I still remember bringing my firstborn daughter home. I had read every book I could get my hands on, I was a pediatrician-in-training and I had worked with children my entire life, leading up to that moment. I felt about as prepared as they come. The first two nights in the hospital were a breeze, as they often are, because children have a funny sense of humor. They love to give their parents a false sense of security. It is just like when they come to the doctor’s office and act completely healthy, when five minutes ago, at home, you were wondering if you needed to take them to the emergency room because they looked deathly ill. Don’t worry folks, this pediatrician is a mom too; your kids don’t fool me.
The first night at home with my first baby, I slept with one eye open. A million thoughts raced through my mind, but I noticed one recurring theme: What’s that noise? Is that a grunt? Is that her breathing? What was this noise now? Is that a pant? Wait, I haven’t heard this one before. It felt like every time I had gotten used to the baby noises she made, a new one would emerge. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another, and it kept me up all night. My husband, on the other hand, was the complete opposite of me. It was as if “fatherhood” was a natural sleeping aid for him. I jokingly tell him he sleeps like a corpse. I often tell my patients that both our children “slept through the night” on a night when I was on call at the hospital and he was at home with them. I’m pretty certain he just slept through all their crying and crowned himself father of the year, which was not quite the way I wanted to sleep-train them. But, neither of them seem to feel neglected or traumatized.
In my daily practice at Texas Children’s Pediatrics Fall Creek, I often reassure new parents about the noises newborns can make (and that keep mothers up all night). These noises are rarely explained in baby books and most people don’t warn us about them. These noises are also normal. Here are some of the possible things your cute little bundle may be doing in the wee hours of the morning:
This is so common there is actually a medical term for it, “nasal congestion of the newborn.” Babies have tiny little nasal passages and can sound very congested in the first few weeks of life. They are also “obligate nose breathers,” which means they only know how to breathe out of their mouths when they are crying. The rest of the time, they breathe through their nose, which is why we notice this congestion. This nasal congestion is typically normal and can be remedied with a cool mist humidifier in the room, as well as nasal saline spray.
Hiccups are a very common and innocent occurrence in newborns (and people of all ages)! They are thought to be due to a stimulation or irritation of a nerve called the phrenic nerve. This typically can be due to programed exercises of the lungs. Babies can even practice this in the womb. Most mothers can recall their babies having hiccups in the womb as well. Hiccups are less and less frequent the older infants get. They are also typically harmless.
This is usually a louder sound, often described more like wheezing. It is more pronounced when babies are laying down, and typically starts after a few weeks and improves over a few months. Your pediatrician can help you in this diagnosis; however, this is also very common and typically harmless.
Periodic breathing of the newborn
Do you ever wonder why your baby seems to pant at times and hold his or her breath at others? It’s just a sign of a healthy baby with a growing and developing brain!
It’s no mystery that all babies have reflux, some worse than others. Reflux can cause fussiness, back arching , a lot of spit up and sometimes even a gurgling noise after feeds (or in sleep).
In summary, most of the noises your baby makes are perfectly normal. Warning signs of something more serious can include blue or purple lips, a baby holding his/her breathe for more than 20 seconds at a time or fever in the first 28 days of life. Your pediatrician will make sure your baby is growing and that their exam is normal during all your scheduled wellness appointments.
But I will let you in on a little secret: The first time your child sleeps soundlessly through the night, you’ll be up all night wondering why they are so quiet and worrying if they are even breathing and if everything is OK. It’s just in the mommy DNA. And if your husband is anything like mine, he’ll STILL be snoring through the entire thing.