How to Get Rid of Infant Hiccups

baby hiccups
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Hiccups are something that can happen to anyone. As adults, we may see them as a minor inconvenience—guzzle some water to get rid of them, and then go about our day. When hiccups happen in babies, however, it can be a different experience. Your baby doesn't understand what's happening, might be startled by the hiccups, and could experience some discomfort from them.

What Causes Hiccups? 

Infant hiccups are a reflex that starts very early, even before your baby is born. The hiccuping reflex is very strong in newborns especially; they can spend up to 2.5 percent of their time in the newborn stage hiccuping. Then, as they grow out of the newborn stage, the hiccups tend to decrease. 

Hiccups have been a mysterious phenomenon through the years. Hiccups are technically a reflexive action, meaning we can't stop it from happening or control it, just like sneezing or coughing. But there isn't a known purpose for hiccuping. 

Some believe that hiccups are caused by irritation of the esophagus. For example, doctors once theorized that hiccups can occur after a baby has been nursing or eating, and milk is regurgitated into the throat following a feeding. JAMA Pediatrics noted that doctors in the 1920s thought that the milk curd particles that are thrown back up into the esophagus might irritate the lining and lead to hiccups. And still, other theories exist that hiccups were a leftover evolutionary development from having gills. 

In 2012, another doctor proposed a more modern answer. He published a study theorizing that hiccups serve an important purpose for babies: to help them get rid of excess air in their stomachs. The theory still hasn't been proven, but it does present a different idea for how it might be helpful for newborns to hiccup—to help ensure they can clear their stomachs of trapped air.

What Happens During Hiccups

Normally when you breathe, you pull air into your lungs and then your diaphragm relaxes to let that air go back out through your mouth. When you hiccup, however, the diaphragm spasms and the air that you're trying to suck in gets "stuck" against your closed vocal cords, which causing the distinct "hic" sound of a hiccup. A hiccup is actually triggered by the nerve that connects the brain to the diaphragm and can be set off by a lot of different things, such as eating too much or too fast or even swallowing at the wrong time. 

Despite the fact that hiccups are so closely related to breathing, studies have found that breathing and hiccuping are not connected and they seem to be two separate mechanisms in the body. That is, your body won't cause you to start hiccuping if you need more air. 

In a baby that is breathing normally on its own, a hiccup temporarily obstructs the airway. One study of infants in a hospital setting found that hiccups can have drastic effects on an infant's breathing. An infant's breathing is already irregular, so hiccups can lead to brief moments where the infant is not getting any oxygen at all. On average, the infants in the study hiccuped for 4.5 minutes. (Keep in mind, that's an average, so some infants had the hiccups for longer than 4 minutes and some had hiccups for much shorter amounts of time.)

How to Get Rid of Hiccups in Infants 

In general, occasional hiccups are not dangerous to a baby. They can occur from time to time in your infant and resolve on their own. Curing hiccups in a baby doesn't require any action.

However, if you notice that your baby seems to be hiccuping frequently and the hiccups are causing your baby pain or accompanied by vomiting after feedings, it is best to consult with a doctor. Your baby may be experiencing acid reflux or digestive sensitivities. And if your baby's hiccups seem to interfere with his or her breathing in any way or your baby is turning blue, call 911 and seek medical attention right away. 

If your baby hiccups often or seems uncomfortable with her hiccups, you can try some of the following solutions.

  • Monitor your baby's hiccups. Take note of when your baby's hiccups are occurring. For example, if they are only happening after your baby's feedings or when you lay him in a certain position, you could be triggering the hiccups and can adjust how and when you feed your baby or what position you place him in. 
  • Burp your baby well. Hiccups can be triggered by excess air bubbles that get trapped while your baby is eating. Burping can help clear the gas bubbles that could lead to the hiccups. 
  • Check your baby's bottle. If hiccups are a major problem, your baby's bottle could be the culprit. Some bottle designs will trap more air in than others during the feeding. Try different brands or types that can reduce the air trapped in the bottle. 
  • Have your baby checked by a doctor. In some cases, hiccups can be caused by GERD, or acid reflux. Especially if your baby's hiccups are accompanied by vomiting, it's best to have your little one checked by a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be causing the hiccups. 

    A Word From Verywell

    Hiccuping is a reflex in the body that begins well before the baby is even born. There are many theories regarding why our bodies hiccup, but none has been proven yet.

    In general, hiccuping is very normal in babies, especially newborns, and will decrease as your baby gets older. If your baby is having hiccups that seem to be causing her pain or discomfort or is having other symptoms with her hiccups, such as vomiting, it is best to check with a doctor to make sure there's nothing else going on that could be causing the hiccups. 

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