It's 3:07 a.m. Your baby has been crying on and off for 2 hours,
27 minutes and 17 seconds. But who's counting?
You've fed, changed and burped your little one. You rocked him
until the room is spinning. But your baby needs something and
figuring out what could earn you your first full-night sleep in a
"When babies are new - we're talking zero to 12 weeks - the
cries that you hear are expressing a need," said Oak Park message
therapist Mary Cay Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh teaches Dunston Baby
Language, a system that provides a solution for new parents who
leave hospitals wondering why they didn't get an instruction manual
with their bundle of joy.
The language system delineates five distinctive sounds and
assigns each a phonetic word and meaning: "neh" for hunger, "owh"
for tired, "eh" for burp me, "heh" for discomfort and "eairh" for
"Parents have known forever that babies are trying to tell them
something," Cavanaugh said. "But they don't know what it is."
During classes parents learn about baby language creator
Priscilla Dunston. Dunston is an opera singer and now an
entrepreneur who, from age 5, learned she had a "photographic
memory" in terms of sound. This ability allowed her to play
complicated pieces of music, note for note, after only hearing them
When she became a mother, Dunston realized that the sounds her
baby made followed patterns and were not unique. Everywhere she
went, Dunston heard babies utter sounds before they actually
started to wail. These "pre-cry" sounds turned out to be extensions
of an infant's natural reflexes.
In Cavanaugh's classes, parents not only learn these sounds, but
also techniques to meet the associated needs and resolve issues
common to infants. For instance, laying a baby across the lap and
rubbing the child's back or laying Baby on its back and gently
bending the knees upward are ways to relieve gas.
At home, parents listen to the Dunston language system DVDs of
various baby cries to become attuned to the distinctive part of
each of the five words so they can recognize them from their own
Keri Morrison came across Dunston Baby Language when she was
trying to figure out why her second child, Owen, was crying so much
and why he pulled his knees to his abdomen.
"At first we heard a lot of the 'eh' and 'eairh'," said
Morrison, a social worker who lives in Oak Park. "He was in a lot
She learned from attending Cavanaugh's classes that she wasn't
burping her son long enough. The remaining gas moved to his stomach
and caused him a lot of pain. Cavanaugh showed Morrison how to
alleviate her son's pain and Owen was a much happier baby within 48
hours, Morrison said.
"There is evidence that newborns do express emotions
universally, so it's possible they might pick up other things,"
said Maria Sera, regarding the Dunston's system. Sera researches
linguistic and cognitive development at the University of
The language system is plausible and is similar to advice
doctors have given parents for years about paying attention to
their baby's cues, noted Dr. Andy Sagen, a Chicago area
pediatrician. He stated in an email that with trial and error most
parents learn their baby's language within six months.
Dunston's system is applied from birth to 12 weeks, although
Morrison said her son still uses some of the words at nearly a year
old because he knows they bring results.
Cynthia Mason, a certified nurse midwife, said that if a system
like this works, it might benefit new mothers during their initial
"Many times, at two weeks post partum they [new mothers] are
short on sleep, trying to understand the needs of the child," Mason
said. "[The system] may help some parents go through that period of
time because they are able to communicate instead of really
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