Grunting Baby Syndrome

When you are a new parent, the noises babies make are both cute and frightening at times. Grunting baby syndrome refers to the grunting noises you hear when baby cannot seem to make something work right. We understand when they cry, they need us to do something. Grunting is something different altogether and it can be a little scary when you first experience it.

When babies grunt, they are usually trying to have a bowel movement. While they feel stimulated to go “poop” they need to learn how to use the right muscles to make this happen. When they are trying to push, the grunting is often accompanied by baby turning purple or red. This usually only lasts a short few seconds and is perfectly normal. Read on to learn more about what it means when your baby grunts and what you can do to help.

How Do I Know If My Baby Has Grunting Baby Syndrome?

Baby grunting isn’t the cutest sound, but is probably a big clue that something is going on. Grunting baby syndrome isn’t really a syndrome at all. It is just your baby trying to have a bowel movement. Keep in mind that if baby is doing this constantly, it could be a sign of respiratory distress and you need to call the doctor. Otherwise, these symptoms are pretty common for bowel movements:

  • Squeezing the tummy muscles
  • Grunting
  • Pushing
  • Straining
  • Crying
  • Turning red or purple for a few seconds then color returns
  • A bowel movement usually occurs within 5 to 10 minutes after each episode

What Causes Grunting Baby Syndrome?

If you have a grunting baby that is less than 10 weeks of age, it is most likely their tummy muscles are still very underdeveloped and they are just learning how to “poop” on their own. When you yourself have a bowel movement, you already know how to push down with your muscles and then relax the muscles at the anal opening for it to pass. Your baby may be keeping his or her anal muscles tight so it cannot pass. This causes them to grunt.

Grunting is a natural reflex that helps them push. The only problem is grunting does not help them relax the muscles at the end so they can poop. This only causes more grunting leading to “grunting baby syndrome.” This is just your baby continuing to try and try again until they finally are relieved by the stool passing.

How to Treat Grunting Baby Syndrome

Many parents feel like they need to help baby poop and they use something to stimulate the anal opening. When you use a Q-Tip to stimulate the anus, it temporarily relaxes and allows the stool to pass. The only issue is that they never learn to relax the muscle on their own and become dependent on the help. Then, the syndrome continues.

Babies that suffer from grunting baby syndrome should just be allowed to go on their own. They eventually do. It is understandable that the sounds are hard to hear and we really want to help. But baby’s need to learn how to relax that muscle without our help.

It is okay to see your pediatrician to discuss why your baby may be having trouble. Some babies do really suffer from true constipation and your doctor can help you work out any issues. Buteven if your doctor tells you to use stimulation, understand that eventually your baby needs to learn how to do this by themselves.

The main point is that there really is no treatment for grunting baby syndrome. It is just something they need to outgrow. As bad as you want to help, try not to and let them figure this one out for themselves. If your baby is truly constipated with symptoms other than grunting likedistended tummy, hard bowel movements, or no bowel movement for over three days, see your doctor. It is usually a feeding issue that can be resolved pretty easily.

What to Do As a Parent?

The best thing you can do for your baby is be observant. Watch for signs after feeding, which is when this is most common. Babies are usually stimulated to have a bowel movement after eating. Here are a few tips to help:

1.      Keep a Journal

Write down the time you fed baby, how many ounces of formula, and what type of formula you are using i.e. Soy, Cow’s milk, lactose-free, etc. Or if you are breastfeeding write down everything you eat. Write down each time your baby has a bowel movement, what it looks like i.e. hard, soft, formed, or watery. Also write down how much they go i.e. large, small, or medium. This can help you give your doctor information if it continues, or you can identify the problem from foods or type of formula you are using.

2.      Be Patient

We all know, it’s hard. But sometimes just waiting it out you will see that your baby eventually has a bowel movement and the grunting stops after about 5 to 10 minutes. Try to distract your baby by putting him or her in a swing, wrapping them in a blanket, or holding them for a little bit to help them relax.

3.      Try a Formula Switch

With your doctor’s okay, try switching to a different formula. Your baby may be having trouble tolerating the one you are using and just need something more digestible. They now have so many new formula types on the market that are designed for easier digestion. Ask your pediatrician for a recommendation, but it is truly up to your baby’s tummy what is best. Make sure you use a new formula for at least three days to see any difference and see if any reactions will develop.