After each feeding, you diligently do the pat-pat-pat on Baby’s back to get out all the gas. And for the most part you do, since you hear those itty bitty burps coming out of that tiny body. But sometimes, despite your best de-gassing efforts, your baby will begin hiccupping. So if you’re asking yourself what gives with all the gas, here’s why your baby gets hiccups.
What is a baby hiccup?
To understand why your baby is heaving and hiccupping, you need to know how a hiccup happens in the first place. “Hiccups happen when the baby’s diaphragm contracts,” pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, FAAP, tells Romper. “The nerve that goes to the diaphragm runs along the edge of the stomach so when the nerve activates the diaphragm, hiccups can occur.” Sometimes, baby hiccups will occur after they eat, and the stomach pushes on that nerve. This forces air out through closed vocal chords, creating the hiccupping sound.
Does hiccupping hurt the baby?
Diaphragm spasms don’t ever look particularly pleasant, especially when it causes your baby’s body to bounce up and down. And if you’ve ever experienced hiccups yourself that just won’t go away, you know that they can be unpleasant, but not painful. “Hiccups do not cause discomfort to infants and really don’t need any treatment as they resolve on their own,” pediatrician Dr. Denise Scott, MD, tells Romper. And if you consider how long a hiccupping episode usually lasts (a PubMed study that monitored 20 infants found that the average hiccupping episode lasted around 8 ½ minutes), it’s not an extremely long time. “In my experience, hiccups in babies are little cause for concern even though they seem distressing to parents,” Dr. Candice W. Jones, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician, tells Romper.
When do babies hiccup the most?
When your baby is in utero, you might feel all sorts of strange movements. Most can be attributed to kicks and stretches, but you might be surprised to know that your fetus might be fending off a hiccupping episode, too. “Hiccups in babies are extremely common and begin even before birth!” says Dr. Scott. Fetal hiccups can occur more than 15 times per minute, with a 2-4 second window, according to another study. Although fetal hiccups decreased slightly as pregnancy progresses, they still occurred about 0.19 times per hour. That’s a lot of hiccupping!
How to get rid of baby hiccups
Although it might be cute at first to see (and hear) your baby hiccupping, you might start to feel sorry for your little one if it goes on for a while. Thing is, all the traditional (and not so traditional) cures for hiccups, like holding your breath, gargling water, eyeball compression — or even scaring the hell out of someone — aren’t going to work for baby. Unfortunately, you’re both going to have to ride it out until it stops. “Hiccups usually resolve on their own,” says Dr. Jones. “My advice is ‘sometimes doing less is more.’” But sometimes you can stop hiccups from happening in the first place.
How to prevent baby hiccups
Actually, you can. It’s not to say that Baby will never get hiccups, but there are ways to minimize the number of times they have them, according to Dr. Jones. “Some parents find it helpful to try to prevent hiccups by not overfeeding their baby and burping frequently,” she says. “Also, pacifiers have been shown to lessen hiccups by soothing the diaphragm spasms.” And if your Baby is hangry, try to have them eat more slowly, so as to not suck up too much air, Dr. Scott advises. “One common cause of hiccups is gas in the stomach from swallowing air during feedings,” she says. “Having babies take feedings more slowly and in an upright position can be helpful.” Another option you won’t gripe about: gripe water. It’s been known to help digestion and sooth tummy troubles, along with infant colic and constipation, a study found. “Gripe water, an over-the-counter herbal blend, can sometimes help ease hiccups,” says Dr. Scott.
Can hiccups be a sign of something more serious?
For the most part, hiccups are just part of a baby’s daily life. “Hiccups are fairly common, especially in newborns and in the first few months of life due to immature nerves in a baby that run to the diaphragm,” says Dr. Swanson. “Most babies get hiccups in their first year, and they are not usually a cause for concern.” Usually, but not always. “Occasionally hiccups can be a sign of trouble, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),” explains Dr. Jones. “So talk to your doctor if your baby has hiccups along with coughing, spitting up, irritability/crying or arching of the back after feeding.”
Although it might be cute to see your baby hiccup (and then unsettling if it doesn’t stop right away), just know that for the most part, they’re perfectly harmless. And before you know it, the hiccupping will stop, and Baby will be back to normal in no time.
Brouillette, R., Thach, B., Abu-Osba, Y., Wilson, S. “Hiccups in infants: characteristics and effects on ventilation” 1980.
Kamata, H., Ryo, E., Seto, M., Morita, M., Nagaya, Y. “Counting fetal hiccups using a fetal movement acceleration measurement recorder” 2017.
Hain, K., Gunasekaran, D., Venkatesh, C., Soundararajan, P. “Gripe Water Administration in Infants 1-6 months of Age – A Cross-sectional Study” 2015.
Dr. Denise Scott, MD, a pediatrician with JustAnswer
Dr. Candice W. Jones, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician