Babies make lots of different noises, from giggles to grunts to baby babble. Most of the time, they’re happily engrossed in their new world. However, when a need arises, they have to let you know, and crying always gets your attention. Knowing baby crying sounds means you can soothe them more quickly.

New families can find it challenging to understand what each crying sound means. You’ll be relieved to know that babies actually have their own language and, interestingly, it’s the same no matter where your baby was born. It’s a universal baby language and the good news is that you can easily learn it.

The team at Petit Early Learning Journey has plenty of practice studying what each different sound signifies. And, we’d love to share our experience with you so that you can understand the different cries of your baby and their needs. Our enquiry covers:

  • Why babies cry.
  • Our top 8 baby crying sounds.
  • Common types of cries.
  • A short review of the Dunstan Baby Language especially newborn crying.
  • How to calm a baby.

baby crying sounds

Why do babies cry?

The first few weeks after the birth of a new baby can be stressful for families as they figure out why their newborn babies are crying. Baby crying sounds express different needs or emotions. While you might be a natural at cracking the code on some types of crying, most new parents benefit from a bit of support.

Parents of babies need to look after themselves during the first few weeks. When healthy and calm, you have more energy to nurture a meaningful relationship with your little one and present a positive role model for your baby to learn from while responding to their different types of cries.

Here are some “crib” notes to help clue you into what your baby may be saying (or screaming):

baby crying sounds

The top 8 reasons why your baby is crying

1. Your baby has a dirty nappy

Babies cry a lot in their first few months. There are many types of baby cries, but your baby will let you know when they have a wet or full nappy. A wet or dirty nappy is one of the top reasons babies are uncomfortable. No one wants to wear a full nappy for longer than they have to.

Listen for: A whiny, nasal, persistent cry with a short cry sound followed by a longer one. As the sounds turn into intense crying, it is a signal that the baby has had enough. Check to see if they have a full or dirty nappy.

2. Your baby is hungry

This type of cry relates to breastfed babies and bottle-fed babies. It can have a slow introductory stage where a baby is waking and realising they’re hungry. At first, it might sound like fussy crying, but after a while, the cries become more frantic to a point where they are louder, longer and more demanding.

Listen for: A type of cry that sounds like a siren. The sound is often accompanied by putting the hand to the mouth, clenching fingers and turning their head towards the bottle or breast.

3. You have a tired baby

Babies cry to communicate with their parents. For example, they may cry because they’re hungry, uncomfortable or tired. Cindy Davenport from Safe Sleep Space, a Petit ELJ partner and sector expert, advises families to “look, listen and think about what might be going on”. Then, respond to a baby’s cues.

During the first few weeks, newborn babies rely primarily on their cry and reflexes to communicate. So you might notice them yawning, closing their eyes, making jerky movements, putting their fist to their mouth and sucking on their thumb. An older baby may rub their eyes as they develop.

Listen for: High pitched crying baby sounds that have a lot of breath behind them. They often begin as short soft whimpers that increase in intensity until the child’s needs are met. This is a cry that your natural senses will tune into and learn.

baby crying sounds

4. You have a sick baby

This cry can be tough for parents of babies and carers to hear, but it usually signifies that your little one is not feeling well. You should also consider other symptoms like whether your baby is lethargic, whether their eyes are watery, or they have a runny or blocked nose.

Take your child’s temperature if you’re worried they have a fever. Call your GP or state-based helpline if you are concerned about their health and wellbeing. If you suspect your baby has acid reflux (GER), tell your doctor.

Listen for: Constant crying that doesn’t stop even when the baby is fed, comforted or sleeping. Cries that indicate signs of illness often sound like weak, tired moans. They are usually high pitched with low intensity. There may also be long pauses between crying sessions.

5. Your baby is uncomfortable

This type of cry can happen anytime, especially with older babies who have more mobility. Put simply, your baby is not where they want to be. They might wriggle a lot in your arms, turn their head from one side to the other or reach towards where they want to go.

Listen for: A cry that is more like a combination of all the cries put together. It can be persistent until the baby gets what they want. Sometimes they might want to be put down. Other times they may want to be picked up and held or cuddled by a different person.

baby crying sounds

More familiar types of baby cries

6. You have an overstimulated baby

When there are too many lights, new sounds or experiences happening all at once, your baby can get overstimulated. Change their environment. Close the curtains, dim the lights, add some white noise like that from a fan or vacuum cleaner or listen to recorded nature sounds to help relax your baby.

