The Secret Language of Babies: The Five Cries of Newborns
Priscilla Dunstan, featured on the Oprah show, claims she has a photographic memory for sound: she can hear textures, colors, and vocal resonance. She used these skills with her newborn son and began to see patterns in his cries. Dunstan has used this new-found knowledge to research the cries of over 1000 babies and has found five distinct cries that are universal; babies of different races and cultures all have the same five cries. She claims this similarity is because all of the cries are based on reflexes, and since all babies have the same reflexes the sounds are the same.
The following five cries are similar, but if you listen carefully they can be distinguished. These five cries are only present in babies from 0-3 months old and are most pronounced during a baby's pre-cry.
When you've finished reading about all of the cries, test yourself with the baby cries below.
Cry #1: "Neh" Means "I'm Hungry"
"Neh" is the "I'm hungry" cry of a newborn. It is based on the sucking reflex. A newborn has a strong sucking reflex, and when they combine this reflex with a cry the result is "neh". When you hear this cry, nurse or give your newborn a bottle.
Cry #2: "Owh" Means "I'm Sleepy"
The cry to express tiredness is "owh." The "owh" sound is based on the yawning reflex. The first "owh" sound can be long and pronounced. When you hear this cry help your baby go to sleep. We always found that the more tired our babies became the harder it was for them to go to sleep. Look for other clues of sleepiness: rubbing the eyes and yawning.
Cry #3: "Heh" Means "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 to be put in a new position.
Cry #4: "Eair" Means "I Have Lower Gas"
When babies have lower gas pain they often pull their legs towards their chest and make the cry sound "eair." We always found that when our newborns had gas they liked a bit of pressure on their tummies. We would either lay them on our legs perpendicularly and rub their backs or hold them in the elbow of our arm with our elbow supporting their head and their legs straddling our arm. (Be sure that your baby's head is always held securely.) This can also be a good time for a baby massage with slow circular motions on your baby's tummy. Gas tablets or medicines never worked for our girls.
Cry #5: "Eh" Means "I Need to Burp"
You'll know when your newborn baby needs to burp if you can hear the "eh" in his or her cry. This cry is short and is repeated over and over: "eh, eh, eh." When you hear this sound place your baby on your chest with their head over your shoulder and gently pat them on the back.
This is an amazing DVD on interpreting your baby's cries.
- Your baby's cries are more easily identified during the pre-cry stage, before the baby becomes hysterical. Try to Listen, Decide and Act before the cries become too difficult to distinguish.
- React to the dominant word. If you hear more than one word being said, pay the most attention to the most dominant sound.
- If you can't understand the cry, change the position of your baby; e.g., put them over your knee, shoulder, or on your lap.
- It's natural for babies to use more words than others. Don't worry if some words aren't being said as often.
- Listen for the distinctive sound in each word, e.g., the "n" in "Neh".
- If you can't understand the word and feel distressed, just comfort your baby as best you can and listen for the word next time.
What is this newborn telling you?
How about this one?
What do you think they are trying to say?
Krystal on June 29, 2017:
Wow this really helped me. My baby is 3 months and I had a hard time when she was younger as she's my first. This article helped me realise what she needs and saved me from sleepless nights of crying. Only thing is when you tell health professionals or midwives how you know what she wants they look at you like you're crazy lol
louromano on March 24, 2012:
It's helpful news for me. thanks.
Andy on January 11, 2012:
All very helpful but where are the answers to the two You Tube clips?
Sam on December 01, 2011:
These cry sounds at 100% spot on, I currently have my 4th newborn & have used these interpretations for my last 3 children. I'll be forever grateful for this info as my last 3 cry rarely, feel more secure & are easy to settle.
lisa on November 02, 2011:
My baby cries at nappie changes as if she is in pain n at bath times she cries until she is red in the face until I'm finish she onlý stops when I pick her up,just wondering why
tm4 on October 28, 2011:
i just looked this up to see which cry my baby was doing and it sounded mostly like "eh" so I patted her back and she burped and stopped crying!!!!! So cool!
cllano on October 24, 2011:
This is really helping me help my newborn. Thanks!
