Of all the challenges facing new parents, a bout of hiccups is one you often don’t expect. And hiccups is a topic that’s rarely talked about in antenatal classes. But babies commonly do have hiccups and they can be long-lasting and look severe. A small baby being wracked by loud hiccups can look distressing.


So if your baby develops a bout of hiccups, what should you do?


First, what are hiccups?


Hiccups are caused by the contraction (tensing) of a muscle in the chest called the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a flat sheet of muscle that runs under the lungs and is one of the muscles that makes the chest rise and fall to help with breathing.


With hiccups, the diaphragm rhythmically spasms, forcing air out of the lungs. It also causes the vocal cords to close quickly, making the ‘hic’ hiccup sound.


What causes hiccups in babies?


Hiccups are usually caused by something irritating the diaphragm muscle.


As babies are so new to the world and as they’re growing fast and adjusting to life outside the womb, their diaphragms are often over-sensitive. Your baby may appear to develop hiccups out of nowhere, but they can be caused by trapped gas and they happen most often after feeding.


Hiccups can also be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). GERD is a painful condition caused by your baby’s stomach acid flowing up into their oesophagus (the tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach). It can cause a burning sensation that baby’s find very distressing – the hiccups are also usually accompanied by coughing, vomiting, loud crying and arching of the back. 


How to get rid of baby hiccups?


You’ve just fed your little one. You’ve just settled them down for a nap, you’re dreaming about making yourself a much-needed cup of coffee, then you hear the dreaded hiccup sound. What should you do?


Let the hiccups run their course


Hiccups can be irritating for adults, especially if they’re long-lasting. However, this often isn’t the case for babies. Even if a bout of baby-hiccups may look severe, babies often ride them out without seeming to notice. Babies can often fall asleep with hiccups. There’s even scientific evidence that hiccups are a necessary and beneficial part in a baby’s development.


If the hiccups don’t appear to be bothering your baby, you should try letting them naturally run their course.


Give your baby a dummy


If your baby’s hiccups do appear to bother them, and if they interfere with feeding or sleeping, then you can try giving them a dummy/pacifier. The sucking action can help relax their diaphragm and ease them out of their hiccups.


Burp your baby


Hiccups are often brought on by feeding as they can be caused by air that’s swallowed and trapped as babies drink milk. Burping can help release any trapped air, whilst holding your baby upright can also help with hiccups.


Burping after every meal can help. And if your baby is especially prone to hiccups after feeding, you can try burping them during feeds too.


Does your baby have gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)?


If your baby has hiccups after feeding, and the hiccups happen alongside a lot of crying and fussing and vomiting, your baby may have GERD. If they do, you need to treat their GERD, rather than treating their hiccups. 


There are plenty of steps you can take to treat GERD, like feeding your baby in a more upright position, trying smaller and more frequent feeds, or trying anti-reflux milk. If you think your baby does have GERD talk to a doctor, midwife, or nurse to get their advice. GERD can be painful and distressing, and both you and your baby will be a lot happier if you can nip it in the bud.


How to prevent baby hiccups?


It can be difficult to prevent baby hiccups, as it can be hard to understand what’s causing them. As there’s evidence that hiccups are a normal and beneficial part of your baby’s development, as long as their hiccups aren’t causing them any problems you should let them run their course.


If your little one’s hiccups are causing them distress however, you can try to:


1.      Make sure your baby is calm before feeding. Hiccups may be more likely to occur if they are crying or wriggling as they feed.

2.      Burp your baby after and during feeding. Don’t forget to cover your shoulder with a muslin square in case they bring anything up.

3.      Keep them in an upright position for 30 minutes after feeding.

4.      Ensure they are still and calm after feeding. Bouncing, tummy time, giggling and laughing, and strenuous play may make hiccups more likely.

5.      Talk to a doctor, midwife, or nurse if you think your baby has gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).


If in doubt, see a doctor


If your baby’s hiccups are particularly severe, long-lasting, or cause continued distress, see a doctor. It’s probably normal and nothing to worry about, but if you’re ever concerned about your baby’s health, a trip to the doctor is sensible.


In summary


Hiccups are common in babies. Thankfully, in most cases, hiccups don’t bother babies as much as they bother you, and you can let them run their course.


If hiccups do bother your baby however, you can try giving them a dummy or burping them. Hiccups can also be a sign that your baby has gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), which can be distressing, but can be treated and lessened.







[1] Event-related potentials following contraction of respiratory muscles in pre-term and full-term infants https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1388245719312362