Last night was not super smooth with the baby getting over his jetlag. Basically he woke up at 1:00 and wanted to be up for the day. You can always tell when he is going to wake up because he moves his head back and forth (like he’s trying to find a comfortable position), and there’s usually some grunting, too. Earlier in his young life he was coughing/hacking a lot while he slept, and this was because of GERD (acid reflux), but I’ll come back to that later.
Grunting can be the cause of a lot of things, and if you ask the doctors, nurses, or midwives at the clinics, (like we did in Sweden), they will say “it’s normal”. We have heard that a lot thus far as new parents from the medical professionals we have talked to. And to be honest, “it’s normal” is an answer I simply reject for things like grunting all night or any time the baby is laying down, coughing only while laying down, excessive crying, or anything else that is actually not normal. In the scenario above where he is waking up with grunting, we have found it is likely due to a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance (possibly from night dreamfeeding where he is only eating for a few minutes). I will get into that whole topic another time. 🙂
In my opinion (despite what the doctors say), a baby who is grunting when lying down is a symptom of some other issue that needs attention – unless he is getting a result from that grunting (pooping or farting). If your car is making a weird noise consistently, you get it looked at, right? So why wouldn’t it be the same for a baby? They can’t tell you what’s wrong, so it is our responsibility as parents to make sure we are doing what we can to help them be happy. So, what could be the issue? Probably gas, right? Probably.
Then we need to figure out why the baby is so gassy, and how to deal with it. All babies are gassy, but our little guy has had a very special relationship with gas from the very beginning. That special relationship is simple: he has a lot of it, and does not always know how to remove it from his body. This gas problem he had was so bad that for the first 6 weeks of his life, it was not a pleasure to be around him a lot of the time (it has slowly gotten better since then). We had one occasion where he was excessively whiny and would not be comforted (and would not sleep for more than 20 minutes) for 36 hours. So the gas thing is something that I never knew I would be such a pro about, but it has basically defined how I operate in my life with a baby, so I feel confident talking about it. He is still very gassy at almost 4 months – he will wake us up or completely interrupt a conversation with his farts – pretty amazing for such a small human.
This gas, and the buildup inside the body, creates a lot of pain that I don’t think people really realize. If you have ever had stomach pain caused by gas (maybe from food poisoning, for example), did it help to lay on your back? (no, it hurts like hell) And to get an understanding why colicky babies are colicky – I explained it in this way to a friend of mine: When you first meet someone that you really like and go out on a date with them, sometimes at the end of the night you might have experienced pain in your stomach. That is probably because you are so self conscious that you are over-compensating by “holding it in” during the date, right? We adults release gas just by walking around and we don’t even realize it (that’s comforting to know, isn’t it?!), but babies don’t walk around – and activities that help to release that gas are good. Anyway, the pain we might be feeling after that date is the pain that the baby feels all the time until they learn how to release that pain (basically by farting or pooping). No wonder it hurts and leads to colic!
There are ways to helping to relieve the gas from a colicky baby (or just a gassy baby):
- when the baby is laying on his back, lift his legs up so his knees are bent to his chest, and gently rock the legs
- when the baby is laying on his back, lift his legs up so his knees are bent to his stomach, and move them in clockwise motion slowly
- when the baby is laying on his back, leave 1 leg straight and bend the other up to his chest, very slowly. Usually he will fart when lifting his right leg (apparently there’s science to this, because of where the intestines are, etc.)
- do the “walking man” – when he’s laying on his back, move his feet back and forth like he is walking (or riding a bike)- the movement pulls the gas out
- “spring efter vatten” (running for water) – move the legs kind of fast like he’s running. Go one way, and then lift up the legs in the other direction. Then “change directions”. While you do this, do a little narration with it: “spring efter vatten, spring efter vatten” (when lifting the legs say) “ösa, ösa” (pour it out, pour it out). Then change directions.
- I like this one because it is also a song “run after water run after water, pour it out, pour it out” – kind of fun to do and it does work.
- alter the diet of the breastfeeding mother to remove colic-causing foods
- Very unpopular in Sweden is to remove milk and other dairy from the diet (literally nobody we had checkups with mentioned this – no wonder it is “normal” for babies to grunt!)
- to be clear for those in Sweden where there are a lot of lactose-free products: this is not about removing lactose, it is removing dairy products altogether
- Burp the baby after feeding – there are a lot of techniques out there, but basically it’s just holding him up and over your shoulder, and doing a soft tap with your hand on their back (and the age of 3 months, just putting our son in the sitting position would help him burp)
- This is difficult if dream feeding – but super important that you find a way to burp, otherwise the baby will wake up grunting
- Do a “stomach massage” on the baby – apparently you can push the gas up and out by massaging the stomach in clockwise direction from waist to waist (we had varying degrees of success – imagine you have gas and someone starts pushing on your stomach. Does that feel good?)
- Go for walks with the stroller. The movement and bumps will help “shake” the gas out (I don’t think this is proven, but I think it’s what is happening) – plus the motion is soothing for the baby.
If those methods do not work, there are a few other options that we consider “emergency because the baby won’t stop freaking out after trying for hours”:
- Use the Windi – to be blunt, you put the device in the baby’s rectum and it releases the gas (and usually a lot of poop) – we bought a 10 pack and used them 3 times, but we were hesitant because we did not want to create a situation where the baby relies on that stimulation.
- Use Gripe Water – this is an American thing, and it works really well to sooth the baby when they have super intense pain and cannot be soothed otherwise. The problem we had was that 1) they do not use it in Sweden so it has not been “approved” (even though the USDA has approved it), so my wife was skeptical, and 2) it worked too well, so my wife was skeptical.
- The issue was about putting a substance into our baby, so I can understand why there was skepticism!
- When we used it the first time, we used 1/2 the recommended dose after the baby was crying intensely for over 1 hour without stopping and it worked within 5 minutes and the baby slept for 9 hours. So, my wife insisted there must be tranquilizers in it and was concerned (there is not, it is all natural and safe).
I mentioned above that you need to look at the causes of the gas, and I mentioned the diet, but I did not mention feeding technique. I could write a whole separate post about breastfeeding (and I will!), but until then I will only say that breastfeeding is not easy for many people (babies, mothers, fathers, friends, family, etc.) – and I think there is so much focus on “you must breastfeed” that there is a lot of missing education about making sure you are doing it right when you do it. There are things you can do to make sure you are limiting the potential pain, gas, and grunting – just by altering how you feed (like when you switch breasts, and so on).
I don’t intend to write long posts like this very often, but I realized that if someone happens upon this blog in the middle of the night with a grunting or screaming baby, it might be helpful to give in-depth information instead of just glossing over it. And to those people, remember the best advice we got as new parents: everything is a phase, and it will not last longer than 2 weeks, so hang in there!