Baby Language and Communication

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Photo of small baby sleeping in a towel on a cushion.Photo by Bright Photography.

One of our main jobs as a parent is to tend to our baby’s needs. Human mammals are highly co-dependent for a very long time. Unlike other mammals such as dogs, horses even whales and dolphins etc we are not born and capable of moving around immediately. We do not have the same degree of independence, physical awareness and we are unable to regulate our emotions or settle our nervous systems for a very long time.

As a new parent we discover instinctively that we want to settle and meet the needs of our babies in order to keep them happy and the whole household a lot calmer. We also discover intuitively in part but also through  trial and error what our babies are communicating to us via their body movements, their whimpers and varied crying sounds.

Baby language: not all crying sounds are the same!

Before you have a baby you might think that all crying sounds the same. However, it is not the case! A baby generally cries because they are communicating their primary needs for hunger and comfort, but there are variations within those needs.

The Dunstan Baby Language

The Dunstan Baby Language (founded in Australia) can teach you to hear exactly what your baby is communicating. It allows you to interpret your infant’s sounds and cries and respond to their needs quickly and effectively, which can almost seem miraculous at times.

Dunstan proposes that every newborn communicates from birth to three months with five distinct sounds that signal hunger, tiredness, need to burp, lower wind/gas or discomfort (hot/cold).  This is regardless of the language their parents speak and is not a learned language. From my experience of supporting thousands of new families, it is not as crazy as it sounds.

Your First Baby Communication Sounds

The ‘words’ that form the basis of what is called Dunstan Baby Language are arising from physiology, or a baby’s physical response called a reflexe.  For example, when a baby is hungry they will start to create a sucking reflex movement which brings the tongue forward, and as a sound is added to that reflex, the ‘word’ for hunger is produced, NEH.

It helps to pay attention because usually these utterings occur just before actual crying develops. The sooner the ‘word’ for hunger is identified the sooner a parent can respond by feeding… which of course results in less crying and less discomfort for the baby – and for us as parents.

Other sounds we can hear at the beginning of a cry will be; OWH – I’m sleepy / HEH – Change me / EH – Burp me / EAIRH – I have wind. I love how Dunstan helps us distinguish the difference between upper wind which is usually a quick sit me up for short burp – EH and lower belly wind, which is much more painful and often turns to screaming – EAIRH and requires more massaging and perhaps knees pressed into the belly for the baby to release gas.

Anytime we have a crying baby it can be stressful for not only them but also us. Remember that no one understands your baby better than you. Always take every piece of ‘parenting’ advice with a pinch of salt. A lot of families use Dunstan as a guideline and say their baby makes a slightly different sound. Either way, knowledge and narrowing down crying into five primary reasons means we can run a checklist when it occurs, which can also be very helpful for partners and other carers too.

Photo by Bright Photography