If you're a pregnant or new parent, have you ever wondered why your little one seems to get the hiccups all the time?
While hiccups are common in people of all ages, they're particularly common in babies, especially newborns. In fact, according to a 2019 study in Clinical Neurophysiology, preemies are especially prone to hiccups and spend roughly 15 minutes a day hiccupping. That's a lot of hiccups!
They may seem cute at first, but after a while, many of my clients ask me questions.
Does it hurt them?
Is it normal?
Does my baby do it more than most?
Can they sleep whilst hiccupping?
Can they eat whilst hiccupping?
How can I stop them?
Well, fear not! In this blog post, we'll cover everything you need to know about baby hiccups, from the science behind them to practical tips on how to handle them.
What Causes Baby Hiccups?
There are a few reasons why babies get hiccups. One is simply that their little bodies are still developing, including their diaphragm muscles, which can lead to hiccups.
Sometimes it could be due to overfeeding or swallowing too much air during feeding, both are things that are simple to address if you have support from a Postpartum Doula or Feeding Specialist.
Hiccups could also be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), although this is less common, but this can again often be helpfully addressed with adjusting how and when you feed your baby, along with advice from your healthcare practitioner.
By far the most common reason cited in studies and research is the physical development of an infants diaphragm, brain and subconscious coordination.
Let's start with the basics. Hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm muscle, the sheet of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. These contractions cause a sudden intake of breath, followed by the closure of the vocal cords, which produces the characteristic "hic" sound.
Even in the womb babies practice breathing by inhaling and exhaling amniotic fluid, and this can sometimes cause them to hiccup. It might feel a bit strange to experience these tiny jolts, but don't worry - it's completely normal and doesn't harm the baby at all.
In fact, some experts believe that hiccupping in the womb can actually be a good sign, as it indicates that the baby's respiratory system is developing properly. It can also be a sign that the baby's nervous system is functioning well, as hiccups are controlled by nerves that run through the brainstem. For example, a study conducted in 2011, found that fetal hiccups are a normal and common phenomenon during the third trimester of pregnancy, and that they are not commonly associated with adverse outcomes for the baby, in fact quite the opposite. Another study published in 2007, suggested that fetal hiccups may even modulate the fetal heart rate during the last trimester of pregnancy. Overall, while more research is needed to fully understand the significance of fetal hiccups, it seems that they are generally considered to be a normal and healthy part of fetal development.
So if you're pregnant and notice your little one hiccupping away, don't panic! It's just a sign that they're growing and developing as they should.
But why do babies get hiccups so often? Well, the truth is that no one really knows for sure.
A paper in 2012 suggested it is possible that the hiccup functions to remove swallowed gas from the stomach – essentially an evolved burping reflex. "The presence of an air bubble in the stomach or distal esophagus could stimulate mechanoreceptors that activate the afferent limb of the reflex. The contraction of the respiratory muscles and closure of the glottis would drop the intra-thoracic pressure, pulling the air from the stomach in to the mid-esophagus, where it could then leave through the mouth with the next exhalation". So the hiccup may have evolved to remove air from the stomachs of young suckling mammals. With relaxation after the hiccup, the air can pass up the esophagus and out the mouth, leaving more room for milk.
This does make perfect sense when you consider that suckling requires considerable coordination between swallowing and breathing. A reflex that could help remove swallowed air would significantly increase the stomach's capacity for milk. This would also explain why hiccups are more frequent in infancy.
So, what can you do to help your baby when they have the hiccups?
While hiccups are generally harmless, they can be uncomfortable for babies and make it difficult for them to sleep or feed. If your baby gets hiccups frequently, you may want to try some of these practical tips to help ease them:
As we discussed, sometimes hiccups can be caused by swallowed air, so try burping your baby to help release any trapped air.
Especially if your baby gets hiccups during or after feeding, it could be because they've swallowed some air. To help relieve their hiccups, try burping them by gently patting their lower back (around the hips) and sweeping your hand firmly (but gently) up their back. This can help to release any trapped air in their stomach and prevent hiccups from occurring.
Change their position
Sometimes, simply changing your baby's position can help to relieve hiccups. If they're lying down, try sitting them up or holding them upright. This can help to prevent stomach acid from refluxing and causing hiccups.
If it appears to be a random bout of hiccups, and they haven't just been fed, try placing them on their tummy or side (if your baby cannot yet independently roll to their front and back again ensure tummy and side lying is always supervised).
Another way to ease your baby's hiccups is to massage their back. Gently rubbing their back in circular motions can help to relax their diaphragm muscles and reduce the severity of their hiccups.
As we've previously discussed, hiccups are an involuntary contraction of the muscles in diaphragm. By gently extending their arms above their head, and thus extending their diaphragm you may be able to assist the body to readjust itself itself quicker.
Offer a Dummy
Sucking on a dummy can sometimes help stop hiccups by calming the diaphragm muscle.
Wait it out
Finally, if all else fails, you may just need to wait for your baby's hiccups to pass. Most hiccups only last a few minutes, so try to be patient and comfort your baby until they subside.
It's important to note that while hiccups are usually harmless, they can occasionally be a sign of a more serious medical condition. If your baby's hiccups are accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, fever, or difficulty breathing, it's important to seek medical attention right away.
In conclusion, while baby hiccups may seem like a nuisance, they're actually a normal part of a baby's development. With a few simple tips and tricks, you can help your little one through their next bout of hiccups with ease. And remember, if you ever have any concerns about your baby's health, don't hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.
Remember, knowledge is power, and we're here to empowa you with educational and informative content. As always, prioritise you and your families well-being and consult with your healthcare provider for personalised advice. We're excited to continue sharing insights and supporting you through this incredible chapter of life.
As always, I am here for you
All my best wishes