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The Science Behind Baby’s Cries

According to psychologists, a normal human baby will cry about two hours over the course of a day. Crying is a normal human behavior, but for babies, it’s more than a behavior. Crying is a form of survival, just as essential to life as breathing is. A baby’s cry is what demands adult attention. It’s the only way an infant knows how to communicate, but as a mother, how do you know what each cry means?

Priscilla Dunstan is a mother (with photographic memory of sound) who came up with the theory that human infants use vocal reflexes as signals. The hypothesis is that across a number of cultures and linguistic groups, there are five universal sounds a baby makes, each with its own meaning. Today, we’re going to share the five universal words used by infants to help you understand what your baby needs. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to see more of Aubrey Gianna’s tips and tricks for babies and toddlers!

“Neh” - I Am Hungry

A slight “neh” is what a baby says to indicate they are hungry. Healthy babies have a sucking reflex which develops while the baby is still in the womb. During an ultrasound, you may see the baby suck on their thumbs or their hands. Once they’re born, when a nipple from a breast or a bottle is placed into the baby’s mouth, they’ll automatically start sucking.

When they’re hungry, their tongue will automatically push up to the roof of their mouth, and as they begin to cry to get your attention, they’ll produce a “neh” sound.

“Owh” - I Am Sleepy

An infant saying, “owh,” is trying to communicate that they are tired. This is based on a yawn reflex. When you yawn, you’ll notice your mouth form into an oval-shape, and babies are the same too. When a baby wants to tell you that they’re tired, they’ll begin with a soft cry, but if their sleepiness is not addressed in time, that’s when babies begin the notorious hysteric cry.

Pay attention to if their mouth is forming an O-shape to avoid getting your baby riled up, especially if it’s a nap that they want. You may also keep in mind how long they’ve been awake for, or if they’re not sleeping well at night. One technique to get them to sleep better is to swaddle them. Consider a Swaddle Set from Aubrey Gianna. Our swaddle blankets are made of thin, stretchy fabric that keeps your baby cozy and comfortable.

sleeping baby in swaddle blanket set

“Heh” - I Am In Discomfort

When a baby experiences discomfort, they’ll cry out with the sound, “heh.” Listen for the “h” sound in their voice. They may be communicating stress or annoyance or that they need a fresh diaper change. Check to see if your baby is too hot or too cold or if they’re sitting or lying down in an uncomfortable position.

You’ll notice that this sound is one of the more animated sounds, as your baby is impatient in trying to resolve their source of discomfort as fast as possible.

“Eairh” - I Have Lower Gas

Imagine the sound you make after you’ve been punched in the lower abdomen. An infant will use a similar growl-ish sound, “eairh” to let you know they have flatulence or an upset stomach.

When a baby is unable to burp, even though they need to, the trapped air travels to the stomach instead, where the baby’s intestines will tighten to try to force the air out. You may also notice your baby pull their legs up to their torso to help release the air bubble. The “eairh” sound is a good indicator of a bowel movement in your baby.

“Eh” - I Need to Burp

When an air bubble is caught in your baby’s chest, their body is using a reflex to get the air out through the mouth. Although this sound is similar to how a baby vocalizes that they have lower gas, you’re looking for a clearer “eh” sound. If you hear an “r” sound, your baby has an air bubble trapped in their lower system.

You should also keep in mind that this baby language generally applies to babies from 0 to 3 months of age. As a baby gets older, their reflexes turn on and off. For example, the sucking reflex typically lasts until the baby is 3 or 4 months old, and after that, they will communicate differently to let you know that they are hungry.

baby happy in crib and turban hat

As a parent, it’s hard when your baby begins to cry. It breaks your heart because you want to help them, but you don’t know what they want. By understanding these vocal cues, you’ll become one step closer to getting your baby happy and rested. Aubrey Gianna’s Boutique is committed to making parents’ lives easier by providing super soft and trendy baby clothes and accessories, such as our Swaddle Blanket, a baby essential. Be sure to browse our collections of beautiful fabrics, colors, and patterns and place your order of baby essentials today!

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