Grunting Baby Syndrome

If your baby strains, grunts, or cries when trying to have a bowel movement, it may look like constipation, but it could be something altogether different.  When babies are first born they sometimes do not quite know how their bodies work, and they may have difficulty coordinating the muscles needed to have a bowel movement.  This can cause them to cry and grunt a lot when having bowel movements.  Grunting baby syndrome is the name for this condition.  It is not a formal diagnosis or a medical disorder, however.

Symptoms of Grunting Baby Syndrome

Babies that have grunting baby syndrome have normal bowel movements that are soft, but will grunt, cry, or strain as if they are constipated.  Here are some signs that your baby has grunting baby syndrome:

  • Cries, grunts, or strains when having a bowel movement
  • Turns red or purple when having a bowel movement
  • Cries or appears uncomfortable for 5 or 10 minutes in order to have a bowel movement

What Causes Grunting Baby Syndrome

Babies that are under 10 weeks old are immature and may not know how to coordinate a bowel movement.  When a person moves their bowels, they need to bear down with their abdominal muscles and relax their pelvic floor muscles to allow stool to pass out.  Young babies don’t always know how to have a bowel movement so they will strain, cry, and grunt.  This grunting will cause their abdominal muscles to apply pressure on the bowels, but because these babies don’t know to relax their pelvic floor they may continue to cry and not relax enough to allow the stool to come out.  Eventually, they will pass the stool, but it may take them longer to do so and they may grunt, strain, cry, or turn purple in the process.

Treating Grunting Baby Syndrome

Sometimes parents or doctors will confuse grunting baby syndrome with constipation.  Even if it is not presumed to be constipation, incorrect advice may be given.  When a baby is constipated, parents may be advised to use a cotton swab or a thermometer to stimulate the anus.  This will cause a baby to temporarily relax the anus and pass stool.  The problem with this is that babies can become dependent on stimulation in order to have a bowel movement.

Grunting Baby Syndrome does not need to be treated.  Babies will outgrow this all on their own.  In time, they will figure out how to coordinate their muscles and have a bowel movement without crying, straining and grunting.  It may be uncomfortable watching your baby crying during bowel movements, but babies figure out how to coordinate their bowel movements in time.

If your baby has hard stools, his belly looks swollen, or you have concerns that this could be more than Grunting Baby Syndrome, you should consult your doctor.

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