Why Babies Get Hiccups (and How to Get Rid of Them)
From little coos to tiny yawns, babies do the most adorable things, but sometimes it’s hard to know if what they’re doing is a normal part of development. When your infant hiccups, it can sound cute and sweet, but you might be wondering—is it normal?
The short answer is yes. Baby and newborn hiccups are completely harmless and just one sign of baby’s growth and development. “Hiccups, which occur in the gastrointestinal tract, almost never indicate a problem in newborns or infants,” says Christal-Joy Forgenie, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in New York City. Wondering why do babies get hiccups and how to get rid of baby hiccups? Read on for answers.
Just like in adults, hiccups are caused by spasms of baby’s tiny and developing diaphragm, the large muscle that runs across the bottom of the rib cage and moves up and down as we breathe. Though nobody knows for sure why we hiccup (it doesn’t seem to have any obvious, useful purpose), these spasms can be triggered by many things.
Newborn hiccups are most frequently caused when baby overfeeds, eats too quickly or swallows a lot of air. “Any of these things can lead to stomach distention,” Forgenie says. When the stomach distends it actually pushes against the diaphragm, which causes it to spasm (and voilà—hiccups!). Forgenie adds that it’s very common for infants to get newborn hiccups after feeding or even during.
Baby hiccups can also be the result of sudden changes in stomach temperature. Say, for example, you give baby some cold milk and then a few minutes later feed him some hot rice cereal. According to Forgenie, this combination can actually trigger those baby hiccups.
Aside from feeding-related triggers, once in awhile, a case of constant baby or newborn hiccups can be caused by something entirely different. The culprit is usually gastroesophageal reflux, or GER as it’s often called. When baby suffers from gastroesophageal reflux, partially digested food and acidic juices from the stomach flow back up into the esophagus causing burning and discomfort. Since the esophagus passes through the diaphragm, it can get irritated and lead to lots of baby hiccups. “It sounds intense, but it’s quite common and doesn’t always create problems for babies,” Forgenie says.
It’s important to note that hiccupping in and of itself isn’t a sign of GER. Here are some other clues to look out for that could mean GER:
- baby is crying more frequently
- she arches her back excessively after or during regular feedings
- she’s spitting up more than normal
If you notice several of these symptoms and suspect those baby or newborn hiccups may be due to gastroesophageal reflux disease, speak to your pediatrician. The good news is the condition is easily treated.
Babies can have hiccups multiple times a day, lasting for 10 minutes or longer. As a general rule, if baby acts happy and doesn’t seem uncomfortable, baby hiccups aren’t a cause for concern. “It can be worrisome, especially for new moms and dads, but hiccups tend to go away after a few minutes,” says Robin Jacobson, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone. You can just wait it out and allow the hiccups to resolve on their own. If the hiccups persist and seem to be causing baby any distress, call your pediatrician to figure out the cause.
Even if hiccups are almost always harmless, it’s normal for you to want baby to get some relief from these spasms. We’ve rounded up the top tips for getting rid of baby hiccups. Hint: It has a lot to do with burping!
Generally, if it seems the baby or newborn hiccups are related to overfeeding, belly distention or reflux, “you can help alleviate hiccups by feeding baby smaller amounts more often, and remember to burp baby frequently,” says Karen Fratantoni, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at Children’s National Health System.
Here’s how to stop baby hiccups in breastfed and bottle-fed babies:
If baby is breastfed:
• Burp baby as you switch from one breast to the other.
• If swallowing air seems to be the main issue, it’s a good idea to reevaluate the latch. Make sure baby’s lips are sealed around the areola of your breast, not just the nipple.
If baby is bottle-fed:
• Forgenie recommends stopping halfway through a bottle to burp baby and then complete the feeding after a 5 to 10 minute break. “Completing the feeding while he is relaxed can actually end the hiccupping,” she says.
• Try repositioning the bottle so the air isn’t near the nipple, but is instead at the bottom of the bottle.
For bottle- and breastfed babies and newborns:
• You should plan to sit your baby upright for 20 to 30 minutes after each feeding.
• If there’s no identifiable cause of the hiccup, rubbing baby’s back or rocking her can also help.
What not to do for baby hiccups
• Never startle or scare baby to combat hiccups. “Really, none of that stuff works,” Jacobson says.
• Don’t put a wet cloth on their forehead, which doesn’t help either.
• Holding one’s breath is one remedy that should never be attempted on baby. It’s dangerous—plain and simple.
• Many people recommend pulling on baby’s tongue and pressing on his forehead or anterior fontanelle (soft part of baby’s head), Forgenie says, but this can hurt baby. “Overall the best thing to do is to wait it out and rest assured that the hiccups will resolve on their own,” she says.
Of course, you may want to try a few tricks to prevent baby hiccups from happening in the first place. While there’s no guaranteed way to ward off the hiccups, here are a few prevention tips to keep in mind:
• The key to preventing baby hiccups is to avoid overfeeding, Jacobson says. Take breaks during feedings to burp baby so the stomach doesn’t fill too much, too quickly.
• For bottle-fed babies, make sure to tip the bottle while feeding to limit the amount of air baby swallows.
• “Holding baby up for a few minutes after feedings before putting her down can help prevent baby hiccups,” Jacobson says, since how you position baby can impact any reflux.
Baby hiccups tend to happen less frequently as kids mature. “Usually by 6 months hiccups decrease a bit, but it’s not worrisome if, say, a baby of 9 months has the hiccups,” Jacobson says.
At the end of the day, remember that baby or newborn hiccups are rarely a cause for concern. “They’re a very common, benign occurrence in infants,” Fratantoni says. “You can try [these remedies], or just wait it out—they’re normal and will go away on their own.”
Published July 2017