Listen for: Intense rising, falling and rising baby cries. This cry is similar to those heard when a baby suffers from wind or gas pain. Your child may try to turn their head or body away from annoying lights or sounds.

7. You have a bored baby

Babies cry to express their needs. Crying may be the only way that babies can communicate what they need. However, their crying may also be caused by boredom. There are two schools of thought on boredom-induced newborn baby cries:

i) Baby’s seek attention by being fussy and restless. Crying gets someone’s attention (“I cried, and they came!”). This often leads to a person holding the baby.

ii) Bored babies need to be entertained. This can lead to an overstimulated baby who starts crying again.

We believe that when a child is encouraged to embrace their curiosity and explore their environment, they thrive.

Listen for: Oohs and ahs as the baby tries to get your attention. When they are unsuccessful, the cooing will change to a fussy baby cry and then build up an indignant cry that alternates with whimpers. It has a similar crying pattern to the overstimulated baby.

8. You have a colicky baby

The reason behind babies with colic is still unknown. Colic refers to a baby’s excessive crying and fussy behaviour. It is not caused by any particular medical condition such as acid reflux. Instead, colic is persistent crying that is difficult to soothe. It can start when a newborn baby is just a few days old.

Not being able to comfort your baby can be very stressful. Colic parents, families and carers need to look after themselves. A GP may be able to determine if your baby’s persistent crying is caused by a medical issue. Still, for most colicky babies, there is no known cause for their behaviour.

Listen for: Long periods of crying with intense wails or screams where your baby is irritable, whingey and fidgety. Most babies naturally cry for 2-3 hours a day. However, a baby with colic will cry even more, especially towards the late afternoon or evening.

baby crying sounds

Learning from the experts on baby crying sounds

In our studies, we came across Priscilla Dunstan, an Australian opera singer who created Dunstan Baby Language. She learned from newborns that the sounds a baby makes just before they cry can help us determine what they are trying to communicate.

Dunstan conducted eight years of worldwide research and discovered young babies of every race, colour and culture, make one of five sounds before they start crying. Romanian researches concluded her claims had an 89% accuracy. A different study by IOCScience study concluded it was 94.7% accurate.

Dunstan has shared her technique with audiences around the world, appearing on shows like Oprah and 60 Minutes. She has a huge fan base of grateful parents and paediatrics and believes in supporting families to create a strong bond with their children.

Through observations, Dunstan discovered several basic sounds that a baby makes just before crying depending on their age. We’ve selected five vocal reflexes to review:

  1. Neh  – hunger
  2. Eh – upper wind (burp)
  3. Eairh – lower wind (gas)
  4. Heh – discomfort (hot, cold, wet)
  5. Owh – sleepiness

Let’s look a little deeper into how you can interpret each of these different sounds. We’ll also share some of the other observations we’ve made here at Petit ELJ. These will give you some more clues to help you understand what your crying baby is trying to tell you.

baby crying sounds

Baby crying sounds in words

1. “Neh” – hunger

A newborn baby uses a sucking reflex to create the sound “neh” when they are hungry. The best way to recognise this sound is to observe your baby’s mouth. They begin practising this vocal reflex in the womb. If your baby is making sucking motions and crying, you will hear the sound “neh” at the start.

Babies make this sound when their tongue moves to a position behind their teeth, similar to where we create an “nnn” sound. As your baby opens their mouth, the tongue glides forward in a sucking motion. Combined with the air behind a cry, it makes the sound “neh”. It may sound similar to the word “net”.

Our observation: Most new babies clench their fists when they are hungry (a reflex known as the palmer grasp). Babies may also try to gnaw or suck at their hand or reach towards your chest or a bottle. By observing your baby’s response for hunger you can respond to them before they become super hungry.

2. “Eh” – upper wind (burp)

The sound reflex “eh” means your newborn needs to be burped. This sound is caused by internal reflexes pushing an air bubble from their chest.  The baby naturally responds with a short hiss, a grunt, or a squeak the sounds like “eh” in “egg”. It’s not a real burp but the sound your baby makes when trying to burp.

Our observation: A pained facial expression, squirming, kicking, shaking and other fussiness are all indications that your baby needs to burp. You want to avoid an accumulation of air bubbles. It’s a good idea even if they’re not finished drinking, to burp them now and then continue with their feed.

