Having a baby is a wonderful but sometimes terrifying experience – especially when they start doing unexpected things. If your newborn is grunting and squirming while sleeping, you might feel afraid that something is really wrong with them.
Fortunately, grunting isn’t always something to worry about, and we’re going to look at how you can learn to recognize the differences between worrying grunting and just standard infant noises.
Is It Normal for Newborns to Grunt and Squirm While Sleeping?
Most newborns make some noise while they sleep, and grunting and squirming is fairly standard behavior. Newborns may also make little whining noises, laugh, or whimper.
On the whole, newborns grunting is nothing to be concerned about – but it’s still important to understand what to look out for.
Causes of Grunting and Squirming
Quite a few different things can cause your little one to grunt and squirm. Things like struggling with bowel movements, acid reflux, blocked nasal passages, difficulty with oxygen intake, trouble passing gas, or hunger can result in this sort of behavior.
We explore each of these in greater detail below. We will then look at what you can do to help with each of the issues listed.
Difficulty with a bowel movement can cause what is often known as “grunting baby syndrome.” It can also be called dyschezia, which simply means that the infant is having trouble pooping.
Your baby doesn’t yet know how to regulate all the muscles needed to let waste out of their body and grunting and squirming are signs that they are having some difficulty with this. They are using the muscles in their diaphragm instead of the muscles in their stomach, and this puts pressure on the voice box – leading to a grunt.
As long as the poop they produce is soft, this is nothing to worry about. However, if you notice that it’s hard, dry, or pellet-like, they are probably suffering from constipation. You can reduce infant constipation through breastfeeding or offering about 2-4 ounces of water or fruit juice with a feed.
Because they are lying flat on their backs, babies sometimes suffer from acid reflux during the night. This happens when milk from the stomach comes back into the esophagus. It is usually accompanied by stomach acid, and this can cause noisy breathing and squirming, because it makes them uncomfortable.
Blocked Nasal Passages
Sometimes, your baby’s grunting indicates that their nose is blocked. They have tiny noses and lungs, and even a little congestion can cause grunting. If this is serious and you think your baby is struggling to breathe, take them to the emergency room immediately.
Some babies squirm, grunt, and even wheeze at night as they develop their breathing muscles. Their breathing patterns change and they breathe more slowly when they are asleep, which can cause them to grunt.
Check that your baby is breathing calmly and there are no other signs of distress. If the breathing seems labored or your baby is agitated, talk to a doctor.
As well as excretion, babies have to learn how to deal with gas. They are learning to digest new food, and how to move air and nutrients through their digestive systems. This can be uncomfortable.
It can take a few months for them to learn how to relax the muscles in their pelvic floor without grunting, so this is a common explanation for newborn grunting.
Babies need time to regulate their hunger, and they may feel hungry at night, which can trigger extra movement and weird noises.
This can be a particularly big issue if your baby falls asleep before completing their evening feed. They may then feel uncomfortable and less settled because their stomach is empty. It takes a while for a baby’s circadian rhythm to regulate, but being hungry often causes a baby to grunt.
Solutions for Grunting and Squirming Babies
As you can see, a baby grunting in their sleep is not normally anything you need to worry about. Lots of things cause this sort of behavior. However, it can be concerning and disruptive, and may mean that both you and your little one get less sleep than you would otherwise enjoy.
With that in mind, let’s look at what you can do to mitigate some of the problems mentioned above.
It is not currently recommended that parents attempt anal stimulation as a means of relieving infant dyschezia. According to current research, this can delay their learning process and may make them dependent on the stimulation to poop.
There’s no cure for dyschezia beyond waiting for your baby’s muscles to develop, but you may be able to reduce discomfort by bicycling your baby’s legs, giving them a little tummy massage, and making sure they are consuming enough liquid.
Massaging your baby can make them more comfortable and relaxed, and may aid sleep. Massage usually involves stroking your baby’s body, and gently moving their joints around using your hands.
To give your baby a massage, set them on a towel and use a small amount of baby oil on your hands. Next, use your fingers to rub and stroke your baby’s body, focusing particularly on the tummy if they seem uncomfortable. This can help their digestive system work and may reduce constipation.
Clear Nasal Passages
In most cases, you can clear your baby’s nose fairly easily. Stroking a piece of soft tissue across the nostrils may prompt a sneeze, which should open up the nasal passages. Never poke anything up your baby’s nose.
A cool humidifier can also reduce nighttime congestion, and this may make it easier for your baby to breathe, reducing grunting and squirming. Consult a doctor if the problem is ongoing.
If your baby is suffering from acid reflux at night, a feeding adjustment may help. Opt for a slightly smaller meal at bedtime, and try holding your baby upright for a while before you put them to bed.
This problem usually resolves itself as your baby develops. Don’t raise the head of your baby’s bed or otherwise change their sleeping position from the recommended one.
Remember that you will need to feed your newborn during the night, in most cases every 2-4 hours. Most newborns feed between 8 and 12 times in a 24-hour period, so feeding them during the night will prevent hunger-related grunting and squirming.
