Baby’s Fussy, What To Do?


Interpretation needed!

Interpretation needed!

When my sons were very small, I remember one of the biggest challenges of those first few weeks was figuring out what that fussy little guy needed: feeding, diaper change, cuddles, nap, ???  I would work my way down a mental checklist I called “triage”, like emergency workers on the scene of a disaster figuring out who needed CPR. And there were times when, if I didn’t diagnose the issue pretty soon, the dear child’s condition would indeed deteriorate into a disastrous red-faced screaming cry.

This didn’t happen very often, of course, because my sons were little angels … but every mom knows that those crying fits are not just hard on the baby – the mom’s heart gets torn up too. And the whole family can end up exhausted and cranky.

Recently, when I discovered that an Australian mother, Priscilla Dunstan, had figured out how to interpret 5 basic baby “words” so that moms and dads could quickly figure out what their baby’s needs are, I was intrigued. Could it really be that babies have been telling their parents what they want, and we haven’t been able to understand them? How many episodes of The Big Cry could have been prevented, if only we had heard what the poor child was saying?

Dunstan Baby Language

Priscilla Dunstan was born with a gift for photographic memory of sounds. When she became a mom, she was able to remember and interpret her son’s sounds that were consistently signaling what he needed. Then she began to hear the same sounds – she calls them “baby words” – from other babies around her. Then, WOW, she discovered that babies from all over the world, in all cultures, speak the same words!

Priscilla Dunstan

Priscilla Dunstan

This concept makes so much sense to me, that the human brain is wired for communication from the start. And the way that Priscilla explains how reflexes lead to forming the 5 “words” makes sense too: for example, the sound for “I’m hungry” is “neh”, a sound formed when a baby tries to nurse but there isn’t any milk source nearby.

You can hear the whole “baby language” story, complete with all 5 of the baby words, in this 17-minute video clip from Priscilla’s appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show a few years ago.  And here’s a longer video (45 minutes) from the Australian version of 60 Minutes, with even more examples and stories.

A few tips about the Dunstan Baby Language concept:

  • applies to babies from birth through about 3 months of age
  • prevents distress by interpreting the “pre-cry”
  • reassures and encourages new parents by giving them insight into their baby’s needs
  • not just for moms: can help dads, grandparents, older siblings and other caregivers understand the baby too

There are lots of videos and articles about DBL available online, plus Facebook and Twitter, that you can find easily to learn more.  You can also get DVDs or an iPhone app from Priscilla’s company at

Peace, Love and Sleep

Dunstan-trained “baby listeners” report feeling more in control, relaxed and confident in their parenting.  They say that when you understand your baby, it’s amazing how much more peaceful your home can be, and how much more connected to your little one you can feel.  And everyone in the family gets more sleep!

I’m all for parents of newborns getting more rest, and bonding with their happy little ones. If you try out the Dunstan Baby Language method, I’d love to hear about it!