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Hiccups In Babies: Causes, Tips To Stop And Prevent It

Hiccups can occur at any age, even under the age of one. It can come at any time of the day causing minor inconvenience; however, as adults, we drink water to stop the short-term hiccups but when hiccups happen to babies, it can be a different experience. This is because babies don't know what's happening and might be startled by the hiccups, and they could experience some discomfort as well.

In this article, we'll talk about what causes hiccups in babies, the tips to stop and prevent hiccups and when to see a doctor.

What Causes Hiccups In Babies?

Hiccups occur when the baby's diaphragm (the muscle below your baby's chest that separates the abdomen from the chest) contracts causing the air to forcefully come out through closed vocal chords, creating the hiccupping sound [1] [2].

Hiccups are very common in babies under 12 months of age. In fact, newborns often get hiccups in the womb even before they are born. In newborns, the hiccupping reflex is very strong and they spend 2.5 per cent of their time in the newborn stage hiccupping. And then as they reach the infant stage, the hiccups gradually decrease continuing throughout adulthood [1].

Hiccups are a reflex action, which means we can't stop it from occurring or control it. It is usually not serious and in most cases, it goes away in a few minutes.

Health experts aren't sure about the exact cause of hiccups in babies. But, it is believed that hiccups can occur in babies due to the following reasons:

  • While eating and drinking if too much air is swallowed at the same time hiccups can occur.
  • When the baby eats too quickly.
  • When the baby is overfed.
  • Strong emotions, such as excitement or stress in babies can also cause hiccup.

These factors can cause the baby's stomach to expand and as the stomach expands, it pushes against the diaphragm, triggering the spasms that cause hiccups.

A study published in the JAMA Pediatrics reported that hiccups can occur after a baby has been nursing and the milk curd particles are thrown back up into the oesophagus, causing irritation in the oesophagus and leading to hiccups. It was observed that infants may start to hiccup shortly (within about 10 minutes) after the milk flows backwards into the mouth after nursing [3].

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How To Stop Hiccups In Babies?

Hiccups can cause your baby to feel uncomfortable; here are some tips to stop hiccups in babies:

  • Burp your baby - Hiccups can be triggered by excess air that gets trapped in the stomach while your baby is eating. When the stomach is filled with air, it may push the diaphragm, causing spasms and leading to hiccups. Take a break from feeding to burp your baby to help get rid of hiccups [4].
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that burping your bottle-fed baby not only after feeding but during feeding as well. If you are breastfeeding your baby, make them burp while switching between your breasts.

    • Use a pacifier - If your baby starts to hiccup on their own and not after nursing, try allowing your baby to suck on a pacifier as this may help relax the diaphragm and stop hiccupping.
    • Try feeding your baby gripe water - Gripe water is a blend of herbs and water; herbs such as chamomile, cinnamon, ginger and fennel are used. You can consider trying gripe water if your baby feels discomfort. However, it is recommended to consult your doctor before giving your baby gripe water.
    • Rub your baby's back - Rubbing or gently patting your baby's back and rocking your baby back and forth can help stop hiccups.
    • Feed a relaxed baby - Do not feed your baby only when they cry for food, as this could lead to excessive ingestion of air when the baby gulps down food due to hunger. Feed your baby when they are calm and relaxed.
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Things You Should Avoid Doing To Your Baby To Stop Hiccups

  • Do not give your baby sour candies.
  • Do not smack your baby's back.
  • Do not pull your baby's tongue, arm or leg.
  • Do not make loud unexpected sounds to get rid of hiccups as this might terrify your baby.
  • Do not put pressure on your baby's eyes.
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Prevention Of Hiccups In Babies

  • Feed your baby frequently in small amounts.
  • Hold your baby in an upright position for 20 minutes after each feed.
  • Try to feed your baby in an upright position.
  • Feed your baby when they are calm. Don't wait for your baby to feel hungry.
  • If you are bottle-feeding your baby, try to minimise the amount of air they swallow. Tilt the bottle so that the milk completely fills the teat before feeding your baby.
  • After feeding do not indulge in any physical activities with your baby, such as bouncing your baby up and down.
  • Avoid overfeeding your baby.
  • While breastfeeding, ensure that your baby's mouth is latched onto the nipple properly.
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When To See A Doctor

Hiccups in babies aren't usually a concern if the baby stops hiccupping within 5-10 minutes. But, if the hiccups don't stop within a couple of hours, you should consult a paediatrician.

In addition, if the baby is having frequent hiccups it can be a sign of an underlying health condition. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may cause frequent, uncomfortable hiccups in babies [5].

Read more about: hiccup babies infant causes prevention