The little gestures and sounds that your newborn makes can be fascinating and adorable. Among the many sounds that you hear a baby make, grunting is one. This low, guttural sound from an infant may make you wonder if they are in distress or pain.
Occasional grunting by babies is common, but in certain instances, it could be the sign of an underlying issue. Read this MomJunction post to know what leads to the baby grunting, how to interpret it on different occasions and the remedies to stop it.
What Is Grunting?
Grunting is the short guttural noise made by a person to indicate effort, usually during a bowel movement. Babies also grunt when passing stool and sometimes to relieve tension, express frustration or to gain attention. Usually, grunting is a sign that your baby is getting accustomed to passing stools (1).
Towards the end of the first year, grunting could also be used as a means of communication (2). It is informally known as grunting baby syndrome (GBS), which is relatively normal in babies.
Is Grunting Normal In Babies?
Grunting is usually considered normal and it could be an indication of your baby learning to have a bowel movement. In some cases, the sound could be a symptom of an underlying health problem.
As long as your baby is happy, healthy, and active, you need not worry about it. But if grunting comes with symptoms like shortness of breath or red or blue discoloration of the face, then you must consult a pediatrician.
When And Why Do Babies Grunt?
While the primary reason for grunting in babies is to aid bowel movements, there are a few other causes for newborn grunting. Let us look at each in detail.
- Bowel movements: Newborn grunting during a bowel movement is due to the underdeveloped abdominal muscles (1), which require the baby to push the stools out. When the baby grunts, the larynx is closed and is pushed down along with the diaphragm to aid the bowel movements further. However, prolonged grunting sounds along with the redness of the face could indicate constipation.
- Means of communication: As newborns do not know how to speak, they make a variety of sounds to communicate. Along with squeals, gurgles, and laughs, grunting can be a baby’s attempt to self-entertain or communicate. If you find your baby grunting as a result of an external stimulus or along with other noises, then chances are it is only to get your attention.
- Breathing: Grunting can have a similar effect as yawning and sighing, which flood the lungs with oxygen (4). So sometimes when babies grunt in sleep, they tend to take a few deep breaths immediately afterwards.
- Breastfeeding: Babies of all ages normally tend to grunt while nursing. One of the possible reasons for this might be an oversupply of milk; this can happen at any stage of breastfeeding. When the baby consumes a lot of milk, it passes through the digestive system quickly, increasing digestive distress. Also, to cope up with the excess milk flow, the baby tends to inhale air. Babies may grunt when trying to handle the distress and the gas.
- Illness: Babies also grunt in the case of specific illnesses such as meningitis, sepsis, lung and heart problems. This grunting is not like anything mentioned above; it comes at regular intervals with each breath. The baby will also show signs of distress accompanied by bubbling and wheezing. We’ll cover more about the illnesses in the next section.
Newborns may also grunt:
- To develop control over their breathing patterns.
- When mucus is trapped in their nasal passage.
- During acid reflux, as it causes discomfort.
- All night probably because of a dream, gas or a bowel movement.
While baby grunting is mostly normal, it could sometimes be coupled with a few other symptoms, which may be due to an underlying health issue.
When To Be Concerned If Your Baby Is Grunting?
Here are a few instances where a baby’s grunting may not be normal.
- Respiratory issues: Grunting can be a symptom of breathing problems in newborns. If the baby displays the following signs along with grunting, it could indicate distress due to respiratory problems (2):
- Rapid or irregular breathing
- Flaring nostrils
- Cyanosis (blue coloration of the skin)
- Coughing or wheezing
- Heart problem: Sometimes, grunting could be a sign of heart issues. If there is a severe blockage of blood to the lungs, then along with grunting, your baby might show signs such as having difficulty in feeding, puffy eyes, lethargy, and poor urine output. In such situations, seek medical attention (3).
- Sepsis: This is a major health condition caused by the body’s response to infection. Sepsis develops when the chemicals released by the immune system start to cause inflammation throughout the body. The symptoms of Sepsis include difficulty in feeding, convulsions, fever, and loud grunting sounds (4).
When grunting is associated with any of the symptoms mentioned above, then it is best to consult your doctor. If there are no serious signs, but you are concerned about your baby’s grunting, you could try a few home remedies after seeking the doctor’s opinion.
Home Remedies For Grunting
Here are a few tips you can try at home to reduce the baby’s grunting.
- Anal stimulation: If the cause of your baby’s grunting is a bowel movement, then anal stimulation helps them to pass stools. This is done by placing an anal thermometer or a piece of cotton to relax the baby’s anus. However, do not try this repeatedly as it could delay the infant’s learning of the defecation process (5).
The baby starts to follow the defecation process and gradually stops grunting when the stomach muscles strengthen, and as they learn to relax their pelvic muscles. This will occur after your baby is a few months old.
- While nursing: Try some of these home remedies to prevent baby from grunting while nursing.
- Leaning back: As soon as your baby latches, try to lean back so that the baby’s head and throat are higher than the nipple. Or, lie to one side so that the excess milk will dribble out of their mouth.
- Unlatching the baby: Mothers can usually feel the flow of milk from their ducts. So, if you feel there is going to be a major meltdown, let the baby have some foremilk, unlatch the baby and let the excess milk flow. Once the flow normalizes, you can continue feeding the hindmilk.
- Feeding on one breast: Let the baby feed on one breast for one or two sessions, allowing the breasts to stay full for a while. This signals the body to reduce breastmilk production.
- Smaller meals: Another way to reduce the baby’s grunting is to give them smaller meals throughout the day to aid in digestion. However, it is suggested to take the doctor’s advice before trying this. Also, try and keep the baby in an upright position for at least 30 minutes after feeding.
- Regular winding: Winding after every meal can prevent baby grunting. It also aids the baby’s underdeveloped digestive system to cope up with digestion.
- The sleeping position of the baby: Another home remedy to prevent baby grunting is adjusting the sleeping position of the baby. Turn the baby’s cot so that it is at a 40° angle, and adjust the mattress such that the baby’s head is at a slightly elevated position.
The baby might take some time to get used to this sleeping position, but, it will help to prevent grunting during sleep. Alternatively, if your baby is continuously grunting at night due to gas, you can try bicycle maneuver with the legs to help pass the gas.
In most cases, grunting occurs as a natural part of the baby’s development. But if you are a new parent and are still worried about the baby’s occasional grunts, then try the home remedies to reduce it. Do consult your doctor before trying anything. But note that as long your baby does not show any other symptoms, grunting will eventually stop when their stomach muscles develop and they can pass stools normally.
Have a home remedy to prevent baby grunting? Let us know in the comments section below.
2. SS Mathai, U Raju, M Kantikar; Management of Respiratory Distress In the Newborn (2011); US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
3. Looking after children with congenital heart disease: 40 questions and answers(2010); healthtalk.org.
4. Alonso Zea-Vera, Theresa J. Ochoa; Challenges in the diagnosis and management of neonatal sepsis(2015); Journal of Tropical Pediatrics.
5. Di Lorenzo, Carlo; Other Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in Infants and Young Children(2013); Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition.