Observing a baby grunt while sleeping isn’t something new in our books.
Although, countless times, I’ve heard people (including mothers) saying it’s normal, but…
I DON’T ALWAYS AGREE WITH SUCH TAKES.
Just because something is common doesn’t mean it is normal. Anyone would agree with me on that.
Grunting is natural, but that doesn’t negate the possibility of being addressed – it can be corrected if the right steps are taken.
However, while I don’t think it’s possible to completely stop your baby from grunting while sleeping, I do know there are certain measures you can put in place to help manage and reduce the rate at which it happens.
But before we get to that, let’s dive into what grunting means.
The Act of Grunting
Grunts can be heard each time a person exhales.
This is the body’s way of keeping the air in the lungs so they will remain open.
Grunting may occur during labored exhalation, indicating a need for high chest pressure to open the airways.
It is spurred by the closing of the glottis at the end of expiration in an attempt to maintain Functional Residual Capacity (FRC), which is the volume remaining in the lungs after a normal exhalation and impedes alveolar atelectasis (a partial or complete collapse of an area of the lungs or the entire lungs).
Grunting, however, does not necessarily signify respiratory distress.
People grunt when they’re inarticulate, sullen, exhausted, sluggish, and even angry.
When exerting yourself physically, grunting helps to brace and stabilize the body.
There is also an emotional release from grunting, which shrugs off some of the mental discomforts of pain.
Due to the knowledge that people grunt from pain, a new parent may begin to worry when their baby grunts that they’re in pain or need help.
Babies are given frequent grunting, especially while asleep, which may sound strange and even be of great concern to new parents.
Nonetheless, occasional grunts coming from babies are quite natural.
On that note, this article discusses why infants grunt while sleeping.
Taking it further, we will also talk about how you can tell a perfectly normal grunting from an abnormal one – symptoms, home remedies, and when you must see a pediatrician.
That said, let’s begin.
Reasons Why Babies Grunt While Sleeping
Newborn grunting is usually associated with digestion.
The infant is familiarized with the mom’s milk or the baby’s formula.
They may have gas or pressure in their abdomen that makes them feel uneasy, and they haven’t learned how to move things through.
To excrete, an adult often relaxes their pelvic floor and uses the abdominal muscles to apply pressure which helps to move the feces through the gut.
During their first few months, newborn babies use their diaphragm muscles to move their bowels because their abdominal muscles are not fully developed or strong enough.
Doing this will pressure the voice box, resulting in them grunting.
They will grunt until they can decipher how to pass excreta on their own, so your newborn may take a while to produce a bowel movement or even pass gas without grunting.
This phenomenon is also referred to as Grunting Baby Syndrome (GBS).
Remember that this is common among babies and not necessarily a sign of something serious.
The fact that they are grunting while passing stool does not mean they’re having constipation; instead, their system only works to produce the excrement, and your baby hasn’t figured out how to do this effortlessly.
This grunting may seem unpleasant but remember that your newborn simply needs to get used to this.
Your babies’ digestive and respiratory systems are not completely formed yet; hence they are doing extra jobs to get their business done.
And so, with all that exertion comes the loud sleep sounds and grunts.
It’s like when babies are figuring out how to regulate their breathing; you’ll probably overhear short periods when their breathing speeds up or slows down when they’re napping.
However, in some cases, too, grunting can indicate an underlying problem, and it is crucial to be observant of any other symptoms.
These symptoms can help you decide if the grunting is something you need to worry about.
For instance, babies grunt when they have a high fever or struggle to breathe.
A baby continuously grunts at the end of every breath is a sign of respiratory distress or discomfort.
This is often accompanied by a persistent cough, flaring nostrils, and fast, hard breathing.
Other causes of newborn grunting include:
Irregular Breathing Patterns
Newborns may grunt as they gain control over their breathing patterns. Before reaching about 3-4 months, babies only inhale through their noses.
And since their nasal passages are so tiny, it only takes small bits of mucus, breastmilk, or formula to move to the back of your baby’s tiny nasal passages, causing all sorts of nasal congestion-related sleep noises, and this is why babies are prone to congestion even when they do not have a cold.