Hanna on June 16, 2011:
I don't think this is true for all babies... I heard about this before we had our daughter, so I listened for different cries. But she just used neh (or rather nah, nah, nah) for all her needs. Maybe because hunger was what bothered her most... (And still is, at 6 months)
Claire on February 13, 2011:
This was really helpful and then I found this great device. It's called whycry and shows why the baby's crying.
pisethz on February 10, 2011:
that's wonderful to know as I am starting to notice my newborn baby language when I refer to your tips here. thanks for sharing.
Debby Bruck on November 21, 2010:
Wonderful hubpage. I would like to see many more examples and answers so we could really learn and understand the sounds of each type of cry.
Rosie69 on November 21, 2010:
When my sons were newborn I found with each child (they are 4 years apart) that cries were of a different tone. Generally we found that high pitched cries were associated with discomfort and pain - Colic, tummy ache or generally unwell. lower more broken cries associated with hunger, nappy needing changing etc. We also found that playing classical music soothing, combined with a mobile over the cot rotating really helped get baby off to sleep.
When children are a little older holding their hand by the bedside really helps with singing or soothing music. I am a firm believer that children should stay in their own bed. You must make children realise this is where they go to sleep and be firm. My son still listens to classical music at night, he is now 10! he says it helps him think about the day he has had and he loves music!
Jessica-Kay on September 20, 2010:
i had this page open when my patner and i were trying to settle our little one, and i really cant tell what cries he was making.
Jessica-Kay on September 20, 2010:
i had this page open when my patner and i were trying to settle our little one, and i really cant tell what cries he was making.
victoria on June 07, 2010:
wow this is soooo helpful and true, I knew that my baby was trying to tell me something, but I wasn't always getting it right!!! But some of it i was!, wich is great. Kool
maruthirp from Hyderabad on June 07, 2010:
This is very funny. Does cry has so many meanings? But is very fantastic to read.
rose56 on May 03, 2010:
Very helpful hub. I am sure it will come in handy
for this new generation. So thank you for the hub.
Translator Chicago on November 28, 2009:
Since babies cannot speak yet, crying is one way of telling us that they need something. And amazingly, through practice, mothers can understand! Wow!
tdarby on September 05, 2009:
Great hub. Thanks for the tips. I think there are many first time parents who would benefit from this simple, concise, and extremely beneficial message.
Jessica on August 19, 2009:
i am a new mum my newborn cries 247 and im feeding him 247 i have hardly any sleep i know that that's normal but i am feeling really low about it and this info has helped me to understand what he may need apart from a feed thanks!!!
mommy2bsomemore on June 14, 2009:
I used this when my first child was born. I got lucky enough to see it on Oprah when i first brought my son home. Once I started listening to his cries, i realized they did have a distinct sound to them. I was able to please him immediatley and he was always such a happy baby. Everyone always commented on how happy he was too. I highly recommend any new parents to try this out on their child because it really pays off. Thank you so so so much for sharing this advice!
jimnicer from Philippines on May 15, 2009:
Good tips...That's totally fun..Its very useful for every mom on hubpages..Have a great day!
Molly on March 07, 2009:
this is great! I am babysitting my little sister at the moment, who is 6 months old, and I could not, for the life of me, figure out why she was crying. The moment I read the criteria for each cry, i figured it out. It was sort of an "Owhehhh!" sound. So, I burped her and put her to bed.
Thanks again. :D
shezz3085 from Philippines on February 23, 2009:
HAHAHAHA... This is a great tip for mommies out there. Well, I have a newlyborn nephew and when he cries we couldn't identify what he need. Because sometimes my sister used to breastfeed him and yet he's still crying. Thanks for these tips, at least my sister could use it how to identify her child's needs when crying.
