Baby language: Learn to understand your baby with the Dunstan method

Having your first child is a completely new, exciting and special experience. As a parent, you naturally want to do the best you can to give your child a happy and healthy life. You already have some of the skills you need for this and other skills you need to learn. One of the things that many new parents struggle with is understanding the young baby and meeting the baby’s needs properly. This can be quite difficult in the first months. The child cannot yet talk, so sometimes it is just guessing what the child wants. The Dunstan method helps parents and caregivers with these problems. An independent survey conducted in Australia, England and the USA (2006/2007) resulted in this method being recommended by 9 out of 10 mothers. It also turned out that no less than 100% with their first child found this method valuable. Table of contents

  • The Dunstan method
  • How did the Dunstan method come about?
  • Advantages of the Dunstan method
  • The five ‘words’


The Dunstan method

The Dunstan method was developed by Priscilla Dunstan after an eight-year study. This developed method helps you to interpret the sounds your baby makes, so that you know what your child’s needs are and what you need to do. The Dunstan method has been developed for every newborn up to three months old and is used all over the world. This age group makes very specific sounds, each with its own meaning. It does not matter which language the child’s parents speak, because these sounds are not learned but are genetically determined. So every baby makes the same sounds. It is an innate way of communicating their needs to parents and/or caregivers. The babies indicate the (basic) needs they have through the sounds. These needs include: hunger, sleep, burping, discomfort and abdominal cramps.
The sounds or words of the Dunstan method are based on the reflexes that the babies show. For example, when the baby needs food, it will show a sucking reflex. The idea is to be able to hear, distinguish and interpret this word before the baby actually starts to cry. The sooner the parent or caregiver recognizes the word, the less the baby will feel discomfort and cry. This in turn leads to less stress for parents and/or caregivers. In addition, the Dunstan method teaches you how to reassure your child and how to develop a routine together with your child.
Although the method appears to be most effective in newborns up to three months old, some babies can still use the sounds after three months. This especially happens when there is a good response to their sounds (and therefore needs). After three months, the reflexes (such as the sucking reflex) on which the Dunstan system is based disappear and recognition is only focused on sounds. However, after three months the sounds usually progress to more complex chatter. Although no research has yet been done on whether the method also works in premature (prematurely born) children, there are parents who report that it also has an effect on their premature babies.

How did the Dunstan method come about?

The founder of this method is the Australian Priscilla Dunstan. She turned out to have eidetic memory : a photographic memory for sound. As a young girl she had a talent as a violinist and after hearing a piece of Mozart’s music once, she could play the entire piece on her violin. During her teenage years she toured Australia and Europe playing concerts. She became increasingly interested in sounds produced not by instruments, but by the body. This interest developed when she had her first child, Tomas. She then discovered that the sounds her baby made were not just sounds, but had meaning. She therefore kept track of the sounds in a diary and observed Tomas’ reactions when she wanted to reassure him in different ways. From this she noticed that there really were patterns and the sounds had a purpose. Her theory was later tested starting in 1999 in more than a thousand babies from about thirty different nationalities. Baby language became a fact: baby language really exists and is universal. Nowadays the method is used worldwide.

Advantages of the Dunstan method

Raising children is a very time-consuming and complicated task. Having a first child is especially exciting and people don’t yet know what to expect. The Dunstan method works for everyone involved in the care of the newborn baby and can therefore help make raising the child easier. The Dunstan method ensures:

  • strengthening the bond between parent and child
  • less pressure and stress for both the child and the parents/guardians
  • a quiet routine
  • more self-confidence of parents/guardians
  • a greater sense of self-esteem among parents/guardians
  • a greater sense of control over the situation among parents/guardians
  • more sleep for child and parent (less interrupted)
  • greater paternal involvement (this usually also improves the relationship between the partners)
  • faster baby satisfaction
  • better nutritional results


The five ‘words’

The Dunstan method emphasizes attentive observation and understanding the signals the child displays. Important signals are the five words the baby makes before it actually starts to cry. These words are also called sound reflexes by Dunstan . Once the crying fit (also called hysterical crying by Dunstan ) has started, the method can no longer be used. By learning and recognizing these words you can let the baby be his or her own guide to his or her needs. So you should see crying as a form of communication. It turns out that it is not difficult at all to learn the method. The five words and meanings are:

  • “Nèh” : This sound is used by the baby when he or she is hungry and then shows the corresponding sucking reflex. The tongue is pressed against the palate.
  • “Eh” : This sound the baby makes when he or she needs to burp. Make sure you help the baby with this by holding him or her against your chest and gently patting the baby’s back until the burp comes out. Sometimes the “eh” sound is said repeatedly before the crying begins.
  • “Owh” : This sound indicates that the child is tired and also yawns.
  • “Heh” : This sound indicates that the child is not comfortable or is experiencing stress. This can have several reasons. Therefore, check whether the diaper is full and whether the child is not too hot or too cold.
  • “Eairth” : This sound means that the baby is passing wind or is experiencing abdominal cramps. The child bends his legs and brings his or her legs towards his torso. To help the baby with this, place him or her on your chest and gently rub the tummy (clockwise).

For an example of the Dunstan method, here is a video. This method can be learned via a DVD, you can get more information about it here. It is recommended to start the course before the baby is eight weeks old. In addition to parents and loved ones, the course is also useful for people who work with young babies (for example a daycare center).

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