Rest assured mama, you’re not the first to worry about your newborn’s constant (albeit adorable) hiccuping. It can get alarming when they’re on their seventh bout of the day, but hiccups in babies are rarely cause for concern. If your baby is growing well and doesn’t seem to be too bothered by it, you can probably resume laughing at (or even filming) this cute phenomenon.
In saying that, we can all attest to how annoying and uncomfortable it is bouncing around all day as your diaphragm goes ballistic. So it’s completely understandable to want techniques for preventing baby hiccups.
Let’s look more closely at what causes hiccups in newborns, and what you can do to stop them.
Why do babies get hiccups?
The medical community is still a bit baffled as to why hiccups happen, and what purpose they serve. A 2019 study suggested that they may actually play a role in babies’ early brain development. But overall, they seem to serve no real purpose – unlike gagging, vomiting or coughing, which help protect a baby’s airways.
Hiccups are most commonly thought to occur due to excess gas in a baby’s tummy, overfeeding, or gulping down too much air during a feed. These could irritate the diaphragm, causing it to contract suddenly in response. This forces air rapidly out through the vocal cords, which is what makes that famous ‘hiccup’ sound.
Whatever causes them, one thing’s for sure: babies tend to hiccup a LOT. Apparently newborns can spend as much as 2.5% of their time hiccuping. So no, you’re not just imagining it. Newborns do a lot of weird things, come to think of it.
What causes hiccups in newborns?
Hiccups are most common in a baby’s first 12 months of life, and can even happen in utero. (Perhaps you experienced your baby having a little hiccup party while you were pregnant? It’s most commonly felt at the start of the third trimester or later.)
Outside of the womb, there could be a few things that make babies get hiccups:
Some experts believe that hiccups are caused by an excess of air when your baby is feeding. This could lead to diaphragm irritation, tummy pains, or breaking wind. Burping your baby effectively is a good way to remove excess air before it turns into hiccups… or something stinkier.
Exposing your bub to a sudden change in temperature – such as feeding them cold milk followed by something warm – could cause hiccups. Doctors think that this is to do with disturbances to neural pathways that connect the brain and respiratory muscles. It’s why some people swear they can get rid of hiccups with a scare or shock to the system. That’s not recommended as a method to stop baby hiccups, though. Also, it’s mean.
Gastroesophageal reflux (GER)
GER is a fairly harmless condition that causes baby hiccups and discomfort when partially digested food moves back up the esophagus, along with stomach acids. (Yeah, gross.) Other signs include:
- Spitting up
- Irritability and crying
- Arching the back, especially during or after feeding time.
While GER can be uncomfortable and upsetting, it doesn’t affect overall baby health and usually goes away when a baby’s age gets closer to 12 months. If you do suspect your baby is suffering from GER, check in with your pediatrician for advice, diagnosis or treatment options.
My baby hiccups a LOT! When should I be worried?
Hiccups are usually normal, and nothing to be worried about. But if you’re ever concerned about your baby, there’s no harm in getting them checked out anyway. Worry is a rite of passage for moms.
You may also like to get some advice from a lactation specialist if hiccups during feedings are bothering you. Breastfed babies and formula fed babies alike can benefit from their tips on best feeding and burping practices, which may help with treating and preventing hiccups.
If your baby is still hiccupping frequently and they’re over 12 months old, it could be a sign of a health condition worth visiting your doctor about.
Other symptoms to watch out for
See your doctor straight away if you notice any of these other signs, which can go hand-in-hand with infants’ hiccupping:
- Frequent projectile vomiting.
- Spitting up yellow or green fluids.
- Food refusal.
- Not gaining weight.
- Blood in poop.
- Chronic coughing or difficulty breathing.
- Regular irritability when your baby feeds.
How to help baby get rid of hiccups
So your baby has the hiccups. Again. They’re bouncing around wildly, it’s been going on for half an hour, and it’s time to try something new? Here are some suggestions on how to stop newborn hiccups:
It’s important to burp babies after a feed – and not just to prevent those pesky newborn hiccups. Hold your baby in an upright position and gently rub or pat them on the back. This will encourage excess gas out of their system so it doesn’t cause any cheeky tummy pains.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends stopping for regular burping breaks while you’re feeding your baby to discourage spitting up.
Offer a pacifier
Sucking on a binky may help relax your baby’s diaphragm and stop hiccups. There are other benefits to pacifiers too, so don’t get ‘sucked in’ (pun intended) to thinking it’s a bad habit, if it works for you!
Offer gripe water
Some people offer ‘gripe water’, and swear by its ability to get rid of baby hiccups. This is a combination of water and particular herbs that are meant to regulate intestinal movements. It may be worth a try to stop hiccups, but there’s no scientific evidence that it’s an effective treatment.
Wait for it to pass
To be real with you, this is probably the simplest course of action. If your baby has the hiccups all the livelong day, but is still feeding, growing well, and happy in other regards, it’s probably fine to just let those hiccups do their thang. So feel free to ditch the questionable home remedies and unnecessary ‘tummy-settling’ baby products, and just wait it out.
How to prevent baby hiccups
If your baby starts hiccuping at the drop of a boob, there are some things you can try to prevent it from happening.
- Keep calm and carry on feeding – If they’re upset and starving for a feed when you offer breast milk or formula, they’ll be more likely to gulp it down in a dramatic fashion. Feeding in a comfortable place with minimal distractions is the way to go.
- Put ‘em up – Keep your baby upright after feeding them for 20-30 minutes. This will help the feed settle and encourage any extra burps out. There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing that delayed burp.
- Put a pause on tummy time – Allow your baby’s tummy to settle for 30 minutes before putting them on their stomach or engaging in excitable play (AKA throwing them in the air).
What NOT to do for baby hiccups
Don’t do this:
- Try to shock or scare your baby.
- Slap them on the back or handle them roughly.
- Pull their tongue.
- Put them on their head and give them water. (Even if you swear it works for you!)
- Change formula. Some formulas spruik ‘tummy settling’ abilities and such, but are unlikely to reduce the occurrence of hiccups. Only change infant formula under the advice of a medical professional.
Some of these solutions are old wives’ tales that have no scientific proof of working. Plus, they could actually harm your baby. A calm, gentle approach to preventing baby hiccups is best.
We all know how annoying it can be, but try to stay calm when your baby has hiccups. And know they’ll pass soon.
Remember: this article does not replace medical advice. If you have questions or are concerned, please consult your family doctor.