When a baby is really young, their parents tend to have a bunch of fears about their little one’s well-being and health. They try to guess exactly what their baby wants and what it is that might be causing them discomfort. But how do you understand babies without using words? Experts outline 3 main methods that can help babies communicate with adults.
While every parent learns to understand and interpret their own baby’s individual signs, we became interested in some common rules used to distinguish their needs.
The way they cry
Crying is the main way a baby expresses their needs during their first 4 months of life. But how can parents understand whether the baby is crying because of hunger, pain, or something else?
- A calling cry. The baby has been alone for a long time and now they want their parents to pick them up. They continuously cry for 5-6 seconds and then pause for 20 seconds as if they’re waiting for the results. If the parent doesn’t respond, then this cycle repeats several times until the crying becomes continuous.
- A cry because of hunger. It can start with a calling cry but if the baby wasn’t picked up and fed, the cry will continue and become hysterical. The baby might also keep rotating their head, making smacking sounds with their mouth.
- A cry because of pain. This crying will be monotonous, loud, and constant. Periodically, there will be hysterical bursts indicating that the pain increases. However, if the baby is getting sick, their cry can also be monotonous, but quiet, because they don’t have enough strength to make loud noises.
- A cry because of physiological processes. Even gas, urination, or defecation can initially cause discomfort in a child. This type of crying resembles whining and squeaking.
- A cry because of sleepiness. When the baby wants to sleep but can’t fall asleep for some reason, their cry will sound like an offended and smooth whining, followed by yawning. The baby will also rub their eyes and ears.
- A cry because of discomfort. This crying is irritated and intermittent, and is often accompanied by fidgeting. The baby can also flail and arch. It means it’s high time to check their diaper or they might be feeling too cold or too hot in their clothes.
- Moreover, very tiny babies may cry when they want to change their environment or when they are frustrated or bored.
The sounds they make
Australian pediatrician Priscilla Dunstan has been studying and researching early childhood sounds (up to 3-4 months old) for more than 20 years. Thousands of babies of different nationalities have taken part in her experiments. Priscilla thinks that primary reflex sounds are international. After turning 4 months old, babies start to make sounds seeking communication which relate more to physical needs.
Priscilla opened her own school teaching new parents to understand their babies. It’s thought that the ability to recognize these sounds in time can prevent an upcoming crying episode.
The ’dictionary’ of the main sounds includes:
- ’Neh’ – “I’m hungry!” This sound is produced when the baby pushes their tongue up to the roof of their mouth and is triggered by the sucking reflex.
- ’Eh’ – “I’m gonna burp!” This sound is formed when excess air starts to leave the baby’s esophagus and the baby tries to reflexively release it from their mouth.
- ’Owh’ – “I’m sleepy or tired!” The baby produces this ’sound of tiredness’ by folding their lips before yawning.
- ’Heh’ – “I’m feeling uncomfortable!” Unpleasant tactile sensations make the baby move, and jerk their hands and feet. All these movements contribute to producing the ’Heh’ sound, especially when the baby’s mouth is slightly opened.
- ’Eairh’ – ’I have gases and pain in my tummy!’ The sounds they make get distorted and turn into a moan when a baby strains their tummy and exhales while trying to get rid of the pain.
The movements they make
Body language says a lot about a baby’s well-being:
- Arching their back. Babies under 2 months old often make this movement when responding to pain and colic. If a baby arches their back after eating, it means that they are full. If you often see your baby doing this movement during eating, it can be a sign of reflux. If the baby is older than 2 months old, this movement usually indicates tiredness and a bad mood.
- Rotating their head. This is a calming movement for the baby. They might do it before falling asleep or when they’re around unknown people.
- Grabbing their ears. In most cases, this movement shows that the baby is just exploring their body. You should consult the doctor only if this movement is followed by crying and repeats often.
- Clenching their fists. This is a sign of hunger. If you manage to notice it in time, you can prevent the crying caused by them being hungry.
- Lifting their legs. This is the sign of colic and tummy pain. The baby is trying to reflexively ease the pain.
- Jerking their arms. This movement means that the baby got frightened. A loud sound, bright light, or sudden awakening can provoke the startle reflex. In this case, the baby needs to be comforted.
Pediatricians recommend talking with your baby as often as possible, explaining and showing them everything in their environment, even if it seems that they don’t understand anything yet. It will help them to quickly start to communicate with loved ones using individual sounds and gestures, and it also helps them develop better. We wish you luck and hope you have an easy time understanding each other!
Is there anything you would like to add to this list? We would love to hear from you in the comments!