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Why do newborns have the hiccups so often?

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10 December 2021|3 min read

Key points

  • Baby hiccups are caused by a contraction of the diaphragm (muscle under the lungs that helps us breathe) and quick closing of the vocal cords make the noise. 
  • The vast majority of the time, baby hiccups are completely normal. 
  • You may be able to prevent your baby from getting the hiccups by making some adjustments to how you feed them.

Parenting a newborn is a lot.

You follow your baby hospital bag checklist and take your birth plan off to the hospital to deliver your baby. You’re adjusting to this new life, and then the midwives hand over your baby and wish you well as you go home.

Meanwhile, you’re frantically searching for answers to your questions. Why do babies cry in their sleep? What is the best nap length? How often do I need to bathe kids? Why do newborns have hiccups so often?

It makes you want to go back to the days of when you spent your time wondering if pregnant women can eat bacon!

To help with all these questions swirling around in your head, GP Dr Jill Gamberg shares her insights on babies and hiccups – what’s normal and what’s not.

The cause of baby hiccups

The cause of baby hiccups is the same cause of hiccups in older children or adults.

“Hiccups are caused by a contraction of the diaphragm (the muscle under the lungs) and the quick closing of the vocal cords,” explains Dr Jill, “When the vocal cords close quickly, it creates the hiccup sound.”

The contraction may be caused by air in the stomach. Why do newborns have the hiccups so often? It may happen during feeds while they’re drinking their milk.

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The cause of baby hiccups is the same cause of hiccups in older children or adults.

How to tell if your baby’s hiccups are normal

If you’re worried about whether hiccups are normal in newborn babies, Dr Jill wants you to know that they absolutely are.

“Hiccups tend to bother adults. They may be uncomfortable and last for quite a while. The good news for parents is that babies are typically not affected by them. In fact, many babies can sleep through a bout of hiccups without being disturbed,” says Dr Jill

You may have experienced a bout of your baby’s hiccups even before they were born. Do you ever remember feeling a type of pulsing movement while you were pregnant? Like kicks but with rhythm? It’s likely that it may have been the hiccups and that’s completely normal.

In fact, research suggests that hiccups might even be important for your baby’s brain development and breathing

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The vast majority of the time, baby hiccups are completely normal.

When to seek help for baby hiccups

Dr Jill often has patients that say, “My newborn baby hiccups a lot – how do I know if it’s a problem?” 

While she wants you to know that hiccups are normal most of the time, there may be some situations where you might want to speak to your health professional.

Those situations include:

  • Your baby gets hiccups a lot or they seem distressed by them. 
  • Your baby’s hiccups are disturbing their sleep or feeding.
  • Your baby’s hiccups are persistent and last longer than 48 hours.
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You may have experienced a bout of your baby’s hiccups even before they were born.

How to prevent hiccups in newborns

According to Dr Jill, hiccups are normal and don’t need to be stopped. They will eventually stop on their own. Having said that, if you would like to try to prevent your baby getting the hiccups, Dr Jill suggests the following:

  • Try to feed your baby when they’re calm. If they’re upset and crying, they may swallow more air while they’re feeding.
  • After a feed, avoid bouncing your baby up and down or high energy play. Instead burp them after a feed and keep them in an upright position for 20 to 30 minutes after each meal. 
  • Ensure your baby has a good latch if you’re breastfeeding. If you’re bottle feeding, ensure the whole bottle nipple is full of milk and inside your baby’s mouth. 
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Try to feed your baby when they’re calm as it may help to prevent hiccups.

Embracing the ride

New parenthood is a vibe, isn’t it? 

You go from wondering how to get better sleep while pregnant and trying to remember to do your pelvic floor exercises to raising another human. Now lower back stretches and trying to work out which foods to avoid when breastfeeding take up your headspace. 

But in between all of that, you get those beautiful snuggles with your baby. You watch them grow and discover more about the world every day. Enjoy it, hiccups and all!

Related:

Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.

Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board October 2021.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health you should consult with a health professional.