Are Baby Grunting Sounds A Sign Of Breathing Trouble?

Written by Dr. Pulyk Nataliya Omelanivna on Mon, 27 November 2023

Key Highlights

  • It is normal for babies to breathe rapidly, occasionally pausing for a few seconds or making noises while breathing. The normal breathing rate for infants is 40-60 times per minute.
  • Grunting, a sound made during exhalation, can indicate that a baby is having difficulty breathing.
  • Babies born via C-section or with lingering lung fluid may grunt as they work to breathe.
  • Other potential causes of grunting include lung infections, asthma, or pneumonia.
  • Rapid or shallow breathing, unusual breathing sounds, skin changes (bluish tint), flaring nostrils, and difficulty feeding may indicate respiratory distress.
  • Continuous grunting, especially at the end of each breath, is considered abnormal.
  • Diagnostic methods include chest X-rays to check for lung fluid, blood tests to rule out infections, and pulse oximetry to evaluate blood oxygen levels.
  • Persistent grunting, especially accompanied by signs of illness like fever, requires medical attention.
  • Grunting may indicate conditions such as asthma, sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, or heart failure.
  • Parents should contact a doctor promptly if they observe signs of troubled breathing in their baby. 

Irregular or noisy breathing is common in babies. Mostly, they do not indicate any underlying problem and the babies recover without any intervention. Watch your baby carefully, if your little one is grunting too often or has other signs of illness, or appears to be unwell, it can be a serious concern, requiring immediate medical attention.

Is It Normal For My Baby To Make Noises While Breathing?

It is normal for babies to breathe rapidly. At times, they take a pause in breathing for a few seconds or may breathe at a fast rate or sometimes make noises while normal breathing. The normal rate of breathing for infants is 40-60 times per minute.

Alterations in breathing rate or pattern or breathing with other parts of the chest could be a sign that they require medical attention. Grunting is a sign that your baby has trouble breathing. Grunting is a sound made every time the baby exhales. It is the body’s way to keep the air in the lungs so they will stay open.

What Causes Grunting?

Babies breathe through the placenta in the womb. Their lungs are filled with fluid. They use their lungs for breathing for the first time after birth. The fluid from the lungs is squeezed as the baby passes through the narrow vagina during normal delivery. Eventually, when the baby breathes, the lungs absorb more and more air.

Sometimes, when the fluid in the lungs is more or it goes away slowly as in C-section, the baby strives hard to breathe. So, the baby tries hard to get sufficient oxygen, which leads to an audible sound while breathing. Other possible causes of grunting could be an infection in the lungs, asthma, or pneumonia.

What Are The Signs Of Troubled Breathing?

What Are The Signs Of Troubled Breathing?

Being aware of the normal as well as abnormal patterns of breathing in your little one can help you identify the problem early, thereby, speeding your child’s recovery. The following signs indicate that your little one may be struggling to breathe.

  • Rapid or shallow breathing: Both rapid and shallow breathing could be a problem. But how to identify when it is abnormal? Rapid breathing is when the baby breathes more than 60 times in a minute. If your child is continuously breathing rapidly or stops breathing for more than 10 seconds, it can be a serious issue.
  • Breathing sounds: sometimes, your baby may make grunting sound while breathing out, wheezing or whistling sound, stridor or harsh sound while exhaling.
  • Skin changes: If your baby has difficulty in breathing, the baby’s skin may turn bluish, indicating less oxygen in the body. The nostrils of the baby flare or widen in an attempt to take in more air. You may also notice the skin below the ribs sinking inside with each breath.
  • Others: Occasionally, the breathing difficulty is accompanied by a non-stop cough, and the child may face difficulty in feeding.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Certain investigations are carried out to find out the cause of grunting include:

How Is It Diagnosed?

  • X-rays: The doctor takes a chest x-ray to check the presence of fluid in the lungs.
  • Blood tests: A complete blood count is done to rule out an infection in the lungs.
  • Pulse oximetry: A sensor is put on the baby’s hand or foot. This will evaluate the oxygen level in the blood.

When To Be Concerned?

Distinguishing between the grunting sounds made by a healthy baby learning to navigate digestion and those made by an unwell baby is important. Continuous grunting with each breath is never considered normal, while grunting specifically at the end of each breath could indicate respiratory distress.

If your baby frequently grunts and displays additional signs of illness, such as fever or signs of distress, it is essential to consult a doctor. This combination of symptoms may be indicative of a serious medical condition requiring immediate attention.

Grunting during breathing may be a potential indication of various conditions, including asthma, sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, or heart failure, which can lead to fluid accumulation in the lungs and breathing difficulties.

It is important to assess for other signs of respiratory distress or illness to determine whether your baby's grunting is within the normal range or a sign of an underlying issue. Additional signs to watch for include a bluish tongue or skin, weight loss, fever, lethargy, nasal flaring, or pauses in breathing.

Tips For The Parents

You can follow these simple steps to comfort your child, but take your child to a doctor immediately if the child has a fever or you notice that your child is unable to breathe properly, or the skin of the baby is turning bluish.

  • Observation: Stay calm and put the child in a comfortable position. Observe your child carefully for worsening signs or symptoms.
  • Medicines: You can give medications for a fever to the child to reduce his discomfort. The child can be given saline nasal drops to reduce nasal congestion, if present.  
  • Hydration: Increase the fluid intake of the child so that the child stays hydrated.
  • Surroundings: You can use a cool mist humidifier in the kid’s room. Practice good hand hygiene while handling the child to prevent the spread of infections. Keep your child in a well-ventilated and dust-free place to ensure proper breathing. Avoid tight clothing for the child. Try to avoid smoking when the child is around.
  • Hygiene: Avoid contact of the child with sick people. Practice good hand hygiene while handling the child to prevent the spread of infections.
  • Consultation: If there is severe breathing difficulty, the child may be hospitalized and given supplemental oxygen support with a nasal cannula. The doctor prescribes medications to resolve the infection in the lungs, if present.


Grunting sound while breathing is usually indicative of a respiratory problem. You should contact your doctor immediately if you see any signs of troubled breathing in the baby. 


Dr. Pulyk Nataliya Omelanivna

Dr. Pulyk Nataliya Omelanivna is an Internal Medical Expert who is based out of Ukraine. With a special interest in internal medicine Dr Pulyk graduated from the Ternopil National Medical Academy in Ukraine, in the year 2001. Between the years 2002-2009, Dr Pulyk worked as an emergency physician. Her years of work as an emergency physician gave her immense exposure to a range of patients and an opportunity to learn on the job, and gather extensive experience.

Did you like our Article?





Not Sure




Leave a Comment