One of Pip’s most plaintive cries can be described as “nuhhh…GEEE!” (with a hard “g”). To us, it sounds like he’s saying he’s “huuun…GREEE!” Only to us though – to other people it’s just baby noise. It’s probably just a coincidence that feeding him makes it stop. Another one in his repertoire is a “wah wah wah” sound. That seems to be when he’s feeling overtired and wanting a cuddle. However, come to think of it…feeding stops that cry too!
In an attempt to avoid a situation where we are constantly feeding (I know it’s impossible to overfeed a breastfed baby, but I’d rather feed him for longer at a time than lots of shorter feeds so a) he gets hindmilk and b) my nipples get a break!) I cuddle him, try giving him space, check his nappy, burp him, check his temperature etc etc. Then feed! It would be very helpful and would save a lot of effort to be able to magically decode his cries, but although we like to think that Pip is practically having a conversation with us, in reality I have no idea what his different sounds mean.
According to Dunstan Baby Language, there are just FIVE distinct cries that all babies make, each with a different meaning. Priscilla Dunstan developed this theory some years ago and although never scientifically proven, it appears to apply to babies of all languages and cultures. The sounds are as follows (thanks to Wikipedia for the helpful summary):
- Neh (I’m hungry) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Neh” to communicate its hunger. The sound is produced when the sucking reflex is triggered, and the tongue is pushed up on the roof of the mouth.
- Owh (I’m sleepy) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Owh” to communicate that they are tired. The sound is produced much like an audible yawn.
- Heh (I’m experiencing discomfort) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Heh” to communicate stress, discomfort, or perhaps that it needs a fresh diaper. The sound is produced by a response to a skin reflex, such as feeling sweat or itchiness in the bum.
- Eairh (I have lower gas) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Eairh” to communicate they have flatulence or an upset stomach. The sound is produced when trapped air from a belch is unable to release and travels to the stomach where the muscles of the intestines tighten to force the air bubble out. Often, this sound will indicate that a bowel movement is in progress, and the infant will bend its knees, bringing the legs toward the torso. This leg movement assists in the ongoing process.
- Eh (I need to be burped) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Eh” to communicate that it needs to be burped. The sound is produced when a large bubble of trapped air is caught in the chest, and the reflex is trying to release this out of the mouth.
There is also a video that demonstrates the different cries using a real baby (it’s scary how familiar some of the sounds are!)
As fascinating as this is, and as much as I want to be able to fit Pip’s sounds into these categories, I think ultimately it takes time, patience and listening skills to be able to truly decode your baby’s cries. I like to think that I can distinguish my baby’s cries from others – for example, he is considerably lower pitched than Elphie! But this hasn’t been put to the test and I wouldn’t be surprised if I failed. It’s also worth bearing in mind that babies have other ways of communication, such as all the much quieter but no less demonstrative feeding cues at their disposal (for example, rooting, bobbing and putting their tongue out), or rubbing their eyes when tired.
For now I’m going to continue to observe Pip as best I can… and keep feeding in the meantime!