Decoding Your Baby’s Body Language

Your baby seems to cry, a lot. She also spends a lot of her time moving, grunting, and cooing. Maybe she is trying to communicate what is going on in her tiny little body, but you don’t understand. Is there a way to decode what your baby’s body language is saying? Does this baby come with a user manual? Help!

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Episode Transcript

Decoding Your Baby’s Body Language.


Please be advised, this transcription was performed from a company independent of New Mommy Media, LLC. As such, translation was required which may alter the accuracy of the transcription.

[Theme Music]

KRISTEN STRATTON: Your baby seems to cry, a lot. She also spends a lot of her time moving, grunting, and cooing. Maybe she is trying to communicate what is going on in her tiny little body, but you don’t understand what. Is there a way to decode your baby’s body language? Does this baby come with a user manual? Help! This is Newbies.

[Intro/Theme Music]

KRISTEN STRATTON: Welcome to Newbies! Newbies is your online on the go support group getting new mothers through their babies first year. I am your host Kristen Stratton, certified birth doula, postpartum doula and owner of doula services. If you haven’t already, be sure to visit our website at and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. You can also subscribe to our show through iTunes, so that you can automatically get new episodes when they are released. Here is Sunny with details on how you can get involved with Newbies.

SUNNY GAULT: Alright, hi everybody! So I want to promote a segment that I really want more listeners to get involved with. I think it is such a fun segment! And I don’t know if you guys are a little shy to do this, but I am going to plug it anyway. And that is…Our segment is called “5minute birth story”. So we as moms, we love to share our birth story. Let’s just face it-we will tell anyone that will listen, right?

So this is your platform to tell us your birth story. And I am going to be pretty specific about this. Usually I am like you can e-mail us, you can do it, you can reach out through Facebook. I am going to be more specific and say go to our website, click on the banner on the side of each page that says: “submit voicemail” because I want you to tell your story. It just doesn’t mean as much if Kristen reads it, or I read it. So we really want to hear what you have to say. But here is the trick. It is called “5minute birth story” because you have to tell your birth story in five minutes or less.

So I think it is good. It doesn’t have to be this, you know, perfect story of how everything turned out the way you had it on your birth plan. Like that’s not what we are trying to do here. We are trying to give people, other moms and dads, perspective on what happens, and just to share the experience overall. So if you are interested, you know what to do now: go to our website, click on that banner, you can use the microphone on your computer and send it over that way, and we’ll use it in a future show.

[Theme Music]

SUNNY GAULT: Ok, so before we dive into our conversation today, we are going to talk about a news headline. A State, Indiana actually, has installed what they are calling “safe haven baby boxes” for abandoned newborns. You may have heard about the safe heaven laws out there, that allow to, if you don’t you baby, after you have your baby, you can take them to safe havens, like you’ve heard of fire stations being one. And this is a way to actually, you know, make the environment, that you put your baby in, more safe, so you, you know, you are not trying to time it out for when, you know, see someone walking or something like that, you know. It is a safe haven. It is a great definition for it.

So there are these boxes that have been installed. And one was installed at an Indiana fire station. They are calling this the first baby box that was installed. And again, the idea is to just keep babies safe, to allow parents, that don’t want their babies, an easy way to keep the baby safe and then, you know, let the baby go to another family that really wants a baby. Anyways! Just kind of wanted to… I’ve never heard of these boxes before, this is the first time that I am hearing about any of this. So I want to check in with Kristen, and then also with Nina, our expert today, just to see what you guys think about this. You are in the profession and deal with babies all the time. What were your first thoughts on this? So Kristen, let’s start with you?

KRISTEN STRATTON: Well, the first time that I’ve ever heard of this, there was an article that came out, and I think the box originated in China. And I thought: oh wow, you know, that’s a lot better that some of the other stories that I hear on the news about other places that people had left their newborns that perhaps they didn’t want.


KRISTEN STRATTON: So, I mean, it is unfortunate that we have women that feel like they have no other chose, other than to do that, but, I mean, I much rather read in the news that, you know, a baby was safely rescued from one of these boxes and it is going to be placed in a good home versus, you know, that they found a baby that dies, because it was in a trash can. So I wish we could give women better support so they didn’t feel like they had to use these at all, but I would prefer that we give them a safe option. Because I think that is an act of love when these moms feel like they are discrete and they have nothing else to do. And it is better that some of the alternatives, so…

SUNNY GAULT: Well, let’s talk about the box here just for a second, because there are maybe a lot of questions about what kind of box we are putting these babies in?

KRISTEN STRATTON: Yes, it is not a cardboard box.

