Why Does My Preemie Grunt So Much?

As a parent, you’ll get worried at the sound of any little grunts your baby makes. But pediatricians say that these occasional grunts in babies are normal. Much of this grunting could be the result of digestion, it can either mean that your baby is getting used to the formula/mother’s milk, or their stomach has gas that’s making them uneasy.

But, in case your baby is grunting too much or almost with each breath then it’s indeed worrisome. This could be the symptom that the baby is having a problem breathing.

In this case, contact your pediatrician and get your baby some medical attention. One of my babies used to grunt in his sleep, and I couldn’t help but love those sounds. It then occurred to me that this could be something more serious than just sounds, so I started researching and found the answers.

Almost 11-13 % of births are premature in the United States, and most preemies have the habit of grunting in their early days. One of the main reasons is the immature nervous system. This means that your baby is likely to grow out of it with age. Premature babies tend to sleep lightly, i.e., inactive sleep instead of deep sleep or quiet sleep. They also struggle from transitioning from one sleep to another. This is why pediatricians emphasize babies having uninterrupted sleep because deep sleep helps develop the neurological system. This is why babies stop grunting with age. Another reason behind your baby’s grunting could be that they are learning bowel movement. They are probably using their pelvic floor and abdominal pressure to move stool and gas across their system. As they use the diaphragm to move their bowel, this diaphragm pressures the voice box leading to a grunting sound. This is also known as Grunting Baby Syndrome (GBS). With time and maturity of the bowel, this grunting will come to an end. None of these conditions can be helped by you because it requires your baby’s practice. With time your baby will learn through trial and error. Most of the babies start grunting right after birth and stop within a few weeks. But this again depends upon your baby’s capabilities; therefore, some might take more time than others.

What are the reasons behind the grunting of a newborn?

Newborns grunting may sound like they are in pain, but rest assured that it is normal and will cease with time. In premature babies, the grunting could be because of the immature nervous system. In other cases, this could be because of their learning phase of controlling bowel movement.

While these are the most common reasons for grunting, there are also others like:

Unbalanced breathing patterns

The grunting in newborns could be because they are learning to control their breathing patterns.

Trapped Mucus

Sometimes mucus gets accumulated in a baby’s narrow nasal openings, leading to grunting sound.


Some babies tend to grunt while dreaming during their sleep.

Gastroesophageal reflux

GER also known as acid reflux, occurs when milk in the stomach rises to the food pipe. This causes baby discomfort and leads to grunting.

Newborns may also show other symptoms during the passing of stool like:

  • Strain lasting for several minutes
  • Crying
  • Face turning red or purple

How to differentiate grunting from constipation?

How to differentiate grunting from constipation?

Constipation and grunting baby syndrome are not the same. Babies that grunt mostly has soft stools, whereas babies who are suffering from constipation can have the following symptoms:

  • Dried, small, and pallet like stools
  • Bowel movements tend to be three or less in a week
  • Loss of appetite
  • Crying, irritability, and pain before passing stool
  • Foul-smelling gas and stools

In case your baby is showing above-mentioned symptoms of constipation, you can remedy them by making the following changes:

  • Shifting formula
  • If breastfeeding, then the mother should change her diet
  • Feeding more often to help baby stay hydrated
  • Giving your baby’s stomach a nice massage could also help the constipation

Remedies to stop your baby’s grunting

  • No treatment is required when the baby is grunting during passing stool. However, you can apply petroleum jelly on your baby’s bottom to help them pass stool. But, do not do it often or your baby won’t be able to learn on their own.
  • Irregular breathing is normal and does not require your concern, but a baby monitor can help you know if your baby is having difficulty breathing. If your baby has difficulty breathing then contact your pediatrician for help.
  • Use a nasal aspirator, if you think that your baby has entrapped mucus in his airways.
  • For babies suffering from GER, feed them little, often, and slowly. Do not use bottles with nipples having large holes, add oatmeal to thicken the formula after talking with your pediatrician, and help them burp after every meal.

When should you talk to a doctor?

Your newborn could have some serious problem going on if:

  • He is distressed
  • Grunts after each breath
  • Has a high temperature
  • Pauses after each breath
  • Flares his nostrils
  • Draws their chest in during breathing
  • Has blue tinge in lips or tongue

Seek medical help right away, if your baby has the above-mentioned problems. Doctors are most likely to have an X-ray of the baby’s chest to find out the problem. Nowadays doctors use Chest radiology to find out respiratory problems in newborns.

When should newborns stop grunting?

Grunting is a normal process during development, but it should only last from 6 to 12 weeks. Your baby should be able to learn new ways during this period.

But if they are above 12 weeks and still grunting then it’s an indication that something else is wrong.

It could be constipation or Gastroesophageal reflux, so seeing a doctor can help you spot the reason, and deal with it effectively and timely.

Do preemies eat more often?

Every baby has a different eating pattern. Most of the preemies have to feed every 2.5 – 4 hours. Your baby will give you cues when hungry, they might start crying or show restlessness. Doctors also advise parents to wake their baby up to feed them if it’s been more than 4 hours.

A 4 and 1/2 lbs. baby needs to take in 12-15 ounces of milk or formula every day. A good way to find out if your baby is well-fed is to notice the number of wet diapers. Your baby should have around 6-8 wet diapers in a day.

Babies usually eat 2-3 ounces of formula per feeding during their first few weeks after discharge from the hospital.

Do premature babies tend to gain weight faster?

Preemies tend to gain weight around 112-200 grams with each passing week until they turn 4 months old. Weight gain in premature babies is mostly less. For tiny babies, the weight increase is approximately 5 grams each day, whereas, for large preemies, the gain is around 20 grams each day.

The researchers have found that faster weight gain in premature babies, can lead to higher IQ levels at school age. Though this increases cognitive ability, it also has a downside to it, as babies can experience increased blood pressure and heart-related risks. But the higher IQ benefits have been found to outweigh the heart-related risks.

Researchers have found a solution to control the heart-related risks for newborns by increasing nutritional support for preemies after they leave the ICU. This will help in Increased IQ with very little effect on the newborn`s blood pressure.

When to hold your preemie baby?

When to hold your preemie baby?

Though premature babies are kept in ICU for the first few weeks still nurses allow parents to have skin to skin touch with their newborns.

Experts say that holding a premature baby with a technique called kangaroo care has certain benefits to offer. This technique allows the skin to skin contact between you and the baby.

Pediatricians are of the view that babies who are held too much or are given too much attention grow stronger emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Premature babies need more care and love, which is why the kangaroo technique is suggested for the parents.


If your newborn is active, healthy, and eating well then grunting is not something to be worried about.

Letting your child figure their system out on their own has certain health benefits to it. But if your baby is grunting out of severe issues mentioned above, get medical help.

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Hajira is a certified editor, an experienced and thoughtful writer, and a mother of two. Her deliberate passion for writing convinced her to become a writer along with her mom duties. Driven by her passion for writing, she takes pride in providing the best possible. She aims to incite and provoke enthusiasm in her readers.

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