Mucus can accumulate in a newborn’s narrow nasal passages. This can result in grunting for the new baby.
Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER)
This is also known as acid reflux, which occurs when the gut contents rise into the food pipe. It can cause discomfort, resulting in the baby’s grunting.
Sometimes your baby may grunt to relieve tension.
Babies may grunt if they’re changing positions, whether asleep or awake, due to a sudden change or slight discomfort.
Grunting can accompany snoring while they sleep and other noises such as gurgling.
Grunting can be an acknowledgment of a change in sensation or emotion for babies.
Providing your baby’s grunting is inconsistent, and at the end of every breath, it’s perfectly normal.
It may sound strange, but sometimes grunting is the body’s way of ensuring the lungs get adequate oxygen and remain open.
When your baby grunts, you may hear an exhale normally followed by a few deep breaths.
This is one of the major reasons your baby may grunt during sleep as she adjusts and learns to breathe.
Grunting during sleep is fine if your baby doesn’t stop breathing for prolonged periods or skip breaths after a grunt.
Reflux and Colic
Colic is the surges of pain associated with bowel distension, usually with air.
Reflux is the movement of liquid, food, and even acid into the esophagus.
This is usually why babies incessantly stretch and cry and grunt.
Babies experience many sleep transitions. Newborn babies cycle through just two sleep phases, active and quiet sleep, every 45 to 50 minutes.
Once your baby reaches 3 to 4 months old, those two sleep phases turn into four, the number of sleep stages in adults.
Regardless, your baby’s sleep cycle, which is the full cycle from light to deep to light quiet sleep, plus a bit of active sleep, still lasts less than 60 minutes.
This implies that about every hour, your baby will enter a light sleep, making them more prone to moving around, briefly waking up, and making short sounds like grunts.
Babies spend a ton of time in active snoozing. Forty to fifty percent of your baby’s sleepy time is in memory-boosting REM sleep (also called active sleep).
REM sleep is a lighter form of sleep in which your baby is in an active state.
That means your infant’s sleep will be noted by eye-fluttering, an increased heart rate, squirming, and outbursts of various commotions, like cries, whines, whimpers, and grunts.
Infants are hungry a lot.
Babies are quite expressive about their hunger, even when they’re dozing.
That means you might hear your little one making rooting sounds, like lip-smacking, grunting, and even suckling their mouth when asleep.
Since these sounds may signify that your little one will wake up hungry soon, you may want to feed them before they sleep or get ready to feed them once they awake.
How Do I Tell The Difference Between Normal and Abnormal Grunt?
Baby grunts differ. That of an infant having bowel movements is quite different from the grunt of a baby having respiratory distress.
When a baby grunts with every breath…
THEN IT IS NOT ORDINARY AT ALL.
Grunting at the end of each breath signifies respiratory problems.
If your baby constantly grunts and has other signs of illness, such as a fever, or appears in distress, then know that this is not just normal grunting from bowel movements.
There could be an underlying medical condition that requires urgent attention.
Grunting with breathing could signify that the baby has either pneumonia, meningitis, asthma, or even heart failure (which causes fluid to build up in the lungs and causes shortness of breath).
I don’t think it’s good if the situation ever gets to this point.
Also, look out for other signs of respiratory distress or illness to determine if your baby’s grunts are normal or a sign of an underlying problem.
These symptoms of respiratory problems include:
- Bluetongue or skin
- Weight loss
- Nasal flaring
- Pauses in breathing
Sometimes, it’s okay when your baby is squealing, grunting, or gurgling. But sometimes baby sleep sounds mean something complicated is going on.
To tell the difference, listen up for noises such as;
- Fast breathing of over 40 breaths a minute
- Rhythmic grunting during breathing, especially when accompanied by flared nostrils
- An extra-long exhale sound.
- Whistling sound each time your baby breathes out or exhales
These unnerving sleep sounds could suggest that your baby has a Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a contagious virus that causes respiratory tract infections, bronchiolitis, or respiratory distress syndrome.
