Do you remember this awesome comedy with John Travolta and Kirstie Alley? I remember I was laughing a lot even if I had no idea about babies and how they communicate. And frankly, it was funny because I did not believe they were able to do it. Actually even until recently I was not very clear whether infants could communicate specifically what they meant. All tones and crying sounded the same and waited to be decoded with the help of a why-are-you-crying check list.
Yet, it seems there are very recognizable differences between how even smallest babies communicate about being hungry, wanting to burp, feeling tired, having pain in lower belly and feeling uncomfortable. Wow, if we could recognize this, how easier our life would be as parents? So with great interest I watched and learnt Baby Language from Priscilla Dunstan, an Australian former mezzo-soprano, who thanks to her phonographic memory for sounds and willingness to understand her own son, picked up certain patterns in his cry. Priscilla took it further and did an extensive research with more than 1000 babies to find out that all babies in the world, regardless of race or nationality communicate 5 needs in exactly the same way in the first few months. Amazing, isn’t it? What I then decided to do was to give it a try and see if I can better understand Tosia’s needs. Here is what I found out to date…
When I say “neh”, gimme some milk!
The first and most important word all infants say is “neh” and that indicates our baby is hungry. I have to say it is difficult to recognize differences between “neh”, “eh” or “heh” that will be explained later; initially all merge into one. What Priscilla advises is to pay attention to an “n” sound in this word. Another important element is to listen to a pre-cry phase of the whole crying. After first words, and if the baby does not get what they want, crying becomes hysterical and we are then left only with guessing, what is going on.
As to Tosia, she makes this sound clearly very rarely and often only once, but each time we noticed this, it was always well spotted. She was hungry! Moreover, we noticed that even if we do not hear the exact “n” sound, she moves her tongue towards the roof of her mouth, as we are doing when we try to pronounce “n”. I know, it really requires attention and close observation.
Owh! I am tired!
“Owh” is for me by far the easiest sound to recognize. It is often accompanied by yawning. The sound is also longer and you can often tell it is made, by noticing a characteristic oval shape of the mouth.
I think I am pretty good at recognizing this sound. It tells you: “I am tired, do something and help me fall asleep”. It is ironic that I had to stop writing this post because I heard Tosia owh-ing just a few minutes after I had put her to bed being convinced, I am done for today! (it was 10.30pm). I was wrong… One thing is sound recognition, the other is helping her go to sleep again. The former I master, the latter… not so much. Now it is exactly midnight and Natalia had to intervene with her irresistible breast appeal. Nothing can beat the nipple, even if it is only about calming the baby down, when she becomes hysterical. And when we are really too exhausted to nurse her for another hour… I just thought that perhaps I am quite able to recognize this sound because this is what I would love to do myself? I mean yawning and owh-ing? You know, I am sometimes veeery tired. Strange, isn’t? it 😉
Eh, you! Help me burp!
The next typical sound is “eh”. It sounds really simple and easy but it may be mixed up with “neh” and “heh” as I mentioned. The sound is usually very short. Just imagine that you have pain in the chest and want to get the air out. By the way, all these sounds are just sound reflexes of muscle contraction that infants’ bodies perform, when they need something. This is a secret behind why babies produce same sounds around the world.
Tosia is definitely a heavy user of this word. That is why she may use others less often. She has colic and often needs help with burping. One thing that I learnt about Tosia, which makes this sound particularly important, is that she needs to burp on different occasions. It is not enough to have her burp after eating, she may need it later as well. Just as we, adults do, but we even do not think about it.
Let me release the eairh!
I call “eairh” the toilet sound. If you have lower wind pain, as we may euphemistically call it, you make this sound. And so do your baby. What helps me noticing this sound, is what is happening with Tosia’s tiny body. If I see that she is impulsively contracting and stretching her legs, arms and belly, because she wants to push the winds out, and she is making noises that may sound like “eairh”, I know this is it.
Heh heh, you think it’s funny? Not for me!
“Heh”, with a characteristic breathy “h”, is used by our smart little ones, when they are uncomfortable and it is not about eating, burping, sleeping or farting. It is a pretty generic category, but there are some typical things that may cause this discomfort. The baby can be hot or cold, which is easy to check. She or he may need to change or simply she would like to change the position.
It sounds like a lot to recognize but think about it for a moment. It is just 5 new sounds and around 10 needs. Come on, how does it compare with learning a new language or understanding 1001 needs of your partner for example? Baby language is a piece of cake, isn’t it:-)?
And you know what, the beautiful thing is that infant would like to communicate with us not only when they have a problem, which honestly would be depressing. Luckily, children love playing! And they can also do it with you from early weeks. For example, Tosia plays with us am “I also can stick my tongue out” game, which she is already very good at. Here is how it looks like, when she is playing it with Natalia.
I love it. And I also know the better I recognize what the basic needs are and fulfill them, the more time we will have to play! That sounded like a life motto for all of us 🙂 But I like it.
Wish you lots of time playing then!
Let’s see what happens next.