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Why is My Baby Noisy When They Sleep?

It is often hard to believe how noisy tiny babies can be when they sleep. Their little bodies are capable of big sounds, especially when everything else is otherwise quiet in their environment. What is it that makes babies noisy when they’re sleeping? Some babies are reasonably quiet when they sleep, though others make quite a lot of noise. A baby’s age, development and sometimes even illness can contribute to the noises babies make when they’re sleeping. Importantly, their digestion can also produce a range of noises, especially if they’ve just fed before they’ve settled off to sleep.

Was that you?

Passing wind and/or having a bowel motion can also cause a baby to be noisy when sleeping. Interestingly, most babies don’t burp unless they’re awake. Some babies will wake and cry when they have a dirty nappy and others aren’t bothered by it. Follow the baby’s lead when it comes to changing them - if they wake up, that’s a cue that they’re uncomfortable and need to be changed.

Age

Preterm babies are not necessarily quieter than term babies when sleeping. So, the size of the baby is not a reflection of the amount of noise they make. Snorting, grunting and groaning sounds during sleep are normal for most babies. Interestingly, babies tend to make less noise when sleeping as they mature. This may have a connection with their gut maturity and digestion becoming more developed. Also, their airways become bigger which means their breathing patterns change. 

Breathing patterns

Young babies breathe more quickly than adults do. Part of the reason is because they have smaller lungs and can’t hold a large volume of air and oxygen. A baby’s breathing is not rhythmic and especially when they’re young, babies tend to take many rapid and shallow breaths. Sometimes they take longer and slower breaths and then shallower intakes of air.

Occasionally, noisy breathing is caused by the sound of air flowing over the saliva in the back of the baby’s throat. As adults, we can clear our throat as we need to but babies don’t have this ability.

Some babies grunt and groan both when they’re awake, but especially when they’re sleeping. At other times they will sneeze, snore, hiccough and give little coughs. Though as long as the baby is healthy and thriving, meeting their milestones and is happy, then it’s fair to assume the baby is well. But remember to report what you’re observing to your doctor or child health nurse if at all unsure. Any changes in breathing are worth discussing and a sign that your child needs to be checked by a doctor. 

Laryngomalacia

Laryngomalacia is a condition which can occur in babies from birth. This is where the tissues which are positioned above the larynx, also called the voice box, are relaxed and softer than they should be. Babies with Laryngomalacia sound noisier when they are crying or feeding. Their breath can be noisy on and off. Sometimes they don’t make any noise when they’re breathing and sometimes it’s more obvious.

Parents and caregivers usually notice laryngomalacia in the first few weeks of life. Most babies grow out of it by around 12-18 months of age when the floppy cartilage matures and develops more tone. Laryngomalacia is generally not treated. 

Other reasons why babies can be noisy breathers

Babies have small airways and just as their lungs can’t hold a lot of air at any one time, there is a limit to how much air they can breathe in at one time. Young babies also have a small nose which can easily become blocked with mucous.

Babies are mainly nasal breathers so they breathe in and out through their nose. If they have any nasal congestion, this can make their breathing noisier.

If a baby has a cold or upper respiratory infection, their nasal passages can become swollen and they produce excess mucous. A viral (croup) or bacterial infection can also cause swelling of the tissues in a baby’s airway. This combination means they’re often noisier when awake and when sleeping. 

What do I need to do when my baby is noisy when they’re sleeping?

If the baby is just making some sounds though it looks like they’re still asleep, you often don’t need to do anything. If the baby seems unbothered and fine, then a wait and watch approach is all that’s necessary. Try not to wake a sleeping baby unless there’s real benefit, or they are deteriorating. Healthy, well and thriving babies generally wake up when they’re ready.

Make sure you see a doctor immediately if you are unsure about your baby’s noisy breathing. If you feel your baby is sick, has a temperature or other changes in their condition, it’s important to seek help immediately.

If your baby’s colour changes and they seem to be struggling to breathe, call an ambulance immediately. Any noisy breathing needs to be checked by a doctor to make sure there is no medical cause. Children can develop asthma and other respiratory conditions which need monitoring and management by a health professional.  

References

This article was written for Safe Sleep Space and Sleep Smart by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse. Reviewed September 2021. 

Help with looking after your baby

The Nourish Baby - Guide to Babies - is an online program that you can view in your own time. The Guide to Babies helps you to understand and care for your baby and covers key milestones, sleep and settling advice and baby development. There is a section on real parents sharing their experience of adjusting to parenthood.

Many parents have reduced sleep when a new baby arrives. The Safe Sleep Space website has a variety of resources and supports to provide tips and advice on how to assist your baby with sleep. You can also book a phone consultation to speak with a Sleep Consultant

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