What is grunting baby syndrome and should I be worried?

by Bryony Firth-Bernard |

Newborns often make lots of different noises, some cute and others not so cute, but as a parent you’ll want to try and protect them from any discomfort they may be experiencing. But if your little one has been grunting a lot, particularly like a farm animal and you know they’re not constipated, they may be experiencing grunting baby syndrome (GBS).

Grunting baby syndrome is completely normal in newborns and nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s all to do with your little one learning to go for a poo. Here’s everything you need to know about it…

What is grunting baby syndrome?

Grunting baby syndrome occurs when your infant is going (or trying) to have a poo.

Usually when we go for a poo we flex our stomach muscles while relaxing our pelvic floor, which applies pressure to help move stool through the gut. However, according to Medical News Today, newborns don’t have strong enough stomach muscles to do this, so they use their diaphragm muscles to move their bowel instead. As your baby exercises the diaphragm it puts pressure on their voice box, which results in grunting.

What are the symptoms of grunting baby syndrome?

If you newborn has grunting baby syndrome they may experience the following:

  • Grunting, crying or straining while trying to do a poo

  • Their face may go red or even purple

  • They may seem uncomfortable for a few minutes before having bowel movement

These symptoms can last for five to 10 minutes before your little one finally feels comfortable again.

When will grunting baby syndrome stop?

Grunting baby syndrome can cause your newborn some discomfort while they’re learning to coordinate these two new muscle groups, however it’s something we’ve all had to learn how to do.

While you may find it hard to watch your little one go through this discomforting experience they will begin to stop grunting once they’ve learnt how to relax these two muscles, which is usually within a few months, so don’t panic.

However, if you’re concerned that your baby isn’t experiencing symptoms of grunting baby syndrome and that it may be something else, contact your GP.

When to seek medical attention

Grunting baby syndrome will usually stop within a few months, but if your baby experiences any of the following symptoms they could be suffering from something else, so you should contact your GP immediately:

  • Seems distressed

  • Regularly grunts at the end of a breath

  • Has a fever

  • Has a blue tinge in the lips or tongue

  • Pauses between breaths

  • Flares their nostrils

  • Draws in their chest as they breath

  • Weight loss

Other times your baby may grunt

If your newborn is grunting but they aren’t experiencing any of the symptoms above, the chances are they probably don’t have grunting baby syndrome and it could be something else.

1) Constipation

This is when bowel movements become less frequent and your baby is finding it difficult to poo. It can be confused with grunting baby syndrome quite a lot, but if your baby has GBS their poo will be soft.

The NHS says symptoms of constipation in babies includes:

  • Pooing fewer than 3 times in a week

  • Finding it difficult to poo, and poos that are larger than usual

  • Fry, hard, lumpy or pellet-like poos

  • Unusually smelly wind and poo

  • Your baby may be less hungry than usual

  • Their tummy might feel firm

You can help relieve your baby’s constipation by doing the following:

  • Lying your baby down and gently moving their legs like they're riding a bicycle – this can help get things moving. If your baby is happy lying down, give them a gentle tummy massage

  • If your baby is bottle-fed, try giving them extra water between some feeds

  • If your baby is on solids, make sure they're getting enough fibre. Apples, pears and prunes are particularly good for constipation.

2) Reflux

This is when your baby brings back up milk or is sick shortly after being fed, as the muscles at the base of their food pipe aren’t fully developed. It’s extremely common in babies before eight weeks old and can cause them to cry and potentially grunt.

Holding your baby during and after feeding for as long as possible can help prevent this, as well making sure they sleep flat on their back. However, as your baby’s muscles develop they should grow out of this.

Read more about the symptoms of reflux and when to seek medical advice

3) Sepsis, meningitis or heart failure

These more severe conditions can cause newborn babies to grunt, but cases are very rare. If your baby is grunting it's much more likely to be reflux, constipation or GBS. However, if you notice the grunting in addition with any of the following symptoms, contact your GP immedietely.

Sepsis (blood poisoning) - Fever, blue tinge in the lips or tongue, breathlessness or breathing very fast, a weak high pitched cry (that's not like their normal cry), reduced urination, flopiness.

Meningitis (infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) - have a high pitched cry, refuse feeds, be irritable, have a stiff body, be floppy or unresponsive, have a bulging soft spot on the top of their head, seizures, fever, vomoting, cold hands and feet.

Heart failure (when the heart is unable to pump blood round the body properly, usually when it's become to stiff or weak) - unable to gain weight, shortness of breath, falling asleep during feeds or too tierd to feed, coughing, irritable, excessive sweating after feeding, swelling in body parts.

Read more popular articles

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us