3. Eairh – lower wind (gas)

This sound is more noticeable when a baby is 6-12 weeks of age. If a baby has flatulence or an upset tummy, you will hear the sound reflex “eairh”. If the sound is isolated from crying then your baby may have general discomfort and severe gas pain may not develop.

“Eairh” starts with an open mouth, tongue held back and a taut belly. When the pain is intense the start of the “eairh” sound is elongated into an intense cry. Dunstan describes it as a forceful loud cry that makes parents uncomfortable. It’s caused by cramping stomach muscles.

Our observation: If you miss the early sounds and your baby begins to cry, the crying will be very loud, intense, and rhythmic. It will last until the wind has passed which may follow a similar path as a bowel movement. To ease their discomfort there are several different holds or you can give them a massage.

4. Heh – discomfort (hot, cold, wet)

Babies make the sound reflex “heh” when they experience stress and discomfort such as those signalling a nappy change. It’s a sound associated with babies over 6 weeks of age. This sound is triggered as a response to a skin reflex, such as a sweaty or itchy feeling. “Heh” has a several vocal variations.

Our observation: When a baby feels discomfort, their crying is usually mild and intermittent. The crying increases in volume if you ignore it, so be sure you soothe your baby and quickly determine the cause of their discomfort. We recommend learning what all the different types of cries mean for “heh”.

Our observation: When a baby feels discomfort, their crying is usually mild and intermittent. The crying increases in volume if you ignore it, so be sure you soothe your baby and quickly determine the cause of their discomfort. We recommend learning what all the different types of cries mean for “heh”.

5. Owh – sleepiness

Newborn babies make the sound reflex “owh” when they are feeling tired. This sound is created as the baby yawns and exhales. “Owh” can be heard before the baby cries and during newborn crying. Babies making this sound have an oval shaped mouth, flattened tongue and spacious room inside the mouth.

Our observation: If it’s time for a nap, your baby may start rubbing their eyes. Their cry may start out slow and low and gradually build in tone and intensity. If your baby is exhausted their cry can resemble the hunger cry.  Listen to the starting sound before the cry and you can tell the difference.

baby crying sounds

How do you calm a crying baby?

There are many reasons for a baby to cry, and our first priority should be to find out the cause and fix it. If you listen to your baby’s different sounds, you will soon be able to decipher them. Babies have a variety of cries that can change depending on their environment and needs.

You don’t need to comfort your baby every time they cry. However, understanding what your baby is telling you will foster a strong bond and give your little one a more profound sense of comfort. Here are several ways to comfort a crying baby:

  • Learn what the cries mean for your baby and how to soothe them.
  • Find a comfy spot to nurture them if the sound they make says, “I’m hungry!”
  • Swaddle them in a cotton or muslin wrap if they’re saying, “I’m tired,” and help them sleep.
  • Wipe their nose or use a nasal aspirator if their crying says, “I’m sick.”
  • Dress your baby for their environment. If their crying says, “I’m too hot,” or “I’m too cold,” look at how many layers you have on and dress them accordingly.
  • Change their full nappy if their crying says, “Hey, my nappy needs changing, again.”
  • Give your baby a gentle warm bath.
  • Offer a pacifier at about 3-4 weeks or longer if breastfeeding.
  • Hold and pat them in your arms, skin against skin. Young babies often like to listen to your heartbeat as it’s a familiar sound.
  • Sing a soothing lullaby, put on some white noise or nature sounds.

It must be stressed that while these baby crying sounds are noticeable in many babies, every child is unique. For example, premature babies may have different sounds. In addition, some babies are born with medical conditions such as a tongue-tie which can alter the sounds a baby makes.

Our advice is to observe your baby closely, record the clues they give and note how they respond to the different ways you comfort them.

As Priscilla Dunstan says, “Stop. Open your ears. Listen. Your baby will love you for it.”

baby crying sounds

Nurture your baby with Petit Early Learning Journey

At Petit ELJ, we provide a safe, warm environment to allow your baby to grow and explore while feeling secure and loved. We form strong partnerships with families. Our Educators observe and reflect in individual journey portfolios as your baby learns and develops.

Our beliefs value the role families have as a child’s first educator. We invite you to learn more about how we can support you and make you and your baby’s life easier and happier. Discover how we can work together to help your baby blossom.