still, the Dunstan Baby Language is not the only technique in decoding your baby’s cries. A lot of baby experts have shared their insights on how to give meaning to a newborn’s fussing.

    Here are the different types of crying according to the Dunstan Baby Language and other expert advice:

    The “I’m Hungry” Cry

    In the Dunstan Baby Language, you need to look for fist-clenching or listen carefully to the “Neh” sound before crying.

    If you didn’t hear the sound and your newborn is already fussy, watch out for repetitive cries, like “wah wah wah.” Also, notice other gestures, such as sucking motions or “rooting around” for the breast.

    Note that crying is already a late indication of hunger and babies might become too upset to eat. For this reason, calm them down first before attempting to breastfeed or bottle-feed them.

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    The “I’m Tired” Cry

    If you hear the whiny, little “owh” or “oah” sounds, it could mean that your baby is tired and they want to sleep. Often these sounds come with head rotation, yawning, and some eye rubbing.

    Respond by putting your little one down for a nap. Delaying this response could lead to full-blown wailing. And if that happens, they might be too upset to sleep anymore.

    The “I’m in Pain” Cry

    Among the different types of crying in babies, this could be the trickiest for parents. For one, the pain can come from a lot of things.

    The Dunstan Baby Language says that if the sound before crying seems like “eairh” or “earggghh,” it could mean that the baby is gassy or they need to poop. Some also indicate that gassiness often makes the baby scrunch their nose and pull their legs up.

    If the baby is sick, their cries maybe a little weaker in volume and pitch, almost as if they don’t have it in them to cry, but they needed to. Also, sick cries tend to sound distressed.

    Another thing: Before the baby cries, listen closely to “heh” sounds. According to the Dunstan Baby Language, this could indicate physical discomfort possibly from being wet, too hot, or too cold.

    And finally, there’s the “eh” sound before crying. This means that the baby wants to be burped. The sound “eh” presumably results from the baby’s attempt to release the air bubbles trapped in their chest.

    The “I Have Colic” Cry

    Colic cries are so intense parents often panic. Usually, we have the rule of threes for colic. It means that the crying lasts for 3 hours, it happens 3 or more times a week, and last for at least 3 weeks.

    Respond to your baby by providing some white noise, or giving them a warm, relaxing bath. In some instances, the “colic carry” might work. To do this, hold the baby’s head in your hand and let their body rest (stomach down) on your forearm.

    Colic: Tips to Soothe Your Baby

    The “I Just Want to Let it Out” Cry

    The “I just want to let it out” cry often makes interpreting baby cries extra hard for parents. It’s because this cry has no reason at all, other than perhaps the baby wanting to have a good cry. Experts explain that sometimes, babies are like adults who feel better after “letting it all out.”

    What Can You Do When Your Baby Starts Crying

    1. See if they are sick by checking their temperature.
    2. Check if they are hungry or if they have a wet diaper.
    3. Soothe the baby by talking or singing to them.
    4. Try to comfort them by holding them close to your body while you are taking slow, calming breaths.
    5. Gently rub or pat the baby’s back.
    6. Play some music.
    7. Gently rock or walk with the baby. You can also take the baby for a stroller ride or put them in a swing.
    8. Give them a warm bath.

    Key Takeaways

    Although you can use these decoding techniques to understand your baby, keep in mind that each baby is different. Don’t be frustrated if you hear the telltale sounds and the baby doesn’t stop crying after doing what you thought was an appropriate intervention.

    Interpreting baby cries requires time, patience, and, of course, personal connection. If there’s anyone who can best decode the meaning behind your baby’s fussing, it would be you and those who always take care of them.

    Learn more about Baby Care here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated May 26, 2021