Babies cry when they are hungry, in pain, or when they need attention. It is their way of communicating until they can speak. All the cries of a baby might sound similar and often leave new parents clueless, wondering why the baby is crying.
To help new parents understand their baby’s cries, Priscilla Dunstan worked with many research organizations to decipher different cries of a baby using a discrete wavelet transform method. She formulated the Dunstan Baby Language (1), under which five different baby sounds were discovered, all of which have distinct meanings.
Read this post to understand the baby’s different types of cries, the reasons behind each, and how you can survive their crying spells.
Different Types Of Baby’s Cries
It is important for parents to understand why a baby is crying to soothe them effectively. Although all babies’ cries seem similar, each cry is distinct and pointing at a specific need of the baby. Here are eight different cries of a baby, their nature, and the reasons behind them.
Let’s begin with the five different baby sounds, according to the Dunstan Baby Language.
1. ‘Neh’- I am hungry.
When your baby’s cry starts with the sound ‘neh,’ then it could mean that the baby is hungry. You could also notice additional signs, such as sucking hands, touching the mouth’s palate with the tongue, and pushing hands inside the mouth.
What to do: You can soothe these cries by feeding the baby.
2. ‘Heh’- I am tired or uncomfortable.
If your baby starts to cry with a ‘heh’ sound, then it could be that the baby is either uncomfortable or tired. If your baby is tired, then along with crying, they would also rub their eyes and nose.
What to do: Check the baby’s diaper, or look if the baby is feeling itchy or cold. Check the room temperature, dim the lights, tuck in the baby, and try rocking them to sleep.
3. ‘Eh’- I need burping.
Babies need to be burped after feeding to get rid of the excess air they might have swallowed while drinking milk. If the baby is not burped, then they might get cranky, spit-up, and give out a cry that starts with an ‘eh’ sound.
What to do: Lift the baby and help them burp.
4. ‘Eairh’- I have lower abdomen gas.
‘Eairh’ is a sound your baby might make when discomfort is due to gas in the lower abdomen or flatulence. It may also indicate indigestion. Other signs of abdominal distress could include pulling knees up and pushing out with their legs.
What to do: The best way to soothe this type of cry is by:
- Applying gentle pressure and massaging your child’s belly
- Identifying which foods have caused the gas and avoiding them
- Helping the baby burp
Once the gas is released, the discomfort goes away, and your baby would stop crying.
5. ‘Owh’- I am sleepy.
When your baby gives out loud cries with an ‘owh’ noise, then it could mean that the baby is sleepy. This cry will be longer and will be accompanied by yawning. Also, the baby would be rubbing their eyes with their hands.
What to do: Put the baby in their comfortable spot, and gently rock them to sleep.
These are some of the possible baby cries, and the reasons behind them as per the Dunstan Baby Language method. You can learn more about Priscilla Dunstan’s methodology and see its application in the following video.
Other reasons for a baby to cry
- I am bored: If babies are left to play on their own for a long time, or when they are bored, they give out a cry that starts as coos and ultimately leads to loud crying.
What to do: Take your baby into the arms and play with them for a while, and you will find that the crying has stopped.
- I have got colic: When your baby gives out intense wails and is restless, it could be because of colic. It occurs up to three hours a day, for at least three days a week, and for at least three weeks in a month. These cries would be inexplicable and in high pitch. Along with crying, babies also clench their fists, curl their legs, and arch their back.
What to do: Colic is mostly caused due to building up of gas in the stomach. Administering gripe water or avoiding foods that cause abdominal gas can help prevent colic.
- I have had enough: A fussy, whiny cry with the head turning away is a sign that some external stimuli are stressing your baby.
What to do: Identify and remove the stimulus. Take your baby in your arms and try making soothing sounds to calm them.
These are the most common reasons for babies to cry. You would be able to soothe your baby if you can identify the cry and its reason.
What To Do When You Cannot Find A Reason Behind The Crying?
Sometimes you will be unable to find the reason behind your baby’s cry. Many babies would cry for 15 minutes to an hour daily, without any discernible reason. A good cry could be the baby’s way to release stress or unwind.
