You stare into your baby’s face, admiring his cuteness. And then it comes, and comes again and again. Hiccups are very common in babies, but they have the power to unnerve a new mother. Their intensity and frequency leave you unsettled and run for help. But before acting on it, learn about the various reasons for hiccups. MomJunction explains the causes and tells you how to get rid of hiccups in babies. Written by Rohit Garoo (BSc), Medically reviewed by Dr. Tehmina Amer (MD, FRCPC). MomJunction is your friend, philosopher, and guide – all rolled into one. We are a place to stop for a while and hang out with likeminded people, a place to learn and to teach. Photo: kelvin octa (pexels.com)
Why Do Babies Get Hiccups?
Hiccups are so common in babies that your little one perhaps hiccupped for the first time when he was still in your womb! Yes, fetuses can hiccup from the second trimester onwards. Back then he could have hiccupped as he was swallowing amniotic fluids, but now that cause could be milk or something else. Let’s see what causes hiccups in babies:
1. Gastroesophageal reflux
Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition in which the contents of the stomach move into the esophagus. Reflux occurs as babies have an underdeveloped lower esophageal sphincter, which lies between the esophagus and stomach and prevents the upward movement of the food. The irritation caused by the backflow of food and acid triggers the nerve cells to cause a flutter in the diaphragm, leading to hiccups.
Overfeeding your baby, even on breast milk, can cause the stomach to bloat and distend. The sudden expansion of the abdominal cavity stretches the diaphragm, causing it to go into a spasm. This, in turn, makes your baby hiccup.
3. Gulping too much air
If your baby is bottle-fed, he may swallow excessive air since milk flows faster from a bottle than from your breast. The air inflow causes symptoms similar to those of overfeeding, and the swelled stomach will result in hiccups. Overfeeding in combination with air swallowing can cause the baby to break into hiccups and get cranky.
The baby could be allergic to certain proteins found in formula milk or even in breast milk, which in turn causes an inflammation of the esophagus, called Eosinophilic Esophagitis. As a reaction to the condition, the diaphragm flutters frequently causing hiccups. In some cases, the allergy could be triggered by a change in the composition of the breast milk due to certain foods consumed by the mother.
If your baby is asthmatic, the bronchial tubes of his lungs get inflamed thus restricting the airflow into the lungs. This causes wheezing due to lack of breath, which in turn leads to spasmodic movement of the diaphragm thus inducing hiccups.
6. Airborne irritants
Babies have a sensitive respiratory system, and any airborne irritant such as fumes, pollution or intense fragrance can trigger a cough in them. Repeated coughing puts pressure on the diaphragm, making it flutter. This can cause your baby to break into hiccups.
7. Drop in temperature
Sometimes a drop in the temperature can cause the muscles of the baby to contract. This can lead to a contraction of the diaphragm, making the baby break into a bout of hiccups.
Do not panic if your baby suddenly starts having hiccups. Be alert, and analyze the reasons, as that helps you focus on stopping the hiccups. Maintain a baby hiccups diary to note down the time and conditions in which your baby has hiccupped. Also, register the baby’s condition and reaction to the pacification measures. This log will be helpful in case you have to visit the pediatrician.
Once you understand the pattern, it will be easier to stop the hiccups. But before we tell you how to stop hiccups in babies, let’s see how you can prevent them. Prevention is always better than cure, isn’t it?
How To Prevent Hiccups In Babies?
You can prevent hiccups in your baby if you are careful with his feed. According to popular American pediatrician Dr. William Sears, overfeeding is the common cause for hiccups in infants. Never breastfeed or bottle feed your baby in large quantities in one go since it can cause a serious distension of the stomach.
Keep the following points in mind while feeding your little one:
- Feed your baby small quantities over a longer period of time rather than stuffing him in one sitting. This will help prevent overfeeding that is a cause for hiccups in babies.
- Hold your baby in a vertical position while breast/bottle feeding, at an angle of 35 to 45 degrees, since this will enable smooth flow of the milk through the esophagus.
- If your baby is old enough to sit, then you can bottle feed him in sitting position. Sit behind him to support his back. Feeding while sitting will ensure that gravity plays its part in pulling down just the food and not the air.
- Listen to the sound he makes while feeding. If he is making too much slurping noise, then he is probably ingesting a lot of air. Adjust the nipple in his mouth so that there is little air gap. While breast feeding, ensure that the baby’s mouth covers the entire nipple.
- Regularly clean and wash your baby’s bottle to prevent the build-up of milk solids on the nipple. An obstruction while feeding can cause the baby to suck more air than milk thus causing hiccups.
- Never let a baby sleep while feeding with the bottle. Unlike breast, where milk only flows on suckling, a bottle provides a constant drip of milk. Apart from increasing the risk of cavities, it can also cause overfeeding, which in turn may lead to hiccups.
- Break your feeding with mini-burping sessions. Place your baby on your shoulder and gently tap his back between his shoulder blades, to induce a burp. Once he burps, give a 20-second break, and then resume the feeding. When feeding from the bottle, wait until the bottle is half empty and then induce a burp. A break for a few seconds will help the milk to completely flow down to the stomach from the esophagus thus mitigating the chances of a hiccup.