Yvette Kelly on February 22, 2009:
Well if you cant afford the dvd all you do is make sure they have been fed,that the diaper is clean,that they have been burped,dont have a fever and you have cuddled a bit.If baby still cries then its wind or colic.Colic is disastrous and I pity Moms who have babies with colic.The best way is to try to remain calm coz a fussy mom is going to aggravate the colic for sure.
michelle willow from Croatia / Europe on January 11, 2009:
Watched that episode of Oprah on TV. Very useful! And yes, they are talking! And it makes sense! Great hub!
topstuff on November 14, 2008:
I love these beautiful insights.
Sparks from South Korea on November 08, 2008:
Thanks so much for this wonderful hub!
Teeny Tots from USA on October 09, 2008:
Thank you for you amazing hub. I don't know before the babies sound have meaning like this.
mahrina on July 26, 2008:
wow really next time for my 2nd baby I must follow the tips, and especially NEh..hungry one because when my daughter used to be hungary when she was 1-3 months age I was feeding her every half an hour apart and she kept on crying but i was unable to understand now wht to do but i am sure this i will not misinterpret my next baby. Thanks robin for your useful information God Bless You.
Sheila K-R from Australia on July 24, 2008:
As a great grandmother, as well as an alternative practitioner I have had may years of experience with babies. Some babies who cry continually may have a misalignment of the cranial plates, the bones of the skull from the birth process, which creates an acid stomach and a want/ need for feeding constantly. This also may follow on into the child who is in the fridge all the time complaining that they are hungry and into adulthood and often may be a reason for people being overweight or needing to .snack all the time. We should be greatfull that they do othrwise they may suffer from stomach ulcers
Anotherreason for a crying baby can be anxiety from conception or birth trauma, both of which are easily treatable.
privateye2500 from Canada, USA, London on July 19, 2008:
What babie need:
comfort of the clean diaper type
comfort of love (hugging, rocking, etc...)
to feel safe
to be *engaged* - smiling, playing....
Brightly colored things to look at for mental stimulation
To be talked to
I don't think all babies have a *universal* ANYTHING. Just like grown-ups; they each display their joy or dislike or discomfort in their own individual ways.
nicolap from Dorset, UK on July 16, 2008:
She's right about their only being 5 things babies want - I used to try each of the 5 until I found the right one.
Matthew Perry on July 12, 2008:
I really admired your article. its really nice and educative. Hope 2 write sound thing like you did.
Ronald Daniar on July 11, 2008:
It should be interesting for my cousin
guidebaba from India on June 20, 2008:
Thanks Dear. This is going to be very for me.
Amber Arendsen from Solana Beach, Ca on June 11, 2008:
I saw part of this episode when it aired. Truly fascinating stuff. Thank you for the synopsis, I am looking forward to getting pregnant with number 3 soon and look forward to using these infant language cues, in conjunction with my super mommy intuition :) great post.
oryzana from asia on June 05, 2008:
I wish could have found this hub earlier. my baby is already 5 moths old.
VinceSamios from Australia on May 26, 2008:
Parenting is scary stuff!
6 pack abs on May 26, 2008:
THANKS!!!!!!! Great hub!
Mike Geary on May 24, 2008:
If I only had read this one year ago......... I would have slept a lot more... Great Hub.
Sign Language Alphabet Guide on May 13, 2008:
GREAT SITE !!!
ninja87 from UK on May 06, 2008:
its the only way he/she knows how to express herself at that age. just ensure your baby is well fed, givin pleanty of attention and of course, has a clean nanppy - you know, all the usual :-)
if all else fails, try you local GP
Shasta Cascade from 1699 Highway 273, Anderson, CA 96007 on April 23, 2008:
wow I cant believe I haven't heard more about this. That would be a great bit of knowledge for a couple of people i know.
Medical Alert Calling Systems on April 15, 2008:
Great hub. Thanks for sharing this information with us!
solarshingles from london on April 13, 2008:
anyway, a little baby is far the best time in life (at least for me) and I regret only a fact, that I didn't take one or two years long holiday at that time to enjoy that time even more.
