It is often hard to believe how noisy tiny babies can be when they sleep. These little bodies are capable of big sounds, especially when contrasted to the still of the night. What then makes babies noisy when they sleep?

Age, anatomy, illness and a range of factors contribute to the noises babies make, and this is not even considering the numerous ‘digestive’ sounds that can be ‘produced’ as your baby slumbers.

Age

Preterm babies are known for their tiny size and their big sounds when they sleep. The sounds they make are seemingly disproportional to their delicate, petite bodies! Snorting, grunting and almost groaning sounds are totally NORMAL for preterm babes. Even at sleep time, little premmies are letting us know ‘they are here’, even if a little early.

Overtime these sounds are less ‘apparent’ when they sleep. Nothing needs to be done; they need no assistance. Preterm babies often just grunt and groan and sleep at the same time. If it bothers you, try some quiet background white noise to help their sounds blend a little more! Over time the noises become less and less apparent until they are no longer audible. The time when this occurs however, greatly differs from one baby to the next.

Anatomy and Illness

Little airways can easily become congested by excessive mucous. So the slightest drop can sound like a huge obstruction, then one sneeze, and all is clear. Babies are naturally nose breathers, and will only mouth breath once their nose is almost completely blocked.

Therefore we often hear very loud snuffles and congested noises, before a baby will breathe through their mouth. If your baby is struggling, it’s often kind to just take the dummy out for a little while, pause the feed or just sit your baby up, so breathing is easier.

Also any minute swelling of the airways can result in rather large sounds. This is called a ‘stridor’, or the noise heard when the baby breathes in or out, or both, past an obstruction.

If you find yourself wondering if a ‘noise’ is normal, it is always good to discuss this with the infant's parents and a healthcare professional.

The general recommendation is that it is always best to have a ‘noisy sleeper’ assessed. Noisy sleeping doesn’t always mean there is a problem, but let your healthcare professional be the judge. Either you or the parent can record it on a phone to let the healthcare professional really ‘see and hear’ what the baby does at sleep time. Some things like a floppy larynx can result in airway sounds, and can be quite harmless, but other times noises can be related to obstructive sleep apnoea. That is why consulting with a doctor is essential.

Source: JAMA Pediatr. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.2560 (September 30, 2013) Editorial: JAMA Pediatr. Published online September.

This article was written by Cindy Davenport, Clinical Director, MCHN, RN, Safe Sleep Space and was originally published on the Safe Sleep Space website.

For more information on Babies and Sleep, please refer to our Guide to Settlings Infants course. This course also comes as part of our convenient Infant Bundle.