If babies could talk they could tell their parents what they need and things would be so much easier, right? Well, maybe, but since a baby comes into this world with relatively few neural pathways and practically no activity in the language center of their brain, chances are that your baby has pretty much no idea what she needs either. For the first few months the pain that your baby feels from gas, hunger or even getting a finger pinched is very similar. They don't have an understanding of the different parts of their body yet, so when they cry at first they will usually just cry louder and higher pitched with more intense pain. There are a few sounds that your baby makes that come from naturally reacting to certain kinds of discomfort though, and becoming familiar with these will help you decipher the general meaning behind basic forms of baby talk.
1. High pitched grunts.
Quite often, just before your little squidling starts crying in earnest he will make a series of grunts that get higher in pitch each time. These will often be accompanied by kicks, turning his head back and forth and arching his back. Sometimes these actions can indicate that your baby has reflux and if they happen after every feed and result in large amounts of spit-up, you might want to have your pediatrician check for it. However, most babies will do this five or more times a day, sometimes even in their sleep, and it is merely an indication of gas. A burp, to be specific. For your baby, a burp bubble that hasn't come up yet can feel like a tightness it their chest and arching their back provides a little relief. Also, if the bubble is moving up their throat it can bring some spit-up with it when your baby turns his head back and forth it can dislodge this bubble from behind the spit up and help the burp come up. As the burp bubble moves up the esophagus pressure on his vocal chords will tighten them, making the grunts of discomfort sound higher and higher in pitch. So generally if your baby is grunting in a high pitch, try burping him.
2. Low pitched grunts.
These grunts can also be an indication of gas, just gas that is headed out of the other end. When your little princess is feeling a bowel movement coming on she will probably lean forward, stretch her legs out straight and grunt like a walrus. It is certainly not the most delicate sound you will hear her make. Quite often, parents who have their baby swaddled will misinterpret this movement and sound to mean that their baby is trying to get out of the swaddle. This is usually not the case, however if your baby shows signs of frustration (fast kicking with bouts of rhythmic crying), you could try another type of swaddle so she can wiggle a bit more. Wiggling, especially from side to side, really can help to get a bowel movement going.
3. Coos and gurgles.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong when your baby is cooing and gurgling. These sweet little sounds are where some of the payoff for the sleepless nights and stinky diapers comes from. However, these beautiful sounds are not just cute. They are helping your little linguist figure out how his vocal chords work. The best thing you can do with your baby when you hear him chirping and blowing raspberries is to talk to him, imitate him and generally give him face time with positive feedback. Face time is hugely important all throughout your baby's first year so let yourself enjoy it as much as possible.
4. Rhythmic crying.
Rhythmic crying can best be described as "Waa waa waa waa waa waa waa!" and it is the most frustrating sound in the world for a parent to hear. When a baby cries like this parents try everything they can think of to sooth their baby, and yet the baby usually does not respond to most of it. Rhythmic crying is often caused by one of these two issues: pain and frustration. Or it could be the result of a combination of them. Most often, your baby will begin to feel a pain, like gas, hunger, diaper rash, headache or even something more serious like a bug bite or a twisted arm or leg. Then, when the remedy you offer does not relieve the pain, your baby gets frustrated and even angry. Don't worry, this anger is not directed at you, your baby does not have a concept of blame yet. Don't beat yourself up, just very methodically try to rule out any of the more serious issues that could be making your baby cry, and when you think you know what is wrong try to distract you baby from her frustration long enough for her to accept the remedy that you are offering. Good distractions for babies are: noise from a vacuum or hair-dryer, bouncing with you on a bed or exercise ball and a change of scenery, like going outside for a brisk walk around the yard. It is important that you distract your baby before you offer the remedy to their pain because while your little drama queen is in the middle of her frustration she will be too upset to cooperate.
5. High pitched, long screams.
These are rare, and they will chill your blood if you hear them. I've never met a parent yet that didn't know what this kind of cry meant. However it can scare you so bad, that you cannot think of what you should do. This type of cry means your baby is in severe pain. When you hear this kind of cry, the first thing you should do is look at your baby and his surroundings to assess what the source of the pain might be. If you don't see anything immediately that could be the cause of the pain, unwrap and undress your baby. Look for any bite marks or unusual movement . Check the diaper too. If you cannot find any surface reason that your baby is in pain, try to sooth him. If he is somewhat soothed by you but is still crying intermittently, try burping him or giving him a warm baby massage. If you did find a source for the pain when you looked at his body, depending on how serious it looks you might want to call your pediatrician for further direction. Often this kind of crying is the result of muscle cramps. Imagine the growing pains that you had when you were in your early teens, only magnified, and with no rational explanation for what is happening to you. This is why I recommend trying a warm baby massage. Gas can also lodge suddenly and painfully in your baby's abdomen, both baby massage and burping are sometimes effective at helping to relieve this kind of pain. Another thing that many parents are surprised to discover is that their baby, through wiggling and kicking on a fuzzy blanket on a carpeted floor, can get quite a shock from static electricity. To prevent this from happening, try using a humidifier. Static electricity does not build up nearly as badly in a moist atmosphere as in a dry one.
As your baby grows she will learn to tell the difference between the things she needs, and you will start to notice a difference between her various types of cries. The level of non-verbal communication between parents and their babies is really quite amazing to observe from the outside. If you have found these tips helpful, ,please forward them to any new or expecting parents you know. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome. Happy parenting!