Making sure your little one is comfortable is also key to helping them sleep well. You want to check they aren’t too tightly wrapped, and that they are at a comfortable temperature. A pacifier may help to soothe them. Make sure they are lying on a firm mattress, on their backs, as SIDS remains a risk to babies.
The room should be dim and quiet. Some parents like to use a white noise machine to dull other sounds. You should also learn to recognize your baby’s sleep cues, so you aren’t keeping them awake to the point of exhaustion.
All of these things will help your baby to rest comfortably in their bed and can reduce any grunting or squirming.
Click through to find out more about common sleep mistakes that new parents make.
When Should the Grunting Concern You?
In most cases, grunting and wriggling are nothing to worry about; they are simply your baby responding to their environment and their body – but it’s important to be aware that when combined with other symptoms, grunting can indicate there’s a problem.
Occasionally, grunting could indicate aspiration. This occurs when something is blocking the airway, such as the infant failing to swallow properly, or bringing up milk and choking on it.
Aspiration may result in coughing, wet-sounding breathing, wheezing, and repeated lung infections. If you are concerned about aspiration, make sure you contact a doctor.
Sometimes, raspy breathing may indicate that your child has a respiratory issue. Some concerning symptoms include:
- Rhythmic grunting while breathing
- A whistling sound while your baby breathes out
- Fast breathing (more than 40 breaths per minute)
- An extra-long exhalation
Seek a doctor’s advice immediately if you are concerned about respiratory infections or problems.
Sepsis in babies is usually caused by bacteria (or sometimes by fungi or viruses). It can be hard to identify, so look out for the following symptoms in your baby:
- Being heavily asleep
- Breathing very fast
- Feeling cold
- Mottled, blue, or pale skin
- Convulsions or fits
- A rash that doesn’t fade when pressed
If you think your infant has sepsis, seek emergency medical help immediately.
Grunting while sleeping is a common symptom of meningitis in a baby. Listen for particularly high-pitched grunting and constant moaning, and look out for:
- Blotchy or red skin
- Blue, gray, or pale skin
- Fast, slow, or labored breathing
- Fever or coldness
- Listlessness, floppiness
- Stiff body or jerky limbs
Very heavy sleep
Get immediate medical assistance if you think your baby has meningitis (also referred to as GBS).
In some cases, grunting can indicate heart failure. This is usually accompanied by other symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Lung congestion and coughing
- Lack of weight gain
- Extreme tiredness, constantly falling asleep during feeds
Get medical attention if you think your baby may have some of the symptoms of heart failure.
Get Only Happy Grunts With Woolino
As you can see, a newborn grunting and squirming while sleeping is generally nothing to worry about. They may simply be learning to use their digestive system, struggling with acid reflux, dealing with a little congestion, or something similar. However, it’s best to be safe, so if you are concerned or you see any of the symptoms mentioned above, reach out to your doctor or emergency services.
There are a few things you can do to help your baby feel better and sleep soundly at night. Among the most important is ensuring that your baby isn’t too tightly wrapped and that they stay at a comfortable temperature – and one of the best ways to do this is to buy them a Woolino baby sleeping bag.
These bags give your baby enough room to move around comfortably, letting them shift their hips and legs as they learn to use their digestive muscles. They will also ensure your baby isn’t smothered by their blanket and will offer enough support to help them feel comfortable and secure.
All of these things can help your baby to sleep more easily and reduce the amount of grunting that they do – giving you peace of mind and letting you sleep better too.
"We live in an older farm house and the temperature constantly fluctuates making it tricky to keep bedrooms the same as what the thermostat says. The Woolino sleep bag works great for our son who would often wake due to being too warm or too cold. It’s wonderful when we travel too." - Naomi G.
When should I worry about my newborn grunting?
You should worry if your newborn’s grunting is accompanied by signs of discomfort, pale skin, a fever, or rapid breathing. In these cases, seek help from emergency services. If it’s not an emergency but you are still concerned, discuss the symptoms you’re seeing with your pediatrician.
Is it normal for newborns to squirm in their sleep?
It is normal for newborns to squirm about in their sleep, yes. This is partly because they are testing out their new muscles and getting used to their bodies, and partly because they spend about half of their time in REM sleep. This is light, active sleep, which results in a lot of movement.
What are some causes for newborn grunting and squirming?
Your newborn may be grunting and squirming because they are trying to pass gas or waste, or because they are struggling with congestion. They may also be suffering from acid reflux, or feeling too hot. In some rare cases, grunting and squirming could indicate sepsis, meningitis, respiratory issues, or something else serious.
What should I do to help my baby sleep better?
To help your baby sleep well, try to have an established bedtime routine, and don’t keep them up too late at night. Make sure they are comfortable and at the right temperature, and use dim lights and a white noise machine to avoid disturbing their sleep. Remember, it’s perfectly normal for newborns to grunt, whine, and move around while they sleep.
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