Babies and hiccups have quite an interesting relationship. One that has lived through several generations. However, hiccups do not bother babies as much as they might bother adults. Hiccups are one thing babies sure do handle better than adults. But, why do babies get hiccups?

Why do we have hiccups at all? We sneeze because our airway is irritated and needs to force out the irritants. Why we cough is slightly similar to why we sneeze but what about hiccups?

What are hiccups and why do babies get hiccups?

Hiccups are reflex (involuntary) reactions possible only because of the actions of the diaphragm and the vocal cords. The diaphragm is a muscle just beneath the chest that serves as some sort of barrier between the chest and the abdomen. Like every other muscle, the diaphragm relaxes and contracts and this is important during breathing.

The vocal cords, on the other hand, is responsible for the “hic” sound felt during a bout of hiccups. When air brushes past the vocal cords, a sound is produced. 

What exactly happens with hiccupping is that the diaphragm experiences a sudden stimulation or irritation which causes the diaphragm, in turn, to suddenly contract. This sudden contraction pushes the vocal cords into closing, forcefully. The forceful closure expels air from the lungs which brush against the vocal cords and gives off the “hic” sound.

Medical scientists are still not exactly sure about the reason why we have hiccups. It seems to be as though hiccups have no biological function. However, many think hiccups are the body’s way of forcefully expelling excess trapped air. 

Whatsoever role it might play, it is clear that newborns, babies and adults occasionally experience it. Newborns, especially babies under the age of one, have more frequent bouts of hiccups. As babies get older, the frequency of their bouts diminishes. 

Causes of Baby Hiccups

While the exact cause of hiccups is still a mystery, certain things trigger a bout of hiccups in babies and newborns. These triggers serve as irritants that cause the sudden contraction of the diaphragm. Sometimes, the distension of the stomach shoves the diaphragm into contracting.

The following are reasons why babies get hiccups:

  1. Feeding too fast or overfeeding your baby
  2. Excitement
  3. Swallowing excess air
  4. Temperature changes – moving from hot food to cold food might trigger a bout of hiccups in babies
  5. Unknown reasons

Even in the absence of these triggers, your baby can still experience a bout of hiccups. Unborn babies aren’t left out either. They too get hiccups while still in the womb.

How to get rid of hiccups in newborns and babies

While hiccups are usually not something to get bothered, even when they occur quite frequently in babies, there are a few helpful tips that could help get rid of them.

It is important to know that hiccups will go away on their own, with or without these tips. So, you could help your baby wait out the bout of hiccups. Hiccups go on their own after a few minutes. At a maximum, they should be gone within 5 to 10 minutes.

Waiting out the hiccups is ideal since hiccups do not create discomfort to babies. Babies can conveniently feed or sleep through a bout of hiccups. They do not bother babies but if you can’t wait them out, try these:

  1. Take a break from feeding and burp your baby – before switching breast, burp your baby.
  2. Gently pat your baby’s back 
  3. Do not overfeed the child 
  4. Do not leave your baby hungry for too long – why? A really hungry baby will feed too fast and this might trigger the hiccups.
  5. If you’re bottle-feeding your baby, make sure to tilt the bottle slightly. This will ensure that your baby wouldn’t swallow too much air.
  6. Help the baby into a more relaxing position
  7. Try the pacifier – they come in handy

What about gripe water? Check-in with your baby’s doctor before using it.

What to not do when your babies have a bout of hiccups

There are many myths out there whose main aim is to help rid your baby off hiccups. Growing up, I was exposed to one of them and I remember always wondering exactly how putting a short thread on the baby’s hair helped to get rid of the hiccups. 

The thread never had any hiccups relieving potential but it was a cute myth that was completely harmless. It was more of a fashion statement than a hiccup reliever. The craze of using a colourful thread was quite the sight.

These myths vary from group to group, culture to culture and region to region. While a few are harmless, there are some you should never, I repeat, never try – those are the ones that do more harm than good.

  • Do not suddenly shock your baby
  • Expose your baby to cold or put an ice cube on his back
  • Throw your baby in the air – if your baby is suffering from a bout of hiccups, it is generally advisable to create a calm soothing environment.
  • Pull out his/her tongue

Do not try anything that won’t create a calm environment. Especially the local recipes you have no idea what they are made of. 

Can hiccups be a sign of something serious?

The chances of hiccups being a sign of something serious with your baby is very low. Remember, they don’t bother your baby. It’s almost like getting worried over nothing.

But, rarely, hiccups can be a symptom of an underlying condition. In newborns and babies, doctors are particularly on the lookout for gastroesophageal reflux GER. GER is a reflux condition where gastric contents come back up into the oesophagus.

If your baby’s hiccup does not go away on their own or seems to create discomfort for your child, then you should check in with their doctor.

Babies should not cry while having hiccups and hiccups should go away in 5 to 10 minutes. Though hiccups can be a sign of something more serious, this is not usually the case. When should you see a doctor?

You can see a doctor if your baby cries while hiccupping, seems to be uncomfortable and if the hiccups take longer to go away. You can also check in with their doctor if you can’t stop worrying.

Also, if the frequency of the hiccups does not reduce after the age of 12 months, you might want to check in with your baby’s paediatrician. 

Hiccups usually do not require treatment before they go away, and neither do they cause discomfort to your newborns or babies. It doesn’t matter much why they occur and there’s very little you can do to stop them from happening. 

Naga Odigie

When I'm not obsessing about the wonders and dynamics of the human brain, I'm a secondary caregiver and a biomedical scientist roaming the city of Benin.


Favour · July 10, 2020 at 4:28 pm

But I like placing the coloured threads on the babies’ heads :]
Now you’re going to ruin all that fun cuteness…

    Naga Odigie · July 11, 2020 at 8:20 am

    Hahaha, I do love placing coloured threads as well. It’s a harmless myth so the fun isn’t ruined.

Samuel Ifeanyi · July 16, 2020 at 9:41 pm

Hiccups are irritating. I could never wait them out. I can’t let my baby endure it either. I am the type that will definitely do something to try to make it go immediately.

    Naga Odigie · July 19, 2020 at 6:35 am

    Haha, it doesn’t bother babies. Some babies might find it fascinating do yeah, you’ll learn how to wait it out.

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