Baby Hiccups: Why they Happen and How to Treat Them

Nearly everyone has experienced hiccups. While hiccups can be annoying, they are rarely a sign of something serious, especially in babies. Nonetheless, if you’ve watched your baby have a bout of hiccups, you may wonder what causes them and how you can alleviate them in your little one.

We are here to help! This article covers what causes hiccups, why they’re nothing to worry about, and what you can do to help them prevent and stop them.

Why Do Hiccups Happen?

The exact cause of hiccups is unknown. However, doctors know that hiccups are involuntary diaphragm contractions. When the contraction occurs, your vocal cords close suddenly, causing the “hic” sound. Hiccups may be caused by eating a large meal, drinking or eating too quickly, drinking carbonated beverages, or sudden excitement. 

They often seem to start and stop for no reason and typically only last a few minutes. Hiccups that last longer periods or come back frequently may indicate something more serious or cause weight loss due to interrupted eating and sleep. However, this is rarely the case for babies. 

Because a baby’s torso is so tiny, it is easy for a full tummy to push air up into the diaphragm, causing hiccups. Babies are also easily startled, which could trigger a hiccup session. Lastly, babies are still figuring out how their body works, so when eating or drinking, they may try to swallow and breathe simultaneously, causing hiccups. 

Because a baby is still working on the mechanics of their body, their hiccup session often lasts longer than adults causing parents to worry. However, pediatricians advise parents have nothing to worry about if their little one seems to take a while to get their hiccups to stop. Even if the hiccups are worrisome to you they rarely bother your baby. 

When Are Hiccups a Concern?

Hiccups in a baby are rarely a cause for concern. In fact, pediatricians say hiccups in a newborn could be a sign they are developing well! However, hiccups could be a sign of reflux, or that they are having trouble eating or nursing. 

Some babies suffer from a condition called gastroesophageal reflux or GER. GER happens when partially digested food and stomach acids flow back up the esophagus. Hiccups alone do not indicate GER. However, if your baby is experiencing frequent hiccups, spitting up, arching their back during or after feedings, and crying, more frequently speak with your pediatrician.  

Frequent hiccups could also be a sign your baby is struggling with eating or eating too fast or too much.

How Do I Get Rid of Baby Hiccups?

Even though baby hiccups are harmless and probably not bothering your little one, it’s natural for parents to want to alleviate them. Unfortunately, in most cases, there isn’t much you can do to stop hiccups after they’ve started; however, a few tricks might work!

  • Offer your baby a pacifier
  • Keep them in a calm environment
  • Offer a bottle or the breast
  • Try burping your baby
  • Rub your baby’s back and rock them

Hiccups are a condition that is best solved by prevention. So even though there’s not much you can do to stop hiccups, there are plenty of tips to reduce the chances of them occurring.  

Tips to Reduce Hiccups 

  • Feed your baby when they are calm. If you wait until they are crying for food or are using feeding as a soothing technique, the extra air their gulping combined with trying to eat can cause hiccups. Try soothing your baby with a pacifier or rocking them before feeding, and get to know their schedule so you can anticipate feedings. 
  • Slow down your baby’s feeding. Eating too fast may contribute to hiccups. If using a bottle, change the nipple to a slower flow. 
  • Offer smaller more frequent meals. Smaller meals prevents their belly from getting over full.
  • Burp your baby in the middle of feedings and after. If you are nursing, burp in between switching breasts. With a bottle, burp after they’ve drank half the bottle.
  • Ensure the bottle nipple or your nipple is full of milk before feeding your baby. If breastfeeding make sure your baby has a good latch. Too much air can cause hiccups and gas.  
  • Hold your baby upright after feeding for several minutes. You should also avoid tummy time for at least 30 minutes after eating. 

What Not To Do

  • Never startle or scare a baby in an attempt to stop hiccups.
  • Never try to make a baby hold their breath. While this is ok for an adult to try, it can be dangerous to an infant.
  • Don’t put a wet cloth on their forehead. It won’t hurt them, but it also won’t help.
  • Don’t pull on their tongue or press on their forehead or the soft part of their head as some old wives tales say. These actions can hurt your baby. 

Baby hiccups can be unsettling and worrisome to some new parents. But, the good news is they are nothing you need to be concerned about and very common! If you have concerns about your baby’s hiccups or suspect GER, speak with your pediatrician at any time. Otherwise, rest easy knowing that, given a few calm minutes, your baby will likely stop hiccuping and be ready for more play time!

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