It may sound strange to you, but the occasional grunts coming from your newborn are perfectly normal.
As a new parent, you listen to every little sound and movement your baby makes. Most of the time, your newborn’s gurgling noises and squirms seem so sweet and helpless. But when they grunt, you may begin to worry that they’re in pain or need help.
Newborn grunting is usually related to digestion. Your baby is simply getting used to mother’s milk or formula. They may have gas or pressure in their stomach that makes them feel uncomfortable, and they haven’t learned yet how to move things through.
While most grunting is normal, if your baby is grunting with every breath, has a fever, or appears to be in distress, see your doctor.
This grunting may be a sign of a more serious respiratory problem and needs immediate attention.
When your baby grunts, it usually means they’re learning how to have a bowel movement. They haven’t yet figured out how to relax the pelvic floor while also using abdominal pressure to move stool and gas through their system. Their abdominal muscles are weak, and they must bear down with their diaphragm against their closed voice box (glottis). This leads to a grunting noise.
They will grunt until they can figure it out, so it may take a few months for your newborn to produce a bowel movement or pass gas without grunting. Some people call this grunting baby syndrome (GBS). Rest assured, it’s fairly common and rarely a sign of something serious.
Babies may also look like they’re straining, and a newborn’s head may turn purple or red in color. This may last for several minutes, according to an article in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition (JPGN).
This shouldn’t be confused with constipation. Your newborn’s system is working correctly to produce excrement. Your baby just hasn’t figured out how to move it through. While the grunting is unpleasant, your newborn simply needs to get used to its new world.
You should confirm with your doctor that your baby’s grunting is normal.
If your grunting baby is simply learning how to have a bowel movement, the only true cure is for your newborn to learn how to relax their anus while pushing with their abdomen. This is something your baby will learn with time through trial and error.
Some doctors recommend that parents help their newborn by providing anal stimulation. This involves use of an anal thermometer or a piece of cotton to help stimulate the bowel. While this method usually works to help your baby have a bowel movement, it may have negative side effects in the long run. Your baby may eventually become dependent on this method to have a bowel movement. According to JPGN, repeated use of this method will delay your infant’s ability to learn the correct process for passing stool.
In most cases, the grunting starts in the first months of life and resolves on its own after a few weeks. Every baby is different. It all depends on how long it takes for your newborn to master the coordination of its bowel movements.
The grunting of a healthy child learning how to deal with digestion is different from the grunting of a sick baby.
Grunting with every breath is never normal. Grunting at the end of every breath could be a sign of respiratory distress.
If your baby is grunting often and also has other signs of illness, such as a fever, or appears to be in distress, see your doctor. This could be a sign of a serious medical condition and requires immediate attention.
Grunting with breathing could be a sign of:
- heart failure (which causes fluid to build up in the lungs and a shortness of breath)
Check for other signs of respiratory distress or illness to determine if your baby’s grunts are normal or a sign of another problem. Other signs of respiratory problems include:
- blue tongue or skin
- weight loss
- nasal flaring
- pauses in breathing
Watching and hearing your baby struggle may be difficult, but in the end, it’s important to let them figure it out on their own.
Grunting may seem a little scary, but it usually serves a very useful and healthy purpose for your baby. If your baby is healthy, active, appears happy, and is eating well, grunting is rarely a sign of illness.
See your doctor for a checkup if you have questions or concerns about your grunting baby.
And treat grunting with every breath as a medical emergency.