SUNNY GAULT: It is not a cardboard box, and that is what I head in my head when, Kristen, you first told me about this. So this image for this article, and we will post in on our Facebook page so you can check it out, but it looks like it is actually build into the side of a building. And this is such a horrible comparison, but you guys, it reminded me of like if you go to the post office, something that’s kind of automatically…you pull down, put something in it and then shut.

But it is actually part of a building. That is what kind of reminds me of. And in the inside though it is much different, ok? It has some motion sensors, there is one that’s triggered when you open it, and it calls 911 after detecting any kind of motion of it opening it. And then once it detects movement inside, after box has been shut, then there is another sensor that goes off, and again alerts the right people. And the goal is to alert fire, medical, people like that.

They can initially help with this. And then take the child to a local hospital for evaluation. And then have, you know, different services to take over after that. So Nina, tell me what you think about this, and you are working with babies all the time?

NINA SPEARS: Yeah, I completely agree with what Kristen said. It is unfortunate that, you know, women sometimes feel that they are not in a position to be able to keep their baby. And you know, like it says in the article about the safe heaven rights, some women don’t even feel comfortable enough to be able to say: you know what, I’d like to invoke my safe heaven rights and I do not want to have this baby. So this is just an opportunity for those women to do it anonymously, and to do it safely. And you know, their child gets into the right hands. And everything is as desecrate as possible. So I really love this, that this is available to the women in Indiana. So yeah, we will what kind of happens from here and if there are any women that take advantage of this opportunity.

SUNNY GAULT: You know, the mom, that actually created this non-profit, that’s doing these boxes, it says is a volunteer firefighter, and she was actually abandoned as a baby. So this really, you know, it is based on someone who’s been there, done that. And I actually think that gives a lot of credit to the product overall, because she knows what’s, you know, what that’s like. She may even have a story about how difficult it was for people to find her, you know. So she realizes there’s a problem out there, and she is trying to fix it, and help these babies as much as possible. So again, we’ll post a link on our social media. Check it out and let us know what you think.

[Theme Music]

KRISTEN STRATTON: Today we are learning all about your baby’s body language and what she is really saying. Our expert today is co-founder and CEO of Baby Chick, Nina Spears. Thank you for joining us today, Nina, and welcome to the show!

NINA SPEARS: Thank you, Kristen! I am excited to be here!

KRISTEN STRATTON: Nina, we have a lot of parents that think baby’s only communicating when he cries. Are there other non-verbal ways babies communicate their needs?

NINA SPEARS: Absolutely! As a postpartum doula, I am constantly telling families that they need to start looking for queues that their baby is giving them. So paying attention to their body language and facial expressions is a big part to, you know, meeting you baby’s needs before they start going to their crying. So after a while moms start learning the difference, you know, queues what that baby is giving and noticing that oh, they do these things when they are tired, or hungry, or hurting etc.

So learning those queues before resulting into crying, is usually the best way to go, Because you know, your baby is telling you what they need. And by you meeting those needs before they go to a cry, means that you are really listening to them. So yeah, definitely! So really start paying attention to that body language and facial expressions. They will let you know what they’re needing beforehand.

KRISTEN STRATTON: Can explain Dunstan Baby Language and how that method helps us to understand baby’s different cries?

NINA SPEARS: Yes! So a lot of people have heard this in the past, but many people don’t know about the Dunstan Baby Language. There’s a claim about an infantile vocal reflexes, as signals, in humans. So this claim is that it’s across all cultures and linguistic groups, and there are five sounds, and each of those sounds have a different meaning, that are used by infants before the language acquisition period.

So the hypothesis was developed by a former opera soprano singer from Australia. Her name is Priscilla Dunstan and her method has been featured on so many different sites and shows. It was even featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Because you know, all parents want to know what their baby is trying to communicate to them. And she was really showing that there are some different signals and sounds that you can hear before a baby starts going to their aggressive cry.

KRISTEN STRATTON: So then that would mean that there is a difference in the sound and the pitch, meaning that that would be significant in understanding?

NINA SPEARS: Yes, absolutely! So according to, you know, that Dunstan method, she claims that between 0 and 3 months of age, infants make what we call sound reflexes. And she believes that we all have reflexes like sneezing, hiccupping, burping those kinds of things. And that they all have recognizable pattern when sound is added to that reflex.

So there are several reflexes that all babies experience. And when sound is added to these, a distinct preemptive cry will occur before the baby, you know, breaks out into what we refer to like that hysterical crying. So Dunstan states that, you know, these preemptive cries can indicate what they baby requires like food, comfort, sleep, etc., and that these cries then escalate to that hysterical cry if they are not answered.

