Why is my baby hiccupping?

Science is not sure as to why anyone hiccups! A hiccup is an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm which spasms and causes a ‘hic’ sound and sudden intake of air. The general consensus is that hiccups have a developmental function in babies, and are merely a lingering reflex that serves no purpose in adults.

Some studies suggest that hiccups develop babies’ brains. When the diaphragm is sent into spasm, neurons fire away and build a mental map of the physical body. The more neural circuits are made, the better a baby can process bodily sensations. The hiccupping action can trigger electrical impulses in the brain, which may help babies learn to regulate their breathing.

Babies hiccup in the womb! A mother-to-be may feel a jerking movement when the baby hiccups in-utero. Mum moving around or changing position may help stop the hiccupping if it is an unpleasant sensation for her. Fetal hiccupping could help develop lungs, diaphragm, or breathing/sucking/swallowing motions.

What’s causing my baby’s hiccups?

The diaphragm may be triggered by:

  • Overfeeding
  • Feeding too quickly
  • Gulping air while feeding or crying
  • Strong emotional responses, i.e. excitement or stress

Can I treat my baby’s hiccups?

Generally, there is no need to stop your baby’s hiccups. As adults, we know they are frustrating and sometimes slightly uncomfortable. Babies don’t usually become fussy or irritated while hiccupping – some even sleep through about! Much like we don’t know precisely the cause of hiccups, there is also no guaranteed treatment. If you have reason to believe your baby is uncomfortable due to hiccupping, some of these common approaches might help:

  • Burp your little one, in case a gas build-up is triggering diaphragm contractions
  • Distract them with a pacifier, which gives their mouth something else to do
  • Rub their tummy or rock them back and forth
  • Feed-in an upright position, and keep them upright for at least 20 minutes post-feed
  • Smaller feeds, more frequently
  • Recognize early hunger cues, or early general distress cues, and soothe your baby before they begin crying and gulping air

If the frequency of your baby’s hiccups is leading you to feel distressed, consult your doctor. Hiccupping may be a symptom of GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease), which presents a lot like heartburn or reflux. As newborns are on a liquid diet and spend a lot of time lying down, reflux is a normal occurrence.

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