Even though hiccups are annoying, they may actually be beneficial to your baby's development. Indeed, a study by University College London (UCL), published in the December 2019 edition of Clinical Neurophysiology, claims that hiccups send out waves of brain signals that help your baby regulate their breathing. The research was conducted on 13 preterm and full-term newborns.
According to Dr. Lorenzo Fabrizi, the senior author of the study, "The activity resulting from a hiccup may be helping the baby's brain to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles so that eventually breathing can be voluntarily controlled by moving the diaphragm up and down."
Read on to learn more about why newborns hiccup, with tips for getting rid of annoying cases.
Why Does My Newborn Hiccup?
Hiccups happen when the diaphragm, the respiratory muscle at the base of the chest, gets irritated and spasms. Since a baby's stomach and torso are small, it doesn't take much to fill their tummy to the brim and push it up into the diaphragm.
What's more, "your baby's swallowing and breathing abilities aren't fully synchronized yet," says Peter Vishton, Ph.D., head researcher at the Child Development Research Center at the College of William & Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, and creator of the DVD What Babies Can Do: An Activity-Based Guide to Infant Development. "She may try to swallow at the same time she draws a breath, and that's what sets it off."
But why do baby hiccups last so long? "She's still learning how to untangle these bad patterns, so it simply takes her longer than it takes an adult or even an older child to get back to normal," Dr. Vishton says.
How to Get Rid of Baby Hiccups
Although hiccups are beneficial for newborns, some cases can be particularly annoying. Nursing your baby or giving them a bottle may help get rid of them, but if they're still in a hiccup holding pattern, think about taking them someplace quiet.
"Hiccups can also be a sign that your baby's feeling overwhelmed by her environment," explains DeAnn Davies, the director of child development at Scottsdale Healthcare, in Arizona. "Newborns aren't good at blocking out noise when they're awake." Try a room away from big siblings, pets, and the TV. Turn the lights down low, too, and your baby should be hiccup-free before long.
Frequent hiccups may also be a sign of reflux, since they can be triggered by esophagus spasms and extra air in the stomach. If your little one also has other signs of reflux—like vomiting, spitting up, refusal to eat, irritability, coughing, or gagging—bring up your concerns with the pediatrician. They may have some suggestions on getting rid of newborn hiccups.