So as the infant matures past three months in vocalization, the sound reflexes become replaced with more like elaborate babbling. But I would like to state though that, you know, these claims, like The Dunstan Baby Language, has not been scientifically validated, but personally I’ve worked with a lot of families, hundreds of families, as a postpartum doula, and they have said that, you know using that method along with like Happiest Baby On The Block, and other methods, have really helped them understand and bond more with their baby.

KRISTEN STRATTON: So now that we know that there are might be significant differences they are a way to decode what these different cries mean?

NINA SPEARS: Yes! So kind of like what I was stating before. These different cries, they have like different pitches and different reflexes. So, at least with the Dunstan method, she says that they are certain sounds that the baby makes before the cry is made. So some of those sounds being like “heh" and “nah”, and… It is kind of hard to describe, but there are some different ways to kind of decode those cries. And listening to those, as well as paying attention to your baby’s body language, you will really learn your baby is trying to communicate with you before it kind of go to that hysterical cry.

KRISTEN STRATTON: Sunny, do you remember trying to figure out what your baby was trying to communicate to you when, you know, you first brought you baby home?

SUNNY GAULT: I did a little bit of it I would say. In fact, I actually had the Dunstan Baby Language, what you guys were talking about in the beginning, with my first. I think when you have your first baby, you have a lot more questions and probably even a lot more time to try to dissect what your baby is going through. I think a lot of that becomes a little bit more innate the more kids you have.
So I really have to kind of compare this to what I did with my first child. And we had actually done an episode, not for this show, but another show I was working on, about the Dunstan Baby Language. And I remember kind of going through and going: oh, you know, is that the cry my child is making, or is it this? And I actually recorded some of what my son was doing to play it for our expert, because I was trying to figure it out. I have to be honest, maybe I… Maybe there’s just something wrong with my hearing, I don’t know.

But I have a very hard time distinguishing between the different cries. Like something that I thought sounded exactly the same, the expert looked at it and was like: oh, yeah, did you hear how your baby did this? And I am like: it sounds the same to me, I didn’t…So it is kind of a struggle for me and I think that kind of made think that maybe I wasn’t in tune with trying to figure these stuff out. I am fascinated by it. And I think the more kids I had, the more just…like I said, it was more innate and I kind of figured it out, or they were rubbing their eyes that same time they were giving me a cry, and I’m like: ok, yeah, she is obviously tired, right?

So I think I started to pick up on some other queues. But I definitely think it would have been helpful, you know, from the very beginning to understand this much better.

KRISTEN STRATTON: Yeah, I remember…I think I did watch it on Oprah, now that you mentioned it. And I remember my mom made me this list on like a little three by five cards. And it was like hungry, wet, tired, you know, over stimulating, you know, needs to eat or…You know, it was all these things to go through the list in case the baby was crying and I, you know, was like: “I did this! What else do you need?”

So I actually do remember kind of trying to figure that out. But at the same time, sometimes I was over thinking it, you know. It is such a journey! Especially with that first baby! That first baby is such the experimental kid! Sorry! Sorry, daughter! And you know, what’s funny is even if you know all this stuff, the sleep deprivation…it makes that thinking part of your brain so difficult to access. This is why postpartum doulas are godsend, because…Or just even someone who can look at you and say: ok, no, it is ok, let’s try this! Because I knew so much about babies, or at least I thought I did, and then I had mine, and I was like: I’ve never been this tired!

SUNNY GAULT: The struggle is real, Kristen! The struggle is real!

NINA SPEARS: Oh, you know that you are the perfect parents until you have kids?

KRISTEN STRATTON: Exactly! I mean, it is good to have this information. So I hope that the moms listening to this are like: oh, ok, these are…oh, I can actually check for things, I am not just going crazy. So it is help. Don’t fright new moms, don’t fright. Alright, well when we come back, we will continue our discussion on decoding your baby’s cries. We will be right back.

[Theme Music]

KRISTEN STRATTON: Welcome back to the show! We are continuing our discussion with Nina Spears. So Nina, what would a hungry cry look and sound like?

NINA SPEARS: Yes! When a baby is trying to communicate that, you know, that they are hungry, it normally first sounds and starts with, you know, baby routing around as if they are looking for the breast or the bottle. They are wiggly. They are putting their hands in their mouths. And they start to begin to get frantic. You can usually tell that their lips are also like moving up and down as if they are trying to suckle on something.

But a hungry cry normally sounds high-pitched and it sounds furriery desperate, and quite unrelenting. And it is obvious if the child, you know, hasn’t been fed and it’s been like maybe hour and a half to three hours ago since the last feeding. You can kind of tell: ok, it has been a little bit, baby’s cry is not stopping, my little one’s probably hungry.

