Why Does a Baby Grunt?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 12, 2023
3 min read

From newborns to toddlers, babies can make grunting sounds at different times of day and night. Some parents worry these sounds are a sign of something to be concerned about. The good news is, most of the time, your baby's grunting is perfectly normal. 

During sleep. As soon as they are born, babies make all sorts of sounds while they are sleeping. Their sleep is often restless. Your baby may sometimes sleep soundly through loud sounds, but they can also be restless. 

They might wake multiple times, or be almost awake throughout the night or nap time. Grunting is a normal sound for your baby to make during sleep, along with gurgles, squeaks, and snores.

Most of these sounds are completely normal and do not indicate any health or breathing problems. To lower the risk of any breathing issues during sleep make sure:

  • Your baby's clothes are loose, but not too loose
  • Your baby is not too hot or cold
  • There is nothing in their crib but a fitted sheet
  • They are swaddled or in a warm sleeping garment, not warmed by blankets
  • Your baby is on their back
  • The crib mattress is firm, not soft.

If they are constipated. Babies often have a little trouble going to the bathroom. When you stand up, gravity helps feces leave your body. Babies are often laying horizontal, so it can be harder for them. Your baby may grunt and get red in the face when they are trying to push out a troublesome bowel movement. 

How do you know if your baby is constipated? If they have hard bowel movements with the consistency of a pebble, or if they cry every time they make a mess in their diaper, they may be constipated. Never give your baby laxatives or enemas unless directed by a doctor. If your baby is constipated, ask your pediatrician for advice. They may advise you to give them more water or fruit juice. 

If your baby is constipated and has a fever, vomiting, blood in the stool, or a bloated belly, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Mucus in the nose and nasal passages. Your baby has a small nose and nasal passage. They mostly breathe through their noses because it makes feeding easier. Newborns also often have a lot of mucus. This is not due to any illness, but simply because their respiratory systems are still developing. 

It is very easy for their tiny nose or nasal passage to get blocked, leading to strange noises, coughs, and sneezes. Help your baby clear their nasal passage by wiping their nose, using a nasal aspirator, or using a saline nasal rinse made for babies.

If your baby is grunting with every single breath, then contact a doctor immediately.

Acid reflux. Some babies get acid reflux. This can cause gurgling and grunting sounds during digestion. The muscles of your baby's digestive system are still developing, so the muscle between the stomach and esophagus doesn't always remain closed properly. Many baby behaviors such as lying horizontally most of the time contribute to this condition.

Most cases of infant acid reflux are completely normal. Spitting up is a result of this condition. Almost all babies spit up once in a while. In rare cases, infant reflux can be a sign of something more serious, especially when it is paired with any of the following symptoms:

  • Failure to gain weight
  • Frequent forceful vomiting
  • Spit up is green, yellow, red (blood-like), or brown
  • Won't eat
  • Has blood in their stool or diaper

If your baby spits up a lot, makes lots of grunting and gurgling sounds after eating, and has any of these symptoms, consult your pediatrician for advice.

Most baby grunting is completely normal. It can be part of normal digestion, sleep, or just your baby exploring or discovering their voice.

However, you may want to contact a doctor for advice if your baby:

  • Has a fever
  • Appears bluish
  • Is lethargic
  • Has breathing that pauses for more than a few seconds
  • Is breathing faster than 60 breaths per minute
  • Grunts with each breath