Your Baby is Talking to You: Here’s How to Understand What He’s Saying

Learning to understand your newborn's language

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Image by Kris Krug via Flickr

What new parent hasn’t wished their baby could just tell us what she wants? Well, it turns out your newborn can communicate her needs. The problem is, you just don’t understand her language.

Priscilla Dunstan is a mom from Sydney, Australia who was born with eidetic memory, a rare “photographic” memory for sounds. She has the ability to hear patterns in sounds that no one else can hear. Like many new moms, Dunstan became frustrated during those first few weeks as a new parent. During a particularly bad night of crying she thought to herself: “I don’t think I can get up and do this again.” As Dunstan sat crying in the nursery with her son Tomas at 3 a.m., she decided the cries couldn’t be meaningless, and she set out to decipher them. She spent the next two years working with babies from around the world and soon found a pattern in the way they cried. “All babies, regardless of race or culture, make the same sounds,” says Dunstan, who spent years testing her theory with thousands of babies before releasing the Dunstan Baby Language DVD. “I have amazing footage of babies crying on mud floors in a remote village in Turkey. These babies were making the same sounds as Tomas.”

wee words

Dunstan found that all babies have five “words” to communicate their needs. These words are actually reflexes that occur automatically during the first three months whenever your baby needs to eat, sleep, be burped or is uncomfortable. If you can learn to recognize these sounds and respond to them, she says, your baby will cry less, settle more easily, and have more uninterrupted sleep.

“I felt like we had a symbiotic relationship once I could understand my baby and respond,” says Sarah Alexander, a Vancouver-based mom, owner of bellytobaby.ca, a prenatal education website, as well as a registered nurse, breast-feeding counsellor and childbirth educator, who used the technique with her second daughter. “Paige cried much less than my first and spit up less after eating.”

So where does a new parent begin? “The first few weeks with a newborn can be overwhelming, so it helps to be prepared and understand the meaning of your baby’s cry before she arrives,” says Dunstan. The first three words are the most common (and important). She recommends spending a week becoming comfortable with recognizing these three words, then moving on to the last two. In two weeks you should be fluent.

1 Neh: “I’m hungry.”

When your baby is hungry, he will say “neh” or “nah”. “You are looking for the n part of the sound,” says Dunstan. As with all words, “neh’ is easiest to hear when your baby is in the pre-cry phase before he starts screaming. When you hear the “neh” sound, it means your baby is ready to be fed.

2 Owh: “I’m tired.”

This sound is created when sound is added to the yawn reflex. Your baby’s mouth will also be oval shape while she is saying: “owh.” This means it’s bedtime.

3 Eh: “I need to be burped.”

This sound is produced when muscles in the infant’s chest tighten and sound is added. Start burping your infant whenever you hear “eh.” You will know when to stop because he will stop saying “eh.”

4 Eairh: “I have gas.”

If you respond to “eh” whenever you hear it, your baby will have less lower-wind gas. If you do hear “eairh”, you can offer relief through baby massage.

5 Heh: “I’m uncomfortable.”

This could mean that your baby is hot, cold or needs to change positions. Do what you can to make her feel at ease.

how long does this language last?

All babies communicate with these “words” from birth to three months, but if you respond to your child when he “talks,” babies can make the sounds for much longer. “Our company (Dunstan Baby) has observed children continue to make these sounds consciously for up to a year,” says Dunstan. The key is to learn the language as soon as possible and respond.


new-baby-ctaThis story is part of our New Baby Guide. Check it out for more info on bringing home, planning for and surviving having a new baby.

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