Perhaps one of the most frustrating things parents experience is trying to understand what message their baby’s behavior is trying to convey. Until your child is at an age where they can speak, communication can be difficult and might feel daunting or downright impossible. But maybe understanding what your baby needs or wants isn’t as impossible as it may seem. Aside from laughter and crying, there are multiple signs babies give that parents may not understand or know to look for.
Instead of assuming what your baby’s cries, sounds, and gestures really mean, here are several helpful methods to take the guesswork out of communication popularized by Australian Priscilla Dunstan. Though ‘Dunstan Baby Language’ has not been scientifically verified, it did gain traction in November of 2006 when she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. (1) Scientists may remain skeptical, but I bet a lot of parents out there will agree that tuning into these cries can lead to happier babies and more restful nights.
Method 1: The Way They Cry
- Hunger Cry – While this cry may begin as a calling cry, when the cry is not answered or if the baby is not fed, this cry can become hysteria. If you notice your baby rotating their head while making smacking sounds with their mouth, it can mean a hunger cry.
- Calling Cry – If you’ve ever noticed your baby crying between 5-6 times, stopping, then waiting an additional 20 seconds only to repeat the process of crying again, this likely means your baby is waiting to have someone pick them up. When no one comes to get them, this cycle of crying will likely continue.
- Sleepy Cry – We all get a little extra whiny when we are overtired, and babies are no different! When they want to sleep but can’t fall asleep, their cry will be whiny coupled with eye and/or ear rubbing.
- Pain Cry – A pain cry is more constant and loud than other cries. The more pain a baby is in, the more hysterical their cries can become. When baby has exhausted themselves and has no more energy to cry, their cry may become tiresome and quiet.
- Discomfort Cry – When a baby’s cry is irritated and intermittent they may be too hot, too cold, or need a diaper change. They may flail and arch their bodies or squirm uncontrollably.
- Physiological Cry – This whiny squeaky cry is due to physical discomfort likely from gas, bloating, urination, or defecation.
- Environmental Cry – The most difficult cry of all, this cry can represent several different things. But, if your baby is unhappy with where they are or are just plain bored, they will have no problem crying to convey their frustrations.
Method 2: Ways They Move
- Fist Clenching – When babies are hungry, you’ll notice their fists clenching. If you happen to notice the fists clenching in time- you may be able to avoid an outburst of hunger cries.
- Back Arching – Specifically for babies under 2 months old, this movement is made when babies are experiencing pain or colic. If this movement is made after eating, this motion means they are full. However, if this movement is made while they are eating, it may mean they have reflux. If the baby is older than 2 months, this likely indicates cranky temperament and tiredness.
- Head Rotation – For most babies, this is a calming movement. Whether they are about to fall asleep or are looking to calm themselves they will utilize this head rotation.
- Leg lifting – This movement is indicative of colic and tummy pain. This motion allows babies to try and ease the pain.
- Arm Jerking– When babies are startled by loud noises, bright lights, or sudden awakening, jerking their arms shows that they simply got frightened.
- Ear Grabbing – Unless continuously touching their ears, ear-grabbing is simply conveying baby exploring their baby features. If you notice this as a persistent movement, consult your pediatrician.
Method 3: General Sounds They Make
- ‘Neh’ – By pushing their tongues to the roof of their mouth, babies use this sound to convey that they are hungry. The sound they make is triggered by the sucking reflex.
- ‘Owh’ – Babies will fold their lips before yawning making this sound to indicate when they are tired and sleepy.
- ‘Eh’ – When baby is going to burp, this sound is released as excess air starts to leave their esophagus.
- ‘Eairh’ – When a baby is uncomfortable, such as pain from bloating and gas, this sound is likely made as they are trying to exhale to ease their irritation.
- ‘Heh’ – Feelings of discomfort can be conveyed with this sound. When babies feel uncomfortable or experience displeasing sensations, they will make this sound while moving and jerking their hands and feet.
These cries, sounds, and movements may not be easy to recognize in all circumstances. However, understanding these methods can be helpful when looking to communicate with your baby when words are not an option.