Newborn Grunting and Squirming while Sleeping
Whoever came up with the phrase ‘sleep like a baby’ clearly never had a baby. . .or heard one sleeping for that matter. Many parents can attest to the fact that baby sleep can be noisy, restless, and quite the opposite of peaceful. While older children can sleep peacefully for hours, young babies squirm around and actually wake up. . . a lot. With multiple sleep cycles a night, a very small tummy, and a startle reflex, it’s no wonder babies wake frequently during the night. They require their needs be met by mom or dad, and cannot control their temperature or environment, so all that is left is to vocalize their needs by making baby noises: cries, grunts, snorts, moans, whimpers, gurgles, and squeaks.
As a parent, you may be unprepared for baby grunting while sleeping, and it can be alarming. Parents will often wonder if their baby is struggling to breath. Obviously, if you are ever truly concerned about your baby’s health and well being, trust your instincts and seek medical attention. But typically, baby grunts and strains while sleeping are perfectly normal and it’s not something to panic over. You might just be surprised at how loudly or often they occur. The good news is, there are some simple explanations to common nighttime noises and squirms.
BABIES & REM
The surprising baby noises often show up around the second week of life and can last until six months of age — when baby starts to spend more time in REM sleep. Infants experience many more sleep cycles per night than adults do. Half of their sleep time is spent in REM (rapid eye movement) mode. REM is a light, active sleep during which babies move, dream, and make noise. Those dream phases might produce grunting while sleeping, along with fleeting cries, laughs, and other "sleep-talking" sounds. Babies also wake briefly at the end of each REM cycle and may make a bit of noise before settling back to sleep. As they mature, their sleeping patterns will too, with fewer REM cycles and more periods of deeper, quieter sleep.
It can be alarming for parents when they hear noisy or labored breathing, and they will often wonder if their baby is struggling to breath. Irregular breathing that may include short pauses and weird noises is rarely cause for alarm, but it can freak new parents out.
Newborns are still learning how to regulate their own breathing, which can contribute to some of their alarming noises. To put it in perspective, infants normally take about 40 breaths per minute while they're awake, but once they're asleep breathing rates can slow by half, or they can increase rapidly for seconds at a time. Irregular or shallow breathing, weird noises and even short pauses followed by gasps or gulps of air are normal and rarely cause for alarm - they're just the result of your baby's brain learning how to work out the whole breathing thing. Your baby’s brain is still a work in progress.
Most often, if you hear deep, raspy breathing, this is caused by a harmless condition called tracheomalacia, where the tissues of the trachea are soft and flexible and make noise when the infant breathes in and out. You’ll notice the noise is louder when baby is lying on his back and improves when you pick him up or he’s sitting upright. Don’t worry, he will grow out of it.
Have you ever noticed your baby have a jerky, reflex-like movement? If your newborn is startled by a loud noise, a sudden movement, or feels like they’re falling, they might respond in a particular way. They might suddenly extend their arms and legs, arch their back, and then curl everything in again. Your baby may or may not cry when they do this. This Moro reflex, also known as the startle reflex, is an involuntary reflex your baby does in response to being startled. It’s something that newborn babies do and then stop doing within a couple of months. By the time your baby is 3 to 6 months old, they probably won’t demonstrate the Moro reflex any longer.
Swaddling can really help with these reflexes. The swaddle will keep your baby’s arms tucked in and secure to restrict movement. Swaddles also mimic the womb environment, which can help soothe babies while experiencing this startle. Remember to place your swaddled baby on his back and check him regularly to be sure he doesn’t overheat. Woolino merino wool swaddles can assist tremendously in natural body temperature regulation for baby, and give you peace of mind as well.
So what’s behind all the whistling, rattling and gurgling? Well, newborn babies breathe through their noses, which allows them to eat and breathe at the same time. Their already tiny nose has little air passages inside that are even smaller, and little particles of dried mucus or milk can often get stuck. Sometimes this can result in a whistling or rattling noise as they sleep. Mucus can also drain to the throat. Your baby might make a gurgling sound when he's trying to clear his throat. If you can't bear the noises, try using a baby-size nasal aspirator to suck out the blockage, or gently wipe the nose area to ease the noise a little.
Along with the grunting, you might even hear your baby laugh, yelp, whimper, and even cry in his sleep. Don’t rush in the nursery too soon. This can be the baby equivalent of sleep talking! Most of these sounds are unintentional and don't require a response from you. Always give baby a chance to settle back to sleep on his own before rushing in.
If you feel the noises your baby is making are a little excessive, even for a newborn baby, it could be a sign your baby is filled with air. Sometimes babies grunt and groan when they need to release gas after a feed, so if this is the case, you can gently pick him up and encourage him to burp.
Noisy sleeping baby reflux can sound disturbing, but approximately thirty percent of babies experience some type of reflux and outgrow it by their first birthday. Reflux is the backwash of milk and irritating stomach acids against the sensitive lining of the esophagus. Mild reflux causes non-painful “spit-up.” If it’s severe, it can lead to painful night waking (often misdiagnosed as “colic”), and stomach acids can be regurgitated, causing baby grunting while sleeping and even wheezing like baby asthma. To prevent this, try feeding baby half as much, twice as often, and keep baby upright after feeding. Smaller, more frequent feedings are easier to digest, allowing milk to be emptied from the stomach faster.
WHEN TO RESPOND
When baby is persistently or frequently crying, this can be a sign that he is fearful, sick, in pain, or uncomfortable. Remember that young babies have small tummies and need frequent feedings, and they also cannot regulate their own body temperature. Make sure you don’t neglect their biological needs. Babies will let you know when they are hungry or cold, so when it comes to feeding and dressing, make sure you respond to those desperate cries.
Having a regular feeding schedule every few hours for a newborn will help to ensure he is getting proper nutrition, and a full belly will help him sleep. By using a Woolino swaddle or sleep bag, you can rest peacefully knowing the natural benefits of the merino wool will keep baby the perfect temperature all night long—never too hot or too cold.
WHEN TO BE CONCERNED
Occasional grunting is probably nothing to worry about, but a grunting sound at the end of each breath can indicate difficulty breathing, especially when it occurs with flared nostrils or visible retractions of the chest and neck muscles. If this describes your baby's grunting, consult your pediatrician. If you are at all concerned about your baby’s breathing, seek medical attention at once.
Signs of respiratory distress include: rapid breathing (more than 70 breaths per minute), persistent grunting (at the end of each breath), nostril flaring (working too hard to get air into the lungs), retractions (muscles under the ribs appear to be working too hard), hoarse cry or barking cough (could be croup or a sign there’s a blockage in the windpipe), deep cough (caused by a blockage in the large bronchi), and wheezing (it can be caused by bronchiolitis or asthma, and makes a whistling sound when baby breathes in and out).
You can help your baby sleep longer - and get a little more shut-eye yourself - if you learn to distinguish your baby's sleep noises from his awake noises. When he makes a peep during the night, wait, watch and listen to see whether he settles back to sleep or needs your attention. You'll soon learn which sounds mean he needs you and which you can hopefully sleep through.