Hush Little Baby! Crying Decoded.

24 Apr 2013

Ever had one of those moments (or hours, or even one of those days!), when your baby is crying and you have NO idea what she needs or how to make her stop? As a brand new mom with my brand new baby, I definitely had my share of those moments. I felt helpless and frustrated, despairing my utter lack of parenting skills. I’m sure my generally sleep deprived state didn’t help, but sometimes even a short bout of my daughter crying made me feel overwhelmed and inadequate, sad that I couldn’t fix whatever was wrong. If only there was some way to figure out what she wanted! Well, apparently there may be a magic decoder ring for doing just that – a way to decode your baby’s cries and understand what they need, based on the different sounds they make as part of their crying.

I’ve heard some parents figure this out on their own, but for the rest of us who didn’t, there’s a cheat sheet. I haven’t had a chance to test this theory out myself yet – my baby is 17 months old (already!), well beyond the 0-3 month age range for which this baby language is said to apply. But from what I’ve watched and read, I definitely wish I’d known about this sooner! Who doesn’t want to figure out how to get their baby to stop crying?? Even if it only worked some of the time, that would still have been worth the effort to me.

Baby Language backstory

It’s called Dunstan Baby Language, and the woman who created it, Priscilla Dunstan, has what she calls a “photographic memory for sound.” She can remember anything she hears even just once, and she can pick up on nuances and subtleties of sound, pitch, tone, etc. that most of us would miss. So then she had a baby, and she inadvertently began to recognize patterns in his cries, and came to eventually attach certain sounds to certain needs. At first she assumed these sounds and meanings were unique to her son, and she was pumped that she was able to essentially interpret his needs and respond accordingly. But as she was around more babies, she kept hearing the same patterns, the same types of cries, and eventually realized these sounds were for the most part universal, instinctive sounds that infants make based on specific basic needs and physical feelings.

Quick breakdown

There are 5 basic sounds to identify (check out the videos for examples of what these really sound like!)

- “Neh” – This sound means your baby is hungry.
- “Owh” – This sound means your baby is sleepy. Her mouth will form an oval shape with this sound/cry.
- “Heh” – This sound means your baby is uncomfortable. Some reasons for discomfort may be temperature, clothing, or a dirty diaper.
- “Eh” – This sound means your baby has upper gas, and needs a burp.
- “Eair” – This sound means your baby has lower gas. There are ways to work her legs to help her push it out.

Is this for real?

Reading about it is one thing, but for me, it was basically meaningless until I saw examples of babies making these sounds. Watching/hearing the examples actually made me buy into the idea a bit more – there are some definite distinctions to the sounds. Although some were more obvious to me than others, and I imagine it also would depend on your baby. So if you decide to give this a try, hopefully your baby is one of the ones who makes more clear sounds!

Rachel at My Baby Sleep Guide says she’s seen this work with multiple babies, and she gives some additional hints about using the method in her blog post here.

Heather over at Rookie Moms gave the method a try with her 3rd child. Sounds like she had some success, but she didn’t start using the Dunstan Baby Language method until her son was already 5 weeks old, and he moved past those crying sounds around 2 months old… so starting early is probably the key to maximizing usefulness of the method! Read about her experience here: Rookie Moms Dunstan Baby Language post.

To see some baby language in action, watch one of the following videos –

For a quick intro check out this short (3:17) video segment, “The Meaning of Infant Cries: Dunstan Baby Language”.

You can also go to the Dunstan Baby Language website at to learn more.

So what do you think? Has anybody else tried this, or do you plan to? If you’ve done it, would you recommend the method? Any tips or tricks? Leave a comment and let us know how it worked for you! Personally, I definitely plan to give this a try if I have another baby. Certainly can’t hurt to give it a shot! I also like that it’s a method for anybody to use… moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, anybody can get involved and try to interpret baby’s cries.

Know anybody who’s expecting a baby and might benefit from learning to interpret an infant’s cries? Share a link to this post to let them know about Dunstan Baby Language.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

RookieMom Heather May 7, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Ultimately, I did wish I had it sooner, but you’re not gonna know you NEED it until you’re willing to order it at 2am in the midst of another rough night.

Perhaps most useful was learning to pause and listen rather than rush in at every sound. My older sons and I would be in the van with a screaming baby trying to decode his message instead of cranking up the radio.


Rachael Henderson May 7, 2013 at 4:06 pm

So maybe if nothing else it would help make the crying slightly less stressful to hear? A focus on listening for interpretation has to beat just listening and wishing it would stop, right? I’ve got baby #2 on the way now, I’m thinking it can’t hurt to give this a try! :-)


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