All parents would probably agree that it would be so nice if babies could just tell us what they need or what the matter is with them when they’re crying, especially during those long, late nights of sleeplessness.
But, what if there is? What if babies are already trying to tell us what’s specifically wrong, and we just need a bit of training to hear them?
An Australian mother, Pricilla Dunstan, studied the sounds of her newborn baby’s cries and began to notice patterns based on the circumstances. After studying a thousand other newborns, she developed a theory that babies have distinct cries for their various needs. While the evidence is still being studied, many parents swear that her theory is sound and eye-opening for them.
Here are some of the circumstances that cause babies to cry, and what a baby’s cry may sound like in each situation. It’s important to realize that every baby is different and may even use a combination of these cries, so looking for context clues as well as listening to their cry can help you better meet their needs.
Hungry: If your baby is hungry, you may hear a high-pitched, desperate, and rhythmic cry. Dunstan recognized the “neh” sound in babies, so listen for an initial “n” sound that could indicate your baby making a sucking motion.
Context clues: Look for your baby rooting or sucking on their fingers.
Tired: Your baby may be tired if you hear a breathless, whiny, continuous and progressive cry, getting louder and more intense with time.
Context clues: Look for your baby rubbing their eyes.
Bored or overstimulated – This cry may start softer than others but grow more distressed. They may be broken and not rhythmic.
Context clues: Watch for your baby turning their head away from sounds or sights. Notice if their laughter or coos turn into cries and whines.
Discomfort: This cry may be broken and have grunting sounds, like a “heh” sound according to Dunstan.
Context clues: Does your baby need a diaper change? Has a blanket bundled under their bottom or legs uncomfortably, or a toy or pacifier fallen underneath them? Perhaps they’re too hot or cold.
Pain: This cry is quite distinguishable, characterized by a powerful, piercing, cry that is often high-pitched.
Context clues: Your baby may arch their back, or strain their body in other ways.
Sick: This cry is usually not as piercing as pain, but is softer and more whimper-like with a nasal sound.
Context clues: Your baby seems low-energy, like they are physically unable to muster up a powerful cry. Check for a fever or other characteristics of an illness.
Gassy: A common irritant among babies, gassy cries may sound rhythmic, intense, and lower sounding (from the abdomen). You may also hear painful-cries as well.
Context clues: Your baby brings their legs into their abdomen and seems like their straining to push gas through.
Sometimes the cause of your baby’s cry isn’t as easy to identify. Try as you may, sometimes your baby just cries to cry. Experts agree that sometimes crying is just inconsolable and a phase, like being sleepy or being happy. Don’t let it strain your relationship with your baby or make you question your value or bond. Just by reading this article you are proving your value as a caring parent invested in the health and wellbeing of your baby. Experiment with various comfort methods, like swaddling, pacifiers, rocking, singing, etc. and don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s wellbeing or the source of their cries.