Also, I believe, every baby is at least a bit different from other one(I've got two and they were totally different in behavior and crying, as well)
Wambui Bahati on April 12, 2008:
Finally! I’m so glad to see this.
My wonderful daughters are 23 and 26 now. However, when they were babies I could not let them just cry through the night - as every adult, including my mother, was suggesting. “You’re going to spoil the baby”, they’d say. That never made sense to me. I figured if they were crying there must be a reason.
I finally decided that I was going to treat my babies exactly how I would want to be treated. I know I would want someone to comfort me if I was crying in the middle of the night. Thanks.
topstuff on March 27, 2008:
Neh...Neh...Neh.This cry must be noticed by mothers early.
clearwaterbeachbum on March 25, 2008:
What an amazing hub - you covered it all - having raised 4 kids I've heard them all. Wish this had been avaiable when we had our first - isn't the power of the internet amazing - knowledge at our fingertips and the videos are a great addition.
RUTHIE17 on March 21, 2008:
Very interesting hub. I hope you are following up with COMMUNICATING with baby by teaching sign language to your baby. My daughter did this with her son and it was amazing. He was able to "tell" us what he wanted instead of just fussing. She started about 2 months of age and just kept adding words as she went along.
He's 4 1/2 now and has tested out as having a vocabulary of an 8 year old. It's also helped him to expand his imagination and thought processes way beyond his age, too.
Sorry, didn't mean to sound like an overly proud Grandma.
Lapband on March 06, 2008:
great hub. Should be required reading for all new parents
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on February 21, 2008:
Thanks, Kenny! I appreciate the comment! ;)
Ashok Rajagopalan from Chennai on February 18, 2008:
You are absolutely right. When we got our first baby, I read everything I could read on this subject, like most nervous fathers.
For newborn babies, crying is a mode of communication, and we won't spoil them
by answering each and every cry.
After 4 months or so, however, they can start manipulating us, hehe.
But I never new about how we could identify the different cries.
I used to think Moms and babies were in telepathic communication.
Maybe moms react instinctively and accurately to each cry,
without being aware of it?
Great hub, useful for first time parents.
(And congratulations, Robin, on the latest acquisition!)
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on February 18, 2008:
Thanks, Jimmy! We are all so happy with her arrival. I'm sure it will be interesting with three!! ;)
Jimmy the jock from Scotland on February 14, 2008:
Congratulations Robin to you and your family, on the birth of your little girl Lila, I hope for a long and happy life for you all.....jimmy
CrystalSingleton from HBeach,Ca on February 06, 2008:
Another reason babies cry is because they are just plain colic. There was no reason at all. If you are experiencing this here is a link to more helpful information. My daughter was colic for not 3 months but 12.
seamus on February 05, 2008:
Interesting. What are the answers to the videos?
I think I most knew what my newborn wanted from her movements rather than sound. She would move her mouth around in a unique way, and that meant she was hungry. If we are not good at figuring out the exact sounds, I guess we find additional ways to figure out what is going on.
Anyway, I enjoyed your hub! Nice work. =)
annajgreenwood on January 29, 2008:
I love this woman! I met her at a mall, where she was shopping with her son and couldn't resist talking to her. She is even nicer in person than she appears on the Oprah show! Both my sister and I have used her words and they really worked for me, esp the eairh and eh.
hosting coupons on January 19, 2008:
Wow What adorable babies.
kerri michalica on January 18, 2008:
any way to get the answers to the videos? I still cant tell which ones are what cries?
ADELE AYO OPEYEMI on January 07, 2008:
"CRYING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT IN NEWBORN BABY'S LIFE. IT IS THE ONLY MEANS OF COMMUNICATING WITH THE ENVIRONMENT. IT IS THEIR ONLY MEANS OF EXPRESSING THEMSELVES BECAUSE THEY ARE SO "CRUDE AND RAW" THAT NOTHING REALLY MAKES ANY MEANING TO THEM. AND IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT WHEN NEWBORN BABY IS CRYING, IT COULD MEAN ANY THING, BUT THREE THINGS SHOULD BE ATTEND TO IMMEDIATELY AND THIS ARE, FEED, CHANGE OF THE BABY'S WEARS(KNAPPINGS AND PAMPPERS) THEN THE BABY SHOULD BE MOVED FOR A CHANGE IN ENVIRONMENT.