If there are no worrying signs, such as fever, vomiting, trouble in breathing, loss of appetite, and change in their sleep schedule, then do not worry if you cannot find the reason behind your baby’s cry.
To stop the baby from crying, you can try feeding, making them comfortable, or play with them. However, if they do not stop crying after an hour or are showing any worrisome signs, then it is best to take them to a pediatrician.
The Art Of Reading Your Baby’s Cries
Understanding the baby’s cries could be overwhelming to a new parent. Even though the mother would have a bond with the baby, reading the baby’s cries could be quite a task sometimes. Do not stress out if you have not mastered this art yet. Take your time to understand why your baby is crying at a certain period, and eventually, you will be able to understand your baby’s language.
Also, adopting a daily routine of feeding, sleeping, and diaper changes can help you fulfill your baby’s basic needs, which could be the reason for crying most of the time. Next, we will find out what one should not do when your baby is crying.
What Should You Not Do When Your Baby Is Crying?
No matter how bad your baby’s cries might be, there are certain things you should never do.
- Do not panic: This is true in the case of new mothers. It could be painful seeing your precious baby cry, but do not panic. Instead, try to compose your thoughts and focus on finding the reason behind the cries.
- Never punish: No matter how annoying it gets, never punish your baby for crying. A baby cries because it is the only way they can communicate their needs.
- Do not ignore: Never ignore your baby’s crying as it is a way to communicate their needs. Always make sure you check their last feeding time, diaper, etc., to find out the reason for crying. Studies suggest that ignoring your child while crying can lead to an insecure attachment that might negatively affect the baby’s social and cognitive development(2).
- Do not get angry: Do not lose your cool and get angry. Try to stay positive and take control of the situation. If you are a new mom, then it might take some time to understand the reason behind your baby’s cries.
- Do not shake your baby: Shaking a baby severely to make them stop crying could lead to severe brain injury, which might result in shaken baby syndrome, also known as abusive head trauma. This could lead to fatal long-term health problems. Therefore, never shake your baby to make them stop crying(3).
Once you understand why your baby is crying, it becomes easy to soothe them. Even babies learn to adapt to the routine and outgrow colic and crying. Remember, as much as it is stressful for the baby to cry, it is equally overwhelming for the parents. Read on to find out how you can survive the crying spells.
How To Face The Crying Spells?
Frequent crying could lead to late-night feeds and sleepless nights for the parents. However, it is important to take care of yourself while nurturing the baby. Here are a few tips that could help you survive the baby’s crying spells.
- Take a break: If you are exhausted, then take a break. Ask your partner, friend, or a trusted family member to take care of the baby for a while. Take out this time to relax, both physically and mentally. If possible, take some time off to try some de-stressing exercises or go to a spa.
- Ask for help: Handing a newborn baby could be demanding, so never hesitate to ask for help. Do not take the load all by yourself. Keep your partner equally involved in raising the baby. You can also take help and advice from your peers or contemporaries who had babies of their own.
- Do not stress: If you are all alone by yourself with no one to help and the crying is really getting on your nerves, then set the baby in a safe place like the crib or the bassinet, step out of the room, and take a time out. Take deep breaths and try to calm yourself. Once you are back to normal, try focusing on soothing the baby.
- This too shall pass: The baby’s crying will not last forever. Most babies fall into a routine of feeding and sleeping, and if it is colic, it will resolve by three months. The crying phase can be tough. Remember to eat healthily, and exercise regularly, because only when you are healthy, you can take good care of your baby.
Just like sleeping and eating, crying is also a part of a baby’s development. Initially, it could get stressful to handle a crying baby. Do not get demotivated if you are unable to figure out the reason behind your baby’s cries. Give time for you and your baby to understand each other. As a baby grows older, the crying becomes predictable and manageable for the parents.
2. Debra M. Zeifman, and Ian St James-Roberts; Parenting the Crying Infant; NCBI
3. Medine Aysin Tasar, et al., Long-term outcomes of the shaken baby syndrome prevention program: Turkey’s experience; Turkish Archives of Pediatrics