You must contact your healthcare provider immediately for guidance.
Grunting can also be a sign of a more severe heart or lung issue if your baby is rhythmically grunting with each breath if there is discoloration in the face or lips, or if it takes an effort for your baby to take each breath.
Pay attention to what’s known as retractions.
Here the baby’s skin is pulling around the bones in their chest, such as above the collarbones, under the breastbone, or between and under the ribs.
The normal breathing of a baby who is awake should be between 40 to 60 breaths per minute.
Several home remedies can help with newborn grunting. Depending on the cause, they include:
Learning To Pass Stools
When a newborn learns to pass stools, grunting is normal and does not need treatment.
The grunting often ends when the newborn learns to relax their pelvic floor, and the stomach muscles strengthen.
This only occurs during the first few months of the baby’s life.
For now, if the baby appears to have trouble passing stool, rubbing petroleum jelly on the anus can help.
However, do not make it a habit because doing so frequently can impede the baby’s ability to learn to pass stool independently.
Noisy REM Sleep
To help your baby achieve quiet, restful sleep, consider the following:
Feed your baby in an upright posture, especially before sleep.
Eructate or burp your baby after feeds such that the baby belches, especially before sleep.
During the day, bicycle Baby’s legs gently press their knees to their abdomen to help reduce bowel-related stress and grunting.
Offer a dream feed, i.e., feeding the baby while asleep to encourage quiet and prolonged sleep.
Learn your baby’s sleepy-time signals and wake windows.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
Use white noise to soothe your baby and muffle potentially sleep-disturbing sounds so that you, as a mother, can also have some sleep, especially at night.
Irregular breathing patterns are not usually a cause for concern unless the newborn shows breathing difficulties.
A baby monitor can help you to detect abnormal breathing when the newborn is asleep.
Some mothers also use motion monitors, which sound an alarm if the baby stops moving longer than usual or if the baby falls into an abnormal sleeping position.
To reduce the chances of your baby having any breathing issues during sleep, ensure that:
- Your baby’s clothes are not tight but rather reasonably loose.
- Your baby is neither hot nor cold.
- The bassinet is empty, with only a fitted sheet.
- They are clothed in warm sleeping garments, not warmed by blankets.
- Your baby is lying flat on their back.
- The crib mattress is not soft but solid.
A nasal aspirator can assist if a newborn grunt because mucus is trapped in their airways.
Gas In The Belly
If a grunting baby seems uncomfortable, try to relieve his gas or belly pressure by flexing the hips upward and bicycling his legs.
Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER)
The following home remedies can help to deal with GER in newborns:
- Feeding the baby in little portions but frequently.
- Feeding the baby more slowly.
- Avoid bottle nipples with large holes, as this can cause a fast flow of food.
- Add a little oatmeal to thicken milk or formula, but check with a doctor first.
If these home therapies do not improve the baby’s condition, then the newborn may have a condition known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
When To See A Pediatrician
You must immediately see a pediatrician if your infant seems to have respiratory distress if the baby has a high temperature or fever, or if he pauses between breaths.
There could be a problem if your baby;
- Grunts constantly and at the end of every breath
- Has a high temperature.
- Has a blue tinge on the lips or tongue
- Pauses between breaths
- Flares their nostrils
- Draws in their chest as they breath
- Is lethargic
- Has breathing that pauses for more than a few seconds
- Is breathing faster than 60 breaths per minute
If your baby shows any of these symptoms, seek urgent medical attention.
Also, medical attention is urgently needed when a baby shows signs of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.
If the newborn’s digestive symptoms show no improvement, if they are not increasing in weight, or if they have symptoms that can indicate lung problems, this would require the doctor to conduct a GERD test.
You may be confused and worried about your baby’s constant grunting as a new mother.
But know that babies are prone to grunting; this does not necessarily indicate that the baby has any medical problems or is going through pain, as may be your fear.
This may be their natural way of processing digestion.
However, signs of strange grunting should not be ignored as this indicates an underlying problem. Instead, all grunting infants should be carefully observed to detect when there is a condition that requires immediate medical attention.