Babies, like adults, get the hiccups. In fact, babies hiccup before they are even born. The causes of hiccups in infants and babies vary. While it may be frustrating to watch your baby go through a bout of hiccups — especially when she is trying to sleep — most of the causes are not serious. Some, however, can be uncomfortable or even life-threatening for your baby.
Babies start to hiccup while still in the womb. The reason for this is not established, but hiccups in utero may be the developing fetus’s way of strengthening his diaphragm muscles to prepare for breathing. Most expectant mothers feel their baby start to hiccup sometime in the second trimester.
Gastroesophogeal Reflux, or GER, can cause hiccups in babies caused by an underdeveloped lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. This ring of muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus closes and opens to allow food into the stomach and prevent it from leaving the stomach. In young infants (especially premature babies), the LES may not be fully developed and does not close properly, allowing food to move back up from the stomach into the esophagus. This is uncomfortable for the baby and may cause fussing and hiccups. Most babies eventually grow out of this problem, however.
Hiccups can occur after a baby has a bout of crying, or after she eats. This is usually due to the baby swallowing air. Burping your baby often will help, as will calming down an excited or overwrought baby. Breastfeeding can also reduce the instances of hiccups, as babies who breastfeed tend to swallow less air than those who use a bottle.
Curing the Hiccups
You can’t tell a baby to hold her breath when she has the hiccups, and this doesn’t always work to cure the hiccups anyway. Instead, gently pat her on the back until her hiccups subside. If your baby feeds from a bottle, check to make sure the flow of milk is not too fast. Milk should drip slowly from the hole in the nipple, not stream out. If the milk is flowing freely, switch to a nipple with a smaller hole.
When to Worry
Frequent and prolonged periods of hiccups in the womb can be a sign of umbilical cord compression, according to the Pregnancy Institute. If your baby has bouts of hiccups that last for longer than 10 minutes, several times a day, have an ultrasound performed to determine the position of the umbilical cord.