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“Baby Whisperer” Patricia Dunstan on the Dunstan Baby Language System: a Babble.com interview.

A colicky baby and an absent father would lead most new moms to drink, but Priscilla Dunstan turned her time in the trenches into a successful baby industry. At fifty bucks a pop, her double DVD set teaches new parents the Dunstan Baby Language System, which ostensibly helps train the naked ear to hear the “words” in a baby’s cry. Most parents are able to “translate” their baby’s sounds via trial-and-error burping, feeding and cuddling, and plenty scoff at the idea that there’s a secret language lurking in those whines. But if you’re looking for a quantitative approach to managing your baby’s colic, you may want to check out Dunstan’s opera-inspired method. Her recent appearance on Oprah, in which she received a certified “Amaaaaaaazing!” from Oprah sealed her fate as a formidable figure in the baby world. – April Peveteaux

What are the five words in the Dunstan Baby Language?

The word for hunger is “neh,” burping is “eh,” tiredness is “owh” (the shape of a yawn), gassy is “eairh” and “heh” is uncomfortable.

How did you discover these five specific sounds?

When I was a teenager, I studied opera singing, so I studied how sounds were made within the body. You sing one note and you hear how moving around changes it. And then I had my son. He had colic and reflux and cried all the time. I was pretty much on my own because my husband had gone overseas. And this particular night I was lying in bed, and you know that time when the sleep deprivation gets to you, and you hear the crying and you know you’ve got to get up, and you almost can’t drag yourself out of bed? It was one of those nights and I just thought, I don’t know how long I can do this. This is not what I imagined. And none of the doctors or nurses was of any help; I was told to listen to his cries. So I tried to listen to the cries and I looked on the Internet for anything to do with baby cries and I rang up universities and got textbooks out. Everyone sort of agreed that there was a difference in the cries, but no one could tell me what to listen out for. So, I thought, that’s what I have to do.

I was listening to his cries and they all seemed to go the same length of time, the same pitch, the same velocity. The only thing I could distinguish was this particular phonetic sound. So I just sort of named them and it was the actual naming of them that made the difference. And just from naming them, from hearing the phonetic difference between the cries, I realized that it actually was a sound within the cry that you had to listen out for, not the whole cry.

Has anyone else done this before?

No one had been able to classify baby cries. This is the first classification that has been able to be used and works. And I think it’s because I was looking at it from a different perspective. They do it on pitch, on velocity and on length. But they weren’t listening out for anything in the cry, the intention.

What happens at your institute?

I do research. And I have a lot of mothers that come in for private sessions. It’s funded by my other projects, so they don’t have to pay. I research whatever the need is. So, if I have twenty mothers coming in and they’re all struggling with something, I will then research that to give them the answer. And once you’ve worked out where it is that you can put in the systems, like my language system, they can sort of take it home with a chart and follow it.

How was Oprah? You know she doesn’t have children, right?

That was the first interview I had ever done. She was really nice, very friendly. I was actually expecting, because she didn’t have children, that she wouldn’t get it. But she picked it up straight away.

Are you still singing opera?

No. Occasionally I sing. But my son doesn’t like my singing.

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