Bowel movements are never easy for newborns. They grunt, grunt and grunt some more. Sometimes they cry, and sometimes they strain. Why does your baby suddenly have a case of the grunts? The answer, just like the name of the diagnosis, is simpler than you think.
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What is Grunting Baby Syndrome?
Babies make all kinds of noises, but grunting is often one of the most concerning for parents because we assume our little ones are constipated. After all, that’s what adults do when they have difficulty going to the bathroom. But it may not be constipation that’s causing your baby to strain and make grunting noises every time he has a bowel movement.
Newborns are still getting used to their bodies, and sometimes, they don’t quite understand how they work. Coordinating the muscles needed to pass a bowelmovement can be a challenge, so babies often cry and grunt as a result.
While this condition is often referred to as grunting baby syndrome, this is an informal diagnosis and not technically a medical disorder. In fact, grunting is quite normal for newborns.
Signs of Grunting Baby Syndrome
When babies have grunting baby syndrome, they have normal bowel movements (soft – not hard), but they still strain, cry and grunt as if they were constipated. If you’re worried that your baby may have this syndrome, look for these signs:
- Face turns purple or red when having a bowel movement.
- Grunts, strains and/or cries when having a bowel movement.
- Shows signs of discomfort for 5-10 minutes before having a bowel movement.
Simply put, if your baby grunts and strains but his bowel movements are still soft and normal, he’s probably suffering from grunting baby syndrome.
What Causes the Grunting?
The first question parents always ask is “what’s causing the grunting?”
The grunting is caused by your baby’s lack of coordination. When babies are under the age of 10 weeks, they often have difficulty coordinating the muscles they need to have a bowel movement.
In order to move your bowels, the abdominal muscles must bear down, and the pelvic floor muscles must relax. Newborns don’t know how to do this yet, so they grunt, cry and strain while trying to learn. The crying and grunting causes the core muscles to put pressure on his bowels, but because he still doesn’t know how torelax his pelvic floor muscles, he will continue to cry and grunt. This can make the entire process quite a chore for your baby.
Eventually, he moves his bowels, but it can take quite a bit longer than normal. And your baby may grunt and strain so much he turns purple.
3 Things to Know About Grunting Baby Syndrome (GBS)
If your baby has a serious case of the grunts, you may be looking for ways to help him find relief. But before you intervene, there are three things you need to know about this syndrome:
1. GBS is Normal
GBS is normal. Every baby goes through it because every baby has difficulty learning how to coordinate those muscles used to have a bowel movement. Don’t panic. Don’t freak out. And if your baby’s stool is normal, there’s no need to run to the doctor.
If you’re truly concerned that’s something wrong, call your doctor. Chances are, he’ll tell you that there’s nothing to be worried about. Yes, it’s difficult to watch your baby grunt and strain, but please remember that this, too, will pass.
2. Avoid Treatments that Stimulate the Anus
When parents come in with a grunting baby, some doctors will recommend anal stimulation to bring relief. A cotton swab or a thermometer can be used for this purpose. When stimulated, the baby’s bottom relaxes just long enough to move the bowels.
The problem with this treatment is that it really does work. Because it works so well, we continue doing it every time our baby grunts. Eventually, however, babies get used to only pooping when stimulated. He’s not learning how to use hismuscles, so the problem persists.
3. GBS Will Resolve on Its Own
Grunting baby syndrome will resolve on its own – if you don’t intervene. Eventually, babies will learn how to coordinate those muscles, and the grunting will stop.
Of course, if your baby is truly constipated, it’s important to follow the recommendations of your doctor.
What are the signs of constipation?
- Dry, hard stool that’s difficult to pass (baby may grunt or strain in this case).
- Crying, irritability and discomfort before passing a bowel movement.
- Loss of appetite.
- Hard belly.
- Having fewer than three bowel movements per week.
If your baby is exhibiting signs of constipation, see your doctor right away.
But if your baby’s bowel movements are normal, don’t worry, the grunts will pass and he’ll learn how to move his bowels on his own without any strain or discomfort.