Why do babies get hiccups?
Nobody really knows what the biological function of the hiccup is (other than an opportunity to scare someone rigid by shouting 'BOO!' at them without warning).
In babies, they’re caused by spasms of the growing diaphragm and newborns are especially prone to hiccuping during or after feeds – you may even have felt your baby hiccuping in the womb after gorging on amniotic fluid. Delicious! This spasming can be caused by gulping down milk too quickly or swallowing a little air and the sound can actually be quite sweet. The main thing to know is that they are common, not serious, and most bouts last for no more than 10 minutes.
If your baby doesn’t seem too troubled by her hiccups, and is generally content, you can simply wait for them to pass, and pass they will. On the other hand, if you think the hiccups are causing her real discomfort, she might be suffering from reflux, especially if she’s bringing up milk as well, so it would be worth getting that checked out with your doctor.
What are foetal hiccups?
If you’re a new mother, you might recall feeling little tremors going through your body when you were pregnant. This is because lots of babies start hiccuping when they’re still in the womb.
Usually, you become of aware of your baby’s foetal hiccups at around 27 weeks, although she’s probably been hiccuping from the first trimester (you just won’t have felt it because she was too small).
You might notice your baby’s foetal hiccups occasionally or up to several times a day; it really does vary. Either way, they’re not a problem. They're only really an indication that your baby is doing what she should be – swallowing small amounts of amniotic fluid and getting ready to breathe by herself once she's born, and they're really just a nice reminder that she's there – they make for an interesting variation on her usual kicks and turns, too.
How can I prevent my baby from getting hiccups?
I've just started feeling my baby's hiccups at 31 weeks pregnant. It usually happens in the evenings, or when I go to bed, and they're very low down, in my pelvis also, and I know that's where her head is. It's cute, though, and apparently it doesn't bother the baby.
The causes aren’t always clear, so preventing hiccups is tricky, but here are things you can do to avoid a hiccuping episode:
- Keep your baby calm during feeds. Don’t wait until she’s hungry and anxious before feeding her. The calmer she is at feeding times, the less likely she is to gulp down air and the more straightforward her digestion should be.
- Keep your baby upright. Do this for about half an hour after feeding to help her milk to go down.
- Take it easy after eating. Would you go for a run straight after eating your lunch? No, you wouldn’t, and the same applies for babies: they need time to let their food go down, so wait a good half hour after feeding before doing anything too energetic.
How can I get rid of my baby’s hiccups?
Sooner or later your baby’s hiccups will go away but, in the meantime, here’s what you can do to make her more comfortable and hopefully see them off a bit sooner:
- Change her feeding pattern. Try giving your baby shorter but more frequent feeds, as this could help her digestion while still giving her the nourishment she needs.
- Sit her up and rub her back. Do this for about 20 minutes, and make soothing sounds, until she starts to relax.
- Wind your baby. If she starts hiccuping during a feed then take a break and try winding her. This will get rid of the excess air in her tummy that might be making her hiccup.
- If you’re breastfeeding, try burping your baby in between switching breasts. Do you think swallowing air could be causing your baby's hiccups? If so then your baby might not be latching on correctly. Make sure her lips are around your areola, not just the nipple itself.
- If you’re bottle feeding, try breaking every two to three minutes and winding her.
- Try gripe water, which is a combination of water, spices, herbs and seeds (cinnamon, fennel, ginger, chamomile) and can help with digestive problems and colic. You don't need to make your own, as gripe water is widely available to buy. Mumsnetters report contrasting experiences with gripe water – some find it makes their babies less windy while others say their little ones loathe it – but it's worth a try if all else fails.
- Introduce a dummy. " Not everyone's choice, but it is potentially helpful with hiccups because sucking on a dummy can help your baby relax her diaphragm and therefore could ease the hics.
- Be patient and present. If your baby has hiccups, the most important thing is that you’re supportive and that involves everything from rubbing her back to looking her in the eye and letting her know you’re there for her. Like every other trial of parenthood, your baby’s hiccups will pass and they can, in an unexpected way, even be a bonding experience for you both. After all, some Mumsnetters say their babies’ hiccups are connected to laughter. We knew there had to be a funny side.
What should I avoid doing if my baby has hiccups?
There are lots of myths floating around about how to counter hiccups and, while most are harmless, some can be dangerous, so it’s high time they’re exposed:
- Don’t try to startle your baby. You cannot shock your baby out of hiccuping. It won’t work and will just upset her, leaving you with a crying (and still hiccuping) baby on your hands.
- Don’t put a wet cloth on her forehead. A pointless exercise that will simply leave her damp and irritated.
- Don’t make her hold her breath. Adults often try to combat hiccups this way but, for a baby, it is dangerous.
- Don’t pull on your baby’s tongue and press his forehead. Why would anyone do that? You might well ask but, bizarre as it sounds, this has been recommended as a way to cure hiccups. It’s dangerous and has probably never cured a single case of hiccups.
- Don't think what works for you will work for your baby. Perhaps on a night out once, you got the hiccups and, after somebody told you to try drinking mineral water through a straw, you were cured and able to get back on the booze. Well, that won't work for your baby, so don't try it. In fact, mineral water shouldn't be given to children under two years old.
- Never shake your baby. Under any circumstances. Ever.
Should I take my baby to the doctor with hiccups?
There's an old wives' tale that says, if your baby hiccups a lot in the womb, then they become very chatty children. That turned out to be completely true of my son. I can't shut him up. He also hiccups a lot.
As mentioned, the best cure for hiccups is time. You and your baby probably are just going to have to ride this one out. Many babies suffer from hiccups but it’s fairly uncommon for the regular bouts to continue after 12 months, so if your baby is still hiccuping regularly beyond their first birthday you could speak to your doctor.
Regardless of their age, if your baby experiences prolonged bouts of hiccuping, and is visibly upset, then you should seek medical advice, as hiccups can be a symptom of other problems (such as reflux, as mentioned). If hiccups are so frequent that they’re interrupting your baby’s sleep, it will be difficult to establish a healthy sleep routine.
What Mumsnetters say
“Hiccups are normal, don't worry about them. Winding your baby again sounds like a good idea and try keeping him upright a little longer after feeding. But hiccups are not a big problem and will go away fairly soon.”
“My daughter had hiccups throughout my pregnancy and for months after birth. She is now a happy, healthy two year old. There’s really not a great deal you can do about hiccups. I tried every single tip in the book but found winding was best sat up with my hand under her chin.”
“I’m in the final trimester of pregnancy and get loads of foetal hiccups. My midwife told me it’s because of the fluid the baby is swimming in. They swallow and can get hiccups! I think it’s so sweet, imagining my baby having hiccups!"
“Hiccups turned out to be a huge bonding factor for my husband and daughter. He felt so bad for her that she was hiccuping all the time, that he would endlessly cuddle, pat and stroke her back. Ever since then she’s been his little poppet and he is always in demand for cuddles!”
“A good way of shifting wind, that you know is still there but won't come, is to hold the baby upright. Then tip them slowly onto one side, hold them horizontal, then slowly bring them back up. Then slowly turn them onto the other side and hold them again before tilting them back upright. Hold in each position for 15 seconds or so.”