MrMarmalade from Sydney on January 04, 2008:
I am certainly glad my days are gone even for grandchildren.
Non on the horisement
I am a little yone death, what happens then?
sminut13 from singapore on December 30, 2007:
haha thks for this. i ccan def use it for my sec babe now. hehe my first one turned out real clingy. maybe i misintepreted his cries n he kept hangin on to me after tht. hehe
dvdpro from Studio City on November 23, 2007:
I have discovered that the three things to look for when a baby cries is that they are either: Tired, Hungry or Wet
Handle any of these first will help accustom each parent to what the baby is communicating. Walking around your home with the baby and having them "Look at_______ or Touch that________" repeatedly helps after the 3 basics are handled first.
Education Articles on November 11, 2007:
A great bit of information. Thanks for putting this hubpage together, it's a great read that I'll be sharing elsewhere. - Peace, Paul
sipoom99 on October 09, 2007:
My Baby not in your description, he cried overnight; i didn't know why until i found some spin fiber on hand glove tight around his finger and the color is green, I'm so sorry to less concern him after that we go to doctor everything is ok.
http://bestbabyhealth.blogspot.com/ my baby :P
maricarbo on September 25, 2007:
Excellent information.....Thanks. I'll pass it on.
Steve (proud dad of new baby) Mason on August 09, 2007:
This is really interesting stuff. It definitely is true that babies do have a different sound to their crying for different situations. It is great to see it written in an article.
jeannebean on August 02, 2007:
If you start off reading this hub..it's rather interesting..but as you read down the comment lines..it's kind of interesting as well, how one individual indicates that "its usually the low income mothers and fathers"..whoa..now that kind of blew me away...where does money come into whether a baby could have colic..or be uncomfortable...and then we work a bit further down and we get a Shaklee commercial...c'mon people...keep it on topic!! LOL..it really is kind of funny...
DJane from Fort Worth on July 29, 2007:
Wow I never knew this information and could have used it a year ago when my son was born. Actually I could have used it 5 years ago when my daughter was born. She cried more often. This is so interesting and useful for any and everyone!
michaela on July 22, 2007:
CRYING JULES IS SO CUTE
Joan on June 22, 2007:
Babies sure do know what they want!!! Thankyou for the education. As a grandmother, it is very useful when caring for my daughter's newborn. I also encourage using only natural, pure household products around a newborn or any children. Sloan Barnett was on T.V. the other day. She is the wife of Roger Barnett, the CEO of the Shaklee Corporation. She showed how the Shaklee products were so concentrated that they last forever...and the purity and biode-gratability...and safety of these products were unbeatable. The environment of the home is crucial to a newborn. And, the ability also to interpret what he is trying to tell a mother. We all want the best for our children, home, and environment. http://www.iseepure.com
Stacie Naczelnik from Seattle on June 19, 2007:
This is so interesting--I'll have to see about that DVD. You know, this would make a great "book on tape"--I'd definitely consider purchasing something like that.
Joan on May 14, 2007:
How precious are newborns. Yes, they can certainly let you know what they want. They also are very sensitive to chemicals. Oprah also had some great products that she presented on her T.V. show for 'going green'. It really made me think..I changed by products. My daughter is having a newborn soon...and I want the best, non toxic environment for my grandchildren.Joan- http://www.iseepure.com
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on April 21, 2007:
Thanks, Caroline! Great information!!
Caroline Stephens on April 20, 2007:
Just went to the dunstanbaby website and the DVDs are now on sale for mother's day - $10 off - so now only $49.95. Well worth it at is has truly benefited me and my little girl. Highly recommend it to all Moms.
Mary on March 27, 2007:
Wow! Got to listen to them more careful!