KRISTEN STRATTON: And I know some of those hunger queues can be really settled too?

NINA SPEARS: So, I work as a postpartum doula and so a big part, when I have done overnight work, is really paying attention to those settled queues. As moms, your mama-bear instincts kind of kick in and you hear the tiniest whimper, or even when they move…You may have been like the heaviest sleeper beforehand, but afterwards you notice everything that your baby is doing. And you’ll notice that when your baby is kind of wiggling around and kind of knolling on its hand, that’s the time when you should be, you know, getting up, getting comfortable and getting ready to put baby on the breast or get that bottle ready. So you can kind of say: hey, baby, I am paying attention to your body language and what you are trying to communicate with me before you get into a tizzy..



KRISTEN STRATTON: So what about when they are tired. What does a tired baby look and sound like?

NINA SPEARS: Yes! Usually starts off as like a breathy, helpless cry like: “eh, eh, eh”. I am not a very good example of what it sounds like. But it will start and then stop, and it’s usually more easily suited than others because they are tired. And that is if they are not too tired. If they are full-blown exhausted, you know, those tears are going to be coming out.

But this is also… You need to start looking for some other queues. Kind of like what Sunny was saying before. If they are rubbing their eyes, if they have glassy eyes or redness or puffiness underneath their eyes, if their eyelids are getting heavier. Those are just some queues that should also be looking for when they are getting that kind of breathy, helpless, you know…it is kind of pathetic cry. Poor things!

KRISTEN STRATTON: That is actually that all my kids… I thought was my tell-tell sign that they would get that little like reddish-purple underneath their eyes and I am like: ok, that’s it, I don’t care how much you protest, you are sleeping now! So it is interesting. You do learn those things over time. You don’t immediately notice, because every child is unique, but those are really important to know that those are all the possibilities. Ok, so what about when they are in pain? It is so sad! What does a pain cry sound like? And is it different that a gassy, I’m uncomfortable cry?

NINA SPEARS: Yes! When a child is in pain, that cry is piercing. It is…You know immediately…Any mom know: ok, that is not a normal cry, my child is hurting. They normally will arch their back and trash themselves around, if they are a newborn and in pain. But if they are gassy, they normally are bringing their knees closer to their chest, they are scrunching their face, they are grunting with their cry, if it is a gassy cry. So there is definitely a difference. Their face will also become red, whenever they are gassy.

Maybe they are like trying to push and relief some of that, you know, tummy pain. And so again, with a pain cry it is pretty piercing, where as the other one it is grunty and it is hard to describe when I am not making kind of pathetic sounds over the speaker.

KRISTEN STRATTON: Yeah, I know, they are definitely grunty, yeah. And you can see them. It looks like they are always trying to have a ball movement, but you know, it is kind of stuck. And it is just a sad thing. Just like: how can I help you?

NINA SPEARS: I know. So that is why I say when it is like a pain cry, they normally are stiffening up and arching their back, and it is a piercing noise. Where as a gassy is more like of scrunching together, getting you know, curling up into a ball, trying to relief that tummy ache. So those are also some nonverbal queues that, you know, parents can look for.

KRISTEN STRATTON: And what would be the difference between a cry or body language between a baby who’s bored, or when they are overstimulating?

NINA SPEARS:Yes! A bored cry will immediately be suited because, you know, normally if they are bored, it is no one is holding them, or playing with them, so they’ll immediately be suited as soon as you go to your baby and pick up your child. They are, you know, easily pacified. But if a baby is overstimulated, they normally try to wave from the person or object that overstimulating them.
So if you are trying to say like: hi, baby and looking right in their face, and they keep turning away that is kind of sign that it is like: wow, mamma, backup, this is too much, I am taking everything and it is too much for me! So they will keep turning their face away. They also arched their back for that.

But if it does become a cry, it is not as loud as the other cries, but an overstimulated cry can escalate to shrieking, which is definitely not fun. But again, overstimulation really looks for if a baby is turning away from the object and kind of almost gives you the sign of like: stop, this is too much for me to handle! So if they are throwing their hands kind of up and turning away, that’s definitely over stimulating and they need kind of get back to the basics.

KRISTEN STRATTON: Yeah, that was usually my find to: ok, let’s turn off the lights, let’s turn off any sound source, let’s just, you know, hold you tied, maybe nurse you.


KRISTEN STRATTON: But you chill out. Because I know I, as an adult, get over stimulated too.