Now, imagine that you have been taking all the precautions, but your baby still got hiccups for some reason. What would you do to stop them? Read on.
How To Get Rid Of Baby Hiccups?
Try these but one at a time.
1. Give him some sugar
This has been the age-old remedy for hiccups. If your baby is old enough to eat some solid food, then place some sugar crystals under his tongue. In case he is too young to consume solids, you can dip his pacifier in some freshly made sugar syrup and insert it in his mouth. Or dip your finger in the syrup and let the baby lick it. Make sure that the pacifier and your finger are both clean. Sugar may ease the tension in the diaphragm, thus stopping your baby’s hiccups.
2. Massage the baby’s back
It is a more direct way of dealing with hiccups. Position your baby in an upright sitting position and gently rub his lower back all the way to his shoulder in circular motions. You can also place the baby on his tummy and give the same message but ensure that you place him on a soft and spongy surface, like a mattress. Be gentle with your movements and do not apply too much pressure. The idea here is to loosen the tension in his diaphragm, which can relieve him of hiccups.
3. Keep the baby upright after feeding
Hold your baby vertical and upright for up to 15 minutes after feeding. Staying upright will keep his diaphragm in its natural position thus preventing any muscle fluttering. You can also pat his back gently to make him burp, which will bring out the air he ingested while feeding. This will work at relaxing his diaphragm thus reducing the chances of hiccups.
4. Distract your baby
Sometimes the good old peek-a-boo can do the trick! Whenever your baby breaks into bouts of hiccups, try distracting him with a game activity or by rattling his favorite toy in front of him. Hiccups are caused by muscle spasms, which can be triggered by nerve impulses. A change in a nerve stimuli through touch (like in massage) or through some sensory input (seeing favorite toy) can subdue the frequency of baby hiccups if not completely stop them.
5. Try gripe water
Note that there is no scientific backing to the benefits of gripe water to treat gastrointestinal problems in infants. Yet, it is one of the most popular solutions to treat gastric discomfort, which could be a cause for hiccups in babies. You can give gripe water by diluting it with clean drinking water. Your baby may be allergic to certain ingredients in the gripe water or could be too young to consume it. Consult a pediatrician before giving gripe water to your baby.
You may try one or more of the above remedies for hiccups. But in your anxiety, you might sometimes do things which could do more harm than good to the baby.
Things You Should Never Do
There are certain remedies for hiccups that are suited for adults. Never try them on your little one since it may lead to adverse effects.
- Startle or scare the baby: Never try to startle or scare the baby to make him stop hiccupping. A loud bang of a bursting plastic bag, commonly used for hiccupping adults, may cause damage to the sensitive eardrums of babies. It may also scare the baby to the point that he slips into a colic trauma.
- Feed sour confectionery: Sour candy works great for adults but is not meant for babies. Even if your little one is over 12 months, it is not advisable to feed him sour candy or other sour eatables to alleviate hiccups. Most sour candies contain powdered edible acid, which may not be good for the health of your little one.
- Slap the back of the baby: The ligaments in your baby’s skeleton are still supple and any shock or brute force may cause them serious damage. For this reason, never slap the back of the baby to stop him from hiccupping. You may gently tap, but any force beyond that can inflict injury.
- Press the eyeballs: Ocular muscles, the strands of muscles that help the eye move, are still in their developmental stages. This means they are less likely to bring the eye back to its normal position if dealt with force. Pressing the eyeball of a baby, even gently, is, therefore, a strict no-no.
- Pull the tongue or a limb: Babies are delicate, and like mentioned earlier, their bones and joints are not yet capable of withstanding pulls and tugs. Do not pull the tongue or limbs of the baby to prevent him from hiccupping.
Hiccups are a temporary nuisance, which can be dealt with a few right measures. But if they recur frequently, then it is the time to see a doctor.
When To Consult A Doctor?
1. If it is gastroesophageal reflux
If your baby has chronic hiccups and always burps with gobs of liquid, then he may be showing symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux is usually accompanied by other symptoms, including irritability, arching of the back and crying after a few minutes of feeding. In case you suspect it to be reflux, consult your pediatrician right away.
2. Hiccups interfere with activities like sleep and feeding
It is okay for the baby to hiccup once in a while but if the hiccups interfere with his daily activities such as feeding, sleep and playtime, then you must take him to the doctor. If the hiccups get chronic and hinder his daily activities, then your baby will automatically show signs of discomfort. This means that his hiccups could be due to an underlying cause that needs medical attention.
3. When the hiccups last for hours or days
Babies, including the newborns, can hiccup almost daily for several minutes or an hour. If they generally appear happy and comfortable, then there is no reason to worry. But if the hiccups show no sign of fading and continue for an abnormally long time, then the cause could be serious. Also, observe if the baby’s hiccups are accompanied by an abnormal sound like wheezing. In such cases, you should certainly consult your pediatrician.
Patience and observation will help you and your baby smile your way through hiccups. Household remedies are the simple means of suppressing and even preventing hiccups in your baby. Always remember, hiccups are never going to harm the baby and are completely normal in infants. So never panic about them since it is a natural event. Some basic precautions while feeding should help you deal with baby hiccups on a day to day basis. In case the hiccupping gets chronic, then consult a pediatrician.