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on March 07, 2007:
I'm sure your daughter is a great mother. I consider myself a great mother too, but I'm always open to and appreciate more resources.
Regardless of economics, mothers have a hard time adjusting to the cries of a newborn. I think we have to be careful with the "low income" label because it leaves mothers feeling isolated. I did a campaign with my first daughter for post-partum depression. This was before all of the press around Brooke Shields, which I think has been a huge step for women communicating about this problem. It was a common misconception that post-partum happens mostly in low-economic households; this creates a feeling of helplessness in those mothers who are not labeled in this way.
I do agree that the tapes are expensive. I would always recommend checking out the local library for copies. Thanks for the comment!
stephanie on March 06, 2007:
I am the Grandma of a newborn...The baby fusses at night...The mother is great with her...That is not really my comment...The ones who need these tapes are usually low economic mothers and fathers...Why are the tapes soooo expensive...Come on...
jeepfan43 from Topeka on March 03, 2007:
Very funny! It's too bad that they don't give enough teens that reality check!
Marvin DXN INT'L from Tanza, Cavite, Philippines on February 18, 2007:
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on February 10, 2007:
Thanks for the comment. I'm so glad it's working for you! Anything to make the newborn experience easier is always a plus! Congrats on your new baby!!
Frances on February 09, 2007:
A friend shared the same information with me in a magazine two weeks ago. We've been listening since, and it works! We haven't had to guess, and life is easier for baby, mom and dad! Thank you for having this information available!
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on January 12, 2007:
Hi Jesse, I've seen that video before...hilarious baby laughing. Thanks!
Jesse on January 12, 2007:
Robin, this is an interesting hubpage. Thanks for your great content on this page and many others. Do you have any idea what this baby is saying?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P6UU6m3cqk
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on January 05, 2007:
Thanks, Kelly. It's about $60 on dunstanbaby.com. I have found it brand new for $49 on eBay. Both have shipping added on to the price. You might be able to find a used copy on eBay, too. Thanks for the link!
Kelly on January 04, 2007:
You can by the DVDs on http://www.dunstanbaby.com - looks pretty interesting. Hope that helps.
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on January 02, 2007:
Hi Cheryl,I don't believe there is a book available yet, only the DVD. I have a link above to the DVD available on eBay. It's definitely more expensive than a book, but in order to really learn the different cries I think you need to hear them multiple times. Your daughter-in-law can always resell it again on eBay. Thanks for reading!!!
Cheryl Maxam on January 02, 2007:
Where can I get the book The Secret Languages of Babies? I want to get it for my daugher n law. I find the articles on the book and saw Ms. Dunstan on the Orph, but did not find out where I can order this book. Will You please help me.
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on December 15, 2006:
Thanks, Elisa. She is amazing. I wish I knew about her with my first two kids!
elisa from Santa Clara on December 14, 2006:
I saw this woman on Oprah the other day- she's amazing! Just wish I had heard about her 8 months ago when Trent was a newborn. Priceless info for new parents! Thanks Robin, I'll keep your hub bookmarked for when I have #3- hahaha
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on December 14, 2006:
Ha! That's funny. It's probably a great exercise for teens. It's HARD being a parent; it's wonderful, but hard! There is nothing more exhausting than a crying baby. I hope this technique can help parents and possibly reduce the cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Jimmy the jock from Scotland on December 14, 2006:
i was on a bus today and two teenage boys were sitting behind me,each of them were carrying those reality babies that you get from schools to try and teach you that having a baby isn't easy.i over heard their conversation and it was so funny boy (1)"the wee one kept me awake all night i only got about an hours sleep". boy(2)" mine cried for two hours solid so i took it out to the garden shed and locked it in there, the neighbors called the police because they heard a baby crying,they came up kicked open the shed door and found it i was so embarrased and the policemen laughed at me told me that if i did it again they would get social services involved and my baby would be taken into care." of course everyone on the bus at this point burst into laughter the boys never said another word and got off at the next stop.....jimmy