NINA SPEARS: And parents, I think they don’t realize that, you know, everything in this World is brand-new to them. So babies are fascinated by just looking at your face. But then adding sent and you know, the different facial expressions, and the reflection of your voice, and all of that can sometimes be overstimulating. Especially if it is a new person that they’ve never met. On top of, you know, maybe there’s a toy that the person is holding up with them, and that makes a noise, and that’s bright colors. Their eyes and ears, and everything is adjusting. So it can be a lot for them to digest.

KRISTEN STRATTON: And Nina, what about babies, who have colics and seem to cry no matter what you do?

NINA SPEARS: Oh yeah! Those babies with colics… It can be really, really tough. And you know, 20% of babies do suffer from colics. So I try to tell families: you are not the only one going through this. And if people are not sure what colic is, it is when your baby is crying for three or more hours a day, several days and night out of the week. It is during the first three months of life. So I also try to tell parents that this is temporary, this will get better and this isn’t yours forever, I promise.

But whenever I’ve been working with families that have a colicky baby, I normally use a lot of The Happiest Baby On The Block tips. And those are like the five S’s, so: swallow, swinging, shushing, sucking and sideline or stomach. So using those things to really kind of help and suite your baby is definitely helpful, and maybe even gives in. If you can’t shush the whole time using some light noise, you know. It does get better over time.

KRISTEN STRATTON: I survive three colicky babies, so…

NINA SPEARS: Oh, my Gosh, Kristen!

KRISTEN STRATTON: I know I hit the jackpot! And then with my oldest, my husband was deployed. He left when she was like four weeks old. And so I was like: oh, yey, I get to do this by myself! And then my least colicky baby was my middle son, by he was still really colic for about probably month and half/two months and then I actually figured out some triggers in my breastmilk and we were able to put that away.

But then my youngest…Holly cow! That kid screamed for months. I mean, even beyond the normal three months, he screamed for hours. And I remember actually that we were in a military house at the time, so we shared a wall. And I remember one of my neighbors texting me in the middle of the night, she is like: do you need help? Because my husband again was gone. And I was like: I don’t know what to do! So actually you know what, I figured out it worked with just going outside.

NINA SPEARS: Yes, outside! I don’t know what it is, but just taking your baby outside, I think the fresh air…There’s something about it that babies immediately calm down.

KRISTEN STRATTON: That works! So hang in there, moms, it does get better! Thank you so much, Nina, for being on our show today! And for Newbies club members this conversation will continue after the end of the show as Nina will share with us about her business Baby Chick.

[Theme Music]

SUNNY GAULT: Ok, so before we wrap up our show today, we have a segment, that we talk about a lot on Newbies. It is called “Baby Oops”! And we love this segment, because it just makes us all feel a little bit more normal in the whole process of raising children. And it is where you tell us your favorite memorable moments in raising you baby and all the ops that you went through. And so this comes from Rebecca. And Rebecca sent this to us via e-mail. She says:

I feel almost dum for admitting this, but with my second son we were up in the hospital all night with him crying, trying to figure out why he wouldn’t stop crying. I would try to nurse him and he wasn’t interested. And we would talk to him soothingly, and do all that kind of stuff. And then my husband stood up to walk with him and he let out a little burp. And both my husband and I went: thu, we forgot to burp him! So for some reason in between our first and second babies, we are forgotten that they needed to burp. Isn’t that horrible? The poor baby had a belly ache. And the thing I found humorous about this is my friend did the same thing in between her first and second babies. Ha-ha! At least I am not the only one!

So talking about signs and stuff like that, and looking for your baby, we had that like mental checklist, right? We run through all of this stuff. And sometimes, sometimes it’s the simplest stuff, right? Oh yeah, baby need burp! Even experienced moms go through this too, right? So Rebecca thanks so much for sending this! And if you are listening, and you have a “Baby Oops”, we would love to hear it. You can go to our website at , you can click on the contact link, send it to us that way. You can go to our Facebook page. And you can also share your story yourself, I mentioned this at the beginning of the show, through the voicemail on So anyway is great and we love to share your story on a future show!

KRISTEN STRATTON: That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Newbies.
Don’t forget to check out our sister shows:
• Preggie Pals for expecting parents
• The Boob Group for moms who breastfeed their babies
• Parent Savers for moms and dads with toddlers and
• Twin Talks for parents with multiples.

Thank for listening to Newbies. Your go to source for new moms and new babies.

This has been a New Mommy Media production. The information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts. While such information and materials are believed to be accurate, it is not intended to replace or substitute for professional, medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problem or disease or prescribing any medications. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified healthcare provider.

SUNNY GAULT: How would you like to have your own show on the New Mommy Media network? We are expanding our line-up and looking for great content. If you are a business or an organization interested in learning more about our co-branded podcasts, visit our website at

[End of Audio]

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