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What causes a baby’s snoring and what should you do about it?

Night falls, and you’ve just put your little one down for a good night’s sleep — you hope. On a few nights, when you check on your baby, he or she seems to be resting peacefully, but at the same time, you hear some strange noises that almost resemble a mild snort. It seems to happen as your baby is breathing. Yes, you’ve guessed it. You’ve just heard the baby snoring. So, you wonder what causes this, and should you be concerned. After all, the first year seems to be rather young to start snoring. For the most part, you won’t have to worry since this is normal. However, if you notice something odd about your baby’s breathing patterns, the noises, and the overall quality of sleep, then you might need to give your doctor a call. Read on to find out about probable causes for your baby’s snoring and what to do about it.

Sleeping baby wearing a purple cap

Causes for baby snoring

According to Dr. Dawn Rosenberg, M.D., FAAP, snoring is quite common and normal for babies. The main contributing factor to snoring relates to the size of a baby’s nose and airways. They’re still quite narrow, especially in newborns for the first few weeks. These tiny spaces often fill with milk while feeding, or they accumulate mucus and other secreted fluids. Again, these are normal occurrences with infants who breathe through their noses much more often than their mouths. Therefore, if you hear short, sniffling noises or a tiny “hum” when your baby sleeps, chances are he or she is simply snoring which doesn’t indicate anything is out of the ordinary.

Another cause for a baby’s snoring can be a stuffy nose caused by a cold or allergies. If this stuffiness causes discomfort for your baby, or he even has a low-grade fever, you might need to contact your pediatrician for recommendations of treatment such as over-the-counter medicine or nasal drops that are safe for babies to take or use a humidifier in the room for a brief period.

One other factor that contributes to snoring is the length of time your baby breastfeeds. For unknown reasons, a shorter period of nursing sometimes results in a baby developing a habit of snoring as noted during a study conducted by Dr. Dean W. Beeb, a clinical neuropsychologist from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Also mentioned in an article published by the Sleep Foundation, this factor might relate to how breastfeeding helps to promote the development of the upper airway. Nonetheless, the snoring in this situation doesn’t signal a serious condition.

How does baby’s snoring affect sleep?

While snoring during the newborn phase might occur with no serious effects, it can impact development if the habit continues into the toddler and childhood years as mentioned in this study conducted by Hawley E. Montgomery-Downs, Ph.D. (West Virginia University’s Department of Psychology) and David Gozal, M.D., a pediatric pulmonologist. Basically, if a baby snores to the point of waking up a few times each night, the mix of low-quality sleep and not getting enough oxygen can affect both cognitive development and mood. As time passes, and the snoring continues, doctors Montgomery-Downs and Gozal recorded some adverse behaviors while conducting their study which included a lack of focus and of course, crankiness.

Baby wearing breathing monitor

When to be concerned about snoring and what to do

Thus, Dr. Rosenberg also mentions that when your baby pauses in between breaths or breathes with a raspy noise, then you don’t need to panic. Snoring itself doesn’t signal a serious condition. Rather, you should contact your pediatrician to check for some of the following possibilities:

  • enlarged adenoids
  • enlarged tonsils
  • acid reflux

In the case of acid reflux, you might need to alter your diet if you’re breastfeeding or switch to a different formula if you’re bottle-feeding. In both situations, it’s best to keep a record of what you’re eating to see how the changes coincide with your baby’s snoring or to observe how well your baby tolerates the new formula.

Regarding issues with the airway, your doctor might recommend checking for sleep apnea. While this condition is quite rare in babies, some might have cartilage in the larynx or trachea that’s not completely developed, or they might have throat muscles that relax too much once they fall into a deep sleep. So, the doctor might ask you to take note of anything abnormal about the baby’s breathing and sounds while sleeping and to record your baby’s snores for playback during an appointment. In situations that are direr, your doctor might order a baby breathing monitor to use for a few weeks to get a clearer idea of what’s going on.

For the most part, snoring is not only normal, but it’s also temporary. With attention to diet and daily health habits, your child will “outgrow” the snoring phase. However, if you notice the snoring increasing in volume, or it doesn’t subside after a few months, then you’ll need to consult with your pediatrician.

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