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Hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm — the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. Each contraction is followed by a sudden closure of your vocal cords, which produces the characteristic “hic” sound.1
Baby hiccups are caused by a contraction of the diaphragm and the quick closing of the vocal cords. The rapid closing of the vocal cords is what creates the sound of hiccups.
Since hiccups tend to bother adults, many people assume they bother babies as well. However, babies are usually not affected by them. In fact, many babies can sleep through a bout of hiccups without being disturbed, and hiccups rarely interfere with or have any effect on a baby’s breathing.
But if you want to get rid of your baby’s hiccups, here are some tips:
- Burp your baby.
- Give them a pacifier.
- Let the hiccups run their course.
- Feed your baby gripe water.
Taking a break from feeding to burp your baby may help get rid of the hiccups since burping can get rid of excess gas that may be causing the hiccups. Burping will also help because it places your baby into an upright position. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests burping your bottle-fed baby after every 2 to 3 ounces. If your baby is breastfed, you should burp them after they switch breasts.
Infant hiccups don’t always start from a feeding. When your baby starts to hiccup on their own, try allowing them to suck on a pacifier, as this will help relax the diaphragm and may help stop the bout of hiccups.
More often than not, your baby’s hiccups will stop on their own. If they aren’t bothering your baby, then you can just let them run their course.
If you don’t interfere and your baby’s hiccups don’t stop on their own, let their doctor know. While rare, it’s possible for hiccups to be a sign of a more serious medical issue.
If your baby seems to be in discomfort because of their hiccups, then you may want to try feeding them gripe water. Gripe water is a combination of herbs and water that is believed by some to help with colic and other intestinal discomforts.
The types of herbs can vary and may include ginger, fennel, chamomile, and cinnamon. Though gripe water has not been shown to help with hiccups in babies, it’s a fairly low-risk product.
Before you give your baby anything new, it’s always recommended that you discuss it with your baby’s doctor.
There are a few ways to help prevent hiccup episodes. However, it’s difficult to prevent your baby’s hiccups completely as the causes aren’t always clear. Try these methods to help prevent hiccups:
- Make sure your baby is calm when you feed them. This means not waiting until your baby is so hungry that they’re upset and crying before their feeding begins.
- After a feeding, avoid heavy activity with your baby, such as bouncing up and down or high-energy play.
- Keep your baby in an upright position for 20 to 30 minutes after each meal
- If you bottle-feed your baby, try to minimise the amount of air he swallows. Tilt the bottle so that the milk completely fills the teat before offering it to your baby. You could also consider an anti-colic bottle.
- Try giving your baby smaller feeds more often.
- Try to feed your baby in a more upright position.
When To See a Doctor
Hiccups are considered normal for an infant who is younger than 12 months old. They can also occur while the baby is still in the womb.
However, if your baby gets hiccups a lot, particularly if they’re also upset or agitated when hiccupping, it’s a good idea to talk to your baby’s doctor. This could be a sign of other medical issues.
Also, talk to a doctor if your baby’s hiccups are disturbing their sleep or if bouts of hiccups continue to happen often after your child’s first birthday.
It’s important to note that doctors advise that you avoid many of the stereotypical cures for hiccups when your baby gets them. For instance, don’t startle your baby or pull their tongue. These methods don’t usually work for infants, and they may do more harm than good.2
If you feel your baby’s hiccups have gone on for too prolonged a period of time (up to an hour, for instance), or seem to occur more frequently than seems normal, you can always ask your doctor about it,” she says. If your baby hiccups, spits up and coughs frequently during feeding, it could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is essentially baby heartburn. Most babies outgrow GER as the lower oesophagal sphincter gets stronger so it can stay closed and doesn’t let the acid up into the food pipe. But some babies may require medical attention in severe cases.