The Secret Language of Babies

After being reinspired by those Signing Time home videos sent in by mothers who taught their babies to sign, I decided to dig out the Sign Language book I bought some time back.  I was reading the chapter on “Birth to Three Months”, which I skipped the last time because Gavin was already four months old by the time I bought the book, and there was a mention of something really interesting referred to as “The Secret Language of Babies“.

You can click the link to read more about it, but here’s the gist of it.

From birth to the age of three months, all babies have instinctive sound reflexes that mean specific things.  If their parents don’t respond appropriately to the the sounds that they make, they eventually stop using them.  These are the five sound reflexes apparently all babies are born with:

1. “Neh” – means “I’m hungry”
2. “Owh” – means “I’m sleepy”
3. “Heh” – means “I’m experiencing discomfort”
4. “Eair” – means “I have lower gas”
5. “Eh” – means “I need to burp”

These are the pre-cry sounds that all babies make before they launch into full scale crying.  If you catch them early, you tend to your baby’s needs and head off the crying bouts.  The Secret Language of Babies was discovered by a mother from Australia called Priscilla Dunstan.

I’ve read before in books that babies have specific cries to mean specific things that their parents will eventually learn to pick up but never have I ever read a book that told me what specific sounds meant what.  One of my biggest concerns as a new Mum was that I wouldn’t be able to figure out what my baby’s cries meant.  I sort of figured I would use the old “try until you get it right” tactic that goes something like:

1. “Do you want Mummy to hold you?”  If no, see 2.
2. “Are you hungry?”  If no, see 3.
3. “Do you need to change your diaper?”  If no, see 4.
4. “Do you need to burp?”  If no, see 5.
5. “Are you sleepy?”

Well, you get the drift…

I never quite got to the point where I could discern certain sounds with certain meanings.  Well, looks like this little gem of information isn’t a complete waste since I’m planning to try it on baby number two to see if it works (Aileen, maybe you can try it first and tell me if it worked for you, or anyone reading this post who’s about to have a baby).

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

5 thoughts on “The Secret Language of Babies

  1. LOL How did you know I would read this post and want to try it out? I can imagine myself with a crying baby and frantically firing up my IE to check the relevant article on your blog! LOL

    Seriously, I’m going to give this a go. One of my biggest concerns is that I won’t be able to interpret quickly enough what my baby will be trying to tell me, so I’m all ears (or eyes) for all advice. I’ll let you know how it goes.


  2. Hehehe… Thanks for being the guinea pig – or rather for making “little monkey” the guinea pig.

    I think not being able to interpret quickly enough what baby’s cries mean is a fear of all new parents, so you’re in good company.

    Hope it works out…


  3. My husband and I came across this method when our son was only 10 days old. We were tearing our hair out trying to work out what he was crying for (exactly as you have mentioned, nappy – no, cuddle – no, feed- no, wind?). We started by watching a number of demos on Youtube of what the cries sound like and away we went. Most of the time my son said ‘Neh’ – hungry!! Before we had this tool I would presume that my son couldn’t possibly need a feed since he had just finished having one – boy was I wrong!! Anyway, we definitely felt more in control in the early days after finding this, it was correct about 6 out of 7 times. Just be warned that it can be confusing when there is more than one baby ‘need’ at a time and after about 9- 10 weeks old it is no longer valid as the baby no longer seems to use these signs – back to square 1!!!


  4. Hi Robobaby! Thanks for visiting and great tips! Must remember them when I try it out with baby number two!

    My son was the same – always hungry and I would be so surprised because he’d be nursing and nursing for such a long time that I kept thinking he couldn’t possibly be hungry but it was the only thing that would stop the crying so I kept him on the breast.


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