Newborn babies make a lot of interesting sounds between their tired cries, their hungry squeaks, and their first breathy giggles. But what does it mean when your baby is making grunting sounds? Noises from your baby that sound like a little piglet can catch you off guard and leave you wondering: why does my baby grunt so much?
"Baby grunting is a common and normal behavior for infants, especially during the first few months of life," Ali Alhassani, MD, head of clinical at Summer Health, tells POPSUGAR. He explains that in the first few weeks of a baby's life, these noises may be common and normal for a baby "learning to control their breathing and muscle tone."
If you're curious about why your baby grunts, experts say there are a few reasons it can happen. And while grunting is totally normal for babies, there are also some occasions when these sounds may be something to worry about. Keep reading as doctors share what you need to know about baby grunting.
Why Does My Baby Grunt?
Often, "grunting can occur when a baby is passing gas or having a bowel movement," Dr. Alhassani explains. Baby grunting syndrome (infant dyschezia) is the name for when an infant has difficulty coordinating the muscles they need to pass a bowel movement, according to Cleveland Clinic. As a result, a baby may grunt to try to create the abdominal pressure they need to poop. There's no need to worry — it is a learned reflex and can take some time to master, per the nonprofit.
Grunting "can also occur when a baby is trying to sleep or is feeling discomfort," Dr. Alhassani says. In harmless cases of grunting, your baby might also make facial expressions, draw their legs up to their chest, or move around while making noise, which Dr. Alhassani says can be very normal.
However, baby grunting can also be a sign of potential medical concern. Christina Johns, MD, senior medical advisor for PM Pediatric Care, says baby grunting could indicate reflux or be a sign of respiratory distress.
When Should I Be Concerned About My Baby Grunting?
Again, baby grunting is totally normal. However, it's not always easy to discern why your baby is grunting — or when it indicates something might be wrong. Are they doing everyday baby things, or could something more serious be happening?
Dr. Johns says the best way to investigate why your baby may be grunting is to look for other signs that something is amiss. "Consider other factors such as — is there a fever? Have they been constipated? How are they able to feed?" Dr. Johns notes.
Look out for anything else that might be out of the ordinary. For instance, the color of your baby's skin could point to a respiratory or heart issue. Does your baby look pale? Are they slightly blue? Does the baby's grunting accompany other symptoms like vomiting and coughing, or does it seem like they are struggling to breathe? These are signs that something more serious could be at play.
"If the baby is crying or fussy, check for signs of discomfort such as a fever, teething, or ear infection, and address those issues as needed," Dr. Alhassani adds. You can also massage the baby's belly to see if that helps release any trapped gas, which could be causing discomfort, he says.
To help keep track of what's normal for your baby and what's not, you can keep a diary of grunting episodes to see if there's a pattern, Dr. Alhassani suggests. However, both doctors agree that parents should trust their instincts if they're worried about their baby's grunting noises.
"If the grunting persists or is accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty breathing or a change in color, consult a pediatrician to rule out any underlying medical issues," Dr. Alhassani shares.
If you're noticing ongoing grunting, "always play it safe," Dr. Johns echoes, and "have your baby evaluated by a healthcare professional."