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Possibly one of the most irritating sounds known to Man is that of a baby’s incessant wailing.

Women, however, are generally a lot more patient and have a deeper understanding of a simple fact: nobody cries for no reason – especially infants. Most women are naturally drawn by sympathy to comfort a crying baby and seek to remove the source of annoyance.

Chalk one up for motherly instinct, then. But not all mothers are adept at decoding their baby’s complaints. What should you, a first-time mother be listening for?

The crying game

The key to finding out what your baby is crying about, it seems, lies in the sounds your baby makes before turning hysterical. According to Priscilla Dunstan, an Australian mom with a special ear for sounds (she’s a concert violinist), they sound approximately like these: Neh, Owh, Heh, Eair and Eh. Note that Priscilla says they apply particularly to newborns up to three months old.

Cry #1
Neh:”I’m hungry”

“Neh” is the prelude for the “I’m hungry” cry. A newborn has a strong sucking reflex, and when they combine this reflex with a cry, the result is “neh”.

Solution: When you hear this cry, it’s time to nurse, or to give your newborn a bottle.

Cry #2
Owh:”I’m Sleepy”

Tiredness is expressed as “owh”. The “owh” sound is based on the yawning reflex. The first “ow” sound can be long and pronounced. You should also find other clues of sleepiness, such as rubbing the eyes and yawning.

Solution: Allow your baby to fall asleep (see page 23) in a suitable environment.

Cry #3
Heh:”I’m experiencing discomfort”

The cry “heh” is used when a newborn is feeling discomfort. This sound is different than the “I’m hungry” cry because there is a strong “h” sound at the beginning. If you hear this cry in your newborn, they may need their diaper changed or be put in a new position. It can also be a sign of pain or unwellness, and of course, colic.

Solution: Change your baby’s diapers, or remove the source of discomfort. Check to see if baby is well by monitoring his behaviour.

Cry #4
Eair:”I have lower gas”

Often heard in conjunction with ‘heh’ is ‘eair’. When babies have lower gas pain they often pull their legs towards their chest and make the sound “eair”.

Solution: Massaging your baby’s tummy in slow gentle circles may help soothe him, as will pushing on his feet so his knees push on his tummy gently. This allows the gas to escape and relieve his discomfort.

Cry #5
Eh:”I need to burp”

You’ll know when your newborn baby needs to burp if you can hear the “eh” in his/her cry. This cry is short and is repeated over and over; “eh, eh, eh.” Also caused by ‘gripe pains’, this cry is caused by muscle spasms and air bubbles trapped in baby’s tummy. The resulting discomfort means your darling will not stop her little concerto until you have done something for her.

Solution: When you hear this sound gently place your baby on your chest with their head over your shoulder and gently pat them on the back.

You may also try traditional remedies that many mummies from the older generations have sworn by, such as Woodward’s Gripe Water, to ease the amount of stomach wind and muscle churning in your baby’s body. For some reason, this solution seems to sooth babies.

Additionally, this is how you can get better at decoding the language of your baby’s cries:

  • Pay attention to the dominant sound. If you hear more than one sound, respond to the most dominant sound.
  • If you can’t understand the cry, change the position of your baby. This may help to make the sounds clearer.
  • Listen for the distinctive sound in each word, e.g., the “N” in “Neh”.

Lastly, don’t worry if you can’t understand what sound your baby is making. The point is that you are there to comfort your baby as best you can – and attention is what your precious wants in the first place. LWB

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