Does your baby grunt, strain, turn red, or cry while passing a soft stool? It may be grunting baby syndrome. Learn more about this issue and how long it typically lasts.
New parents often rejoice with every new sound their baby makes. While most expect to hear a lot of coos and gurgles, most don’t expect to hear grunts.
Informally known as grunting baby syndrome (GBS), this temporary condition typically develops as your newborn learns how to have bowel movements. Until they can master this new skill, you may hear frequent grunting coming from your baby. However, rest assured that GBS is fairly common and rarely a sign of a more serious disorder.
“Newborn grunting is usually related to digestion,” says Healthline. “Your baby is simply getting used to mother’s milk or formula. They may have gas or pressure in their stomach that makes them feel uncomfortable, and they haven’t learned yet how to move things through.”
It can take time for grunting baby syndrome to pass. The condition can last upwards of three to four months, according to FollowMum, or until your baby learns how to control abdominal pressure and the pelvic floor to effectively pass stool.
What the Experts Say
If your baby seems uncomfortable in the minutes leading up to a bowel movement, he may be experiencing grunting baby syndrome. Here’s what some experts have to say about this widely unknown condition.
“The infant grunts, turns red, strains, and may cry while passing a soft stool. This syndrome is the result of poor coordination between Valsalva and relaxation of the voluntary sphincter muscles.”
Synopsis of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Gary Robert Fleisher
“Infants with this syndrome cry, scream, and draw up their legs during a bowel movement. They respond to rectal distention by contracting their pelvic floor. This is not constipation.”
The 5-Minute Pediatric Consult, M. William Schwartz
“Often, well-meaning parents may try alleviating the child’s perceived pain by stimulating the anus with a suppository or a thermometer, an act that usually leads to stooling and resolution of the distressed behavior. This ‘success’ may then reinforce this intervention. The underlying cause is thought to be failure to coordinate increased intra-abdominal pressure with relaxation of the pelvic floor.”
Textbook of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, Stefano Guandalini
“The solution to the grunting baby is to let them grunt. As hard as it may be to watch, the process of learning bottom relaxation at the same time that belly pressure is applied is a critical life skill for all infants.”
Colic Solved, Bryan Vartabedian
“Babies are hardwired to cry when there is any kind of an issue. We all know that babies need a lot of attention, which is why this is the most common cause of grunting babies. It’s always a cry for help.”
Grunting Baby Syndrome Worse at Night, Angela Kitz
Why Do Babies Grunt?
Babies are not born with full control of their bowels. They must learn how to use the right muscles to move the stool out. When they feel the urge to have a bowel movement, you may see your baby trying to push, which may be accompanied by grunting.
You may also see your baby’s skin turn red or purple as the pushing progresses. In some instances, the baby may also strain, cry, or squeeze his tummy muscles. A bowel movement typically occurs within 5 to 10 minutes after an episode.
Should You Be Worried?
Many parents grow concerned when they hear their baby grunt or even cry out when trying to have a bowel movement. Know that grunting baby syndrome is normal and that many babies experience this temporary discomfort.
While it can be difficult to watch your baby grunt and swarm as he tries to push, it’s important to allow your baby to learn how to control his own bowel movements without interference from mom or dad. Avoid stimulating the anus which can create delays in this critical milestone.
When Is It Constipation?
The signs of grunting baby syndrome appear very similar to constipation. While GBS requires no immediate treatment, constipation usually does. The biggest difference between GBS and constipation is the consistency of the stool.
With GBS, the stool is soft and otherwise ‘normal.’ With constipation, the stool is dry, hard, and pellet-like. Other signs of constipation include crying, a hard belly, loss of appetite, foul-smelling stools, and fewer than three bowel movements a week.
Babies are known to make all types of noises, and most are completely harmless. However, if your baby continues to grunt or exhibits signs of distress during bowel movements, share your concerns with your pediatrician.