Everything you've been told about different baby cries is a lie.

‘Don’t worry,’ I was told. ‘It won’t take you long to learn the difference in your baby’s cries.’

I was holding my screaming baby in one arm, had a bottle in the other and my phone cocked between my ears.

I was talking to my girlfriend. My eight-day-old firstborn was beside himself but WOULD. NOT. TAKE. THE. DAMN. BOTTLE. I thought if I called her and got her to listen to his cry she would be able to interpret it and tell me what the problem was.

Ahhhh. No.

Instead she gently reminded me that every baby is different and gave me a checklist to run through each time he cried until I could accurately tune into him. Like Eleven from Stranger Things tuning into the wireless radio with her mind.


I figured it out eventually. I figured that if he was crying right after he had just drained a bottle, he probably had a wet nappy. If he was crying inconsolably around 6pm at night and he hadn’t had a very long nap earlier in the afternoon, he was probably overtired. If he woke up howling first thing in the morning, he was probably starving.

I never really figured out the cries. More, I learned to read our daily rhythms. I was intepreting the context around us.

I figured I was a faulty model. A lemon of a mother. You’ll put up with her, but she wasn’t quite right. I mean, a well-oiled mother would able to interpret her baby’s primitive communications on spec, am I right?

No, dear reader. I am wrong.

There is no acoustic difference in baby cries.


“While we can distinguish cries from other vocalisations, we’re pretty bad at identifying the specific motivation behind a cry without accompanying contextual information – perhaps because there don’t appear to be reliable acoustic differences between pained howls, hungry whines, and lonely wails,” writes Jordan Raine for The Conversation.

You what now?

Everything I have been told is a lie.

It wasn’t just my friend who told me I would become some sort of one person baby translator, it was my MaCH nurse, my GP, the woman who wrote the baby book I strictly lived by for the first six months of the child’s life, the whole of the Internet.

The only audible difference in a baby’s cry, as Raine goes on to explain, is when a baby is in danger or is in great distress. The baby is wired in an evolutionary way to get the urgent attention of its protectors, and we are wired in an evolutionary way to never ever ignore the distress calls of our progeny.

Listen to the latest episode of This Glorious Mess, Mamamia’s podcast for imperfect parents (like me.)

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