Decoding Baby’s Cries

Importance of a Babymoon

The first few months of my son’s life, I knew what every sound he made meant. I knew when he was hungry, tired, frustrated, bored, needed to burp, gassy, startled, in pain. Now that he’s almost four months old, I’m finding myself often at a loss.

What used to mean “I’m hungry, Mama!” apparently doesn’t mean that anymore. My son slept soundly until about noon today, as usual, only waking to nurse. But since noon, it’s been a confusing process of trial-and-error as I instinctively respond to his noises as I have been the past several months and to have him refuse the gesture.

Just now, he sounded like he wanted to eat, so I put him to my breast. He latches on, then off, then on, then off, and then cries loudly, quite obviously upset. So I hold him up to my chest to soothe him, rubbing his back, thinking maybe it’s a burp. No burp, but he falls asleep. I decide to put him in the wrap since he wants to sleep. I have him in, facing me, but he’s awake and cranes his neck around so far that he looks like an owl. So, I turn him around to face out, and he seems content looking in the mirror while I adjust the wrap. I go to sit down and he starts making little frustrated noises. I get up to walk around and he quiets down, but starts as soon as I sit down again. So, now I’m standing up and typing, waiting for him to fall asleep as I believe that’s perhaps what all this fuss is about.

Ah, yes, he’s now asleep. But do you understand where I’m coming from? This started out with what I was conditioned to know was a hunger cue, not a tired cue.

Every baby’s different, truly. My first baby mostly cried, and almost all of the time, it meant she was hungry. The alternative was that she was about to burp, and since she had acid reflux, it was a high-pitched pain cry. My second baby cried nearly round-the-clock for her first three months and then stopped suddenly and she was the happiest baby I’ve ever seen through her first words. She rarely cried, instead preferring little coos to indicate she was ready to nurse. Now, my son, my third baby, he didn’t cry hardly at all his first three months, using grunts instead. Slowly, as his noises grew to include coos and laughing, he added crying as a means of communication. And sometimes, he will just start crying intensely without any pre-cry noises, and often, he will cry longer than I’m accustomed to before being soothed. Looks like I have to relearn what he means when he cries.

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Research shows that whimpering and moaning typically means hunger, sudden crying means pain, and loud, intense crying means anger. To get more specific, one of the most popular baby cry decoders available is the Dunstan Method, which claims that different sounds means different needs for all babies, that this is universal for the first six months of a baby’s life until he or she begins to pick up on the dialect of a particular society, culture, or ethnicity. For example, vocalizations that begin with the “n” sound, such as “neh” or “nah,” are supposed to mean hunger; “owh” means tired; “eh” means burping is needed; and “eairh,” sometimes coming out as “erh” or “air,” means gassy. Still, there is a caveat that every baby is different and each baby will have his or her own sounds or variations of the above sounds.

Basically, it gets back to getting to know your individual baby and what he or she does to communicate a specific need to you – and you know what? When my son awoke, he passed some gas and was suddenly ready to latch on again, no fussing around. So maybe it was a hunger cue all along.

Rita Brhel

One thought on “Decoding Baby’s Cries

  1. Boy do I know that all babies are different! My first was very colicky and could not be comforted in the beginning, in the evenings mostly, except for a walk in his stroller outside. It was heartbreaking!  My second was such a quite, content baby. Half of the time, you would never know he was around. 

    And my third, my sweet homebirth baby, whom IS the happiest in water, is very hard to decipher. He teeths horribly, and is very clinging and unsure of what he wants when he’s sick. We’ve had a tough first year (with his sickness, my sickness, teething, etc.) I guess the one thing that I can say has gotten us through it is our bond. Even though he’s needy, we are incredibly bonded, and that’s a comfort. So, I know that even though we’ve had a tough time and he’s been unhappy a lot, he’s had his momma, and he knows I’ll always be there for him and try to give him what he needs. 

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