Being a parent to a newborn can be a wild ride. You are given this little ball of squish and it’s your job to love and protect them. You’d think that all you’d need to do is feed them, change their diaper, and put them to bed. But it’s not quite that simple.
If you are the parent of an infant, you probably know how stressful the whole experience can be, and how quick you may be to second-guess every little thing about your newborn’s behavior. Why did my baby startle like that? Are babies supposed to make so many strange sounds? Is that just a sniffle…or something else?
And what about baby hiccups? Babies tend to hiccup very frequently, many times a day. You may be asking yourself what causes hiccups in babies, why your wee one is hiccupping quite so often, and if there are any concerns with frequent hiccupping.
But maybe most importantly, you may be looking for ways to get all that hiccupping to stop!
What Are Hiccups?
Before we can understand the cases of hiccups in babies, we have to understand what is happening to a baby’s body when hiccups are produced.
Simply put, hiccups are involuntary contractions of your body’s diaphragm muscles. Each time the diaphragm contracts, the muscles around your vocal cords close as well, which is what causes the characteristic “hic” sound of hiccups.
Sometimes hiccups are accompanied by a tightening feeling in the chest, and sometimes hiccups are accompanied by burps, belching, or heartburn. Most mammals hiccup, including dogs, cats, horses, and rabbits. Human babies tend to hiccup more frequently than older children and adults.
Causes of Hiccupping in Babies
Experts do not agree definitively on what causes hiccups, though it appears that there may be more than one cause. Hiccups are a reflex, similar to coughing or sneezing, something your body does without you thinking. Babies are born with many reflexes, including the sucking reflex, rooting reflex, and startle reflex.
Most cases of hiccups in adults are caused by drinking something too quickly, indigestion, eating too much, swallowing air while eating, drinking carbonated beverages, emotional stress, or even air pressure changes. Hiccupping in babies has similar causes, although babies obviously don’t consume the same foods and drinks as adults!
Below are some of the most common causes of hiccupping in babies.
Eating Too Fast
Just as eating too quickly can cause adults to hiccup, the same thing can happen with babies. This can happen if you are using a fast flow nipple on your baby’s bottle, or if you are dealing with a forceful let-down while breastfeeding. Babies who are starting solids can get the hiccups if they are fed too much at once or given meals that are too large for their digestive system to handle.
Needing to Burp
One doctor, Daniel Howes, has proposed that hiccups are a baby’s way of clearing excess air out of their stomach—or essentially burping themselves. Obviously sometimes hiccupping doesn’t work and your baby might need a little help getting that extra air out.
Swallowing excess air can bring on the hiccups! This can happen during a feeding, for example, when your baby is sucking on a bottle nipple with no milk in it, or if your latch during breastfeeding isn’t deep or secure enough.
Symptoms of a less than ideal latch at the breast include a baby who keeps slipping off the breast while feeding or a baby who is latched onto the end of the nipple rather than the areola.
Eating too much at once can result in hiccupping. The AAP recommends feeding your baby just a few ounces of formula at once, giving your baby a break, holding them upright to digest, burping them, and then feeding them the rest of their bottle.
In general, it’s best to allow your baby to dictate how much they eat at once (i.e., on demand feeding) rather than following a schedule. Giving your baby breaks to digest and not continuing to feed if your baby seems satisfied can help with problems like excessive hiccupping.
Sometimes hiccupping, along with burping, can be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux, a very common and generally treatable syndrome found in babies.
Basically, a baby’s digestive system is less developed at first, which can cause them to regurgitate stomach acid. This can cause hiccupping, belching, burping, and general discomfort. If you suspect your baby is dealing with gastroesophageal reflux, talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment.
How to Stop Your Baby’s Hiccups
Simply put, if your baby is a “happy hiccupper,” and doesn’t seem uncomfortable or distressed, there is actually nothing that needs to be done about hiccupping.
Hiccupping is very normal in babies and usually decreases in frequency after their first few months or the first year of life.
However, if your baby seems uncomfortable, the hiccupping is accompanied by excessive crying, spitting up, or belching—or if the hiccupping is interfering with their sleep, naps, or feedings—then there are a few things to try to stop the hiccups from happening. These tips are listed below.
Burp Your Baby
Hiccupping may be your baby’s way of trying to relieve their hiccups but sometimes they may need a little help in that department.
Burping your baby is pretty simple, but you do want to make sure you do it right. Burping involves applying gentle pressure on your baby’s abdomen and can be helped by a gentle rubbing of their back.
Laying your baby on their back and bicycling their legs can release gas and even help with hiccupping and burping too.
Be Mindful As You Feed Your Baby
Overfeeding your baby, feeding your baby too quickly, or allowing your baby to swallow excess air can lead to increased hiccupping. Being mindful of how you are feeding your baby can be helpful.
- If Bottle Feeding: Make sure to take breaks after your baby has ingested a few ounces. Burp your baby and hold your baby upright for a minute or two. Don’t overfeed your baby; if they seem satisfied, feed them more later. If your baby seems to be swallowing air, you can try different bottle nipples and make sure your baby isn’t suckling on an empty bottle nipple.
- If Breastfeeding: Burp your baby between breasts. If your baby seems to be choking on your milk, you may be dealing with an overactive letdown or an oversupply of milk. You can remedy this by allowing your baby to finish one breast before moving to the second breast. You can also lean back a little while nursing to decrease flow and allow the milk to go “down the hatch.”
Sit Your Baby Upright After Feeds
Whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, holding your baby upright after feeding can help them digest their milk and decrease hiccupping, burping, and other digestive discomfort. You can also consider holding your baby in an upright position during feeding, as this can aid in the milk flowing downward.
Offer Your Baby a Pacifier
Sometimes non-nutritive suckling, such as allowing your baby to suck on a pacifier, can relax their diaphragm and decrease or eliminate their hiccupping. Allowing your baby to “comfort nurse” can have a similar effect.
Treat Your Baby’s Gastroesophageal Reflux
Some parents try to treat their baby’s hiccups or other digestive upset with products like gripe water. These products are not regulated by the FDA and you can’t always be sure that the ingredients are safe for your baby. However, if used under the supervision of a doctor, they may be helpful in some circumstances.
If your baby is diagnosed with reflux or reflux is suspected, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medication or prescription medication that can help your baby with reflux and also help reduce their hiccupping.
Are Hiccups In Babies Serious?
Most bouts of hiccupping seem to disturb parents more than they do babies. Again, hiccupping is very normal and most babies do it. It’s something they generally outgrow within a few months.
Nevertheless, at times they can be bothersome to your baby, and in rare cases may signify a more complex medical issue.
When To Call Your Doctor About Baby Hiccups
You can always bring up your concerns about your baby’s hiccups to their doctor—that’s what they are there for. Your doctor may be able to pinpoint what is causing your baby’s hiccups and offer solutions that address the causes.
Occasionally, your doctor might find that your baby’s hiccupping points to a larger problem that your baby is experiencing, such as gastroesophageal reflux or allergies to foods, formulas, or something in your breastmilk.
Gastroesophageal reflux is something your doctor may diagnose simply from hearing your baby’s symptoms or after performing diagnostic tests, such as ultrasounds or blood or urine analysis.