- Hiccups are common and generally resolve by themselves after a few minutes.
- Hiccups occur when the diaphragm contracts or spasms.
- Hiccups are a reflex action and cannot be controlled.
- Hiccups can be more common after a baby has finished feeding.
- There is no special treatment for hiccups unless they’re caused by an underlying disorder.
What are hiccups?
Hiccups, also called hiccoughs, are a familiar condition in babies and adults. Hiccups are caused when the diaphragm (the thin muscle between the chest and the abdomen) involuntarily contracts and tightens.
The diaphragm is a large sheet of muscle slung between the lungs. Working together with the intercostal muscles, this causes us to breathe. An involuntary sharp intake of breath causes the vocal cords to close quickly which is what makes the familiar hiccup sound.
Why do babies get hiccups?
Once the nerves in the diaphragm are triggered, the diaphragm goes into spasms. It’s not clearly understood what causes the nerves to be stimulated in the first place. Though in babies, hiccups are generally understood to be due to feeding.
Hiccups are common in babies aged up to 12 months, especially in newborns just after they’ve been fed. Babies can even hiccup when they’re in the womb before they are born.
Why do children get hiccups?
It’s understood the mechanism for hiccupping is the same for people of all ages — from babies to adults. The involuntary, sharp contraction of the diaphragm causes a sharp intake of air into the throat. As the epiglottis (a flap at the top of the airway) closes, it makes the ‘hic’ sound.
In adults, hiccups can be caused by eating hot, spicy foods, drinking fizzy drinks, smoking or chewing gum.
Does it hurt when they hiccup?
When a baby hiccups, it can look as if their whole body is moving and the hiccup sound can be quite loud. However, it’s unlikely that the baby feels any pain when they’re hiccupping. It’s fair to say that the experience for a baby or young child is similar to when an adult is hiccupping. Hiccupping can sometimes accompany refluxing episodes with small amounts of milk brought up.
Babies who have been diagnosed with gastro-oesophageal disease (GORD) can have discomfort when acid from the stomach comes up the oesophagus (food pipe) due to reflux.
How can you prevent or stop hiccups in babies?
There is little that can be done for babies who are hiccupping, other than to sit them upright and try burping them. Most babies stop hiccupping after a few minutes, without any special care or treatment.
How can you prevent or stop hiccups in children?
If your baby often hiccups after feeding, you could try extending their feeding time. This can be easier for bottle fed babies. Taking more time to feed can sometimes be helpful because this is more relaxed. Experiment with using a slower teat and tightening the screw cap on the top of the bottle. If your baby is 6 months or more, you could also try offering some cooled, boiled water to drink.
You could try burping your baby more often during their feeds. Sit your baby upright on your lap or over your shoulder and gently rub or pat their back. As a general guide, most babies who need to burp will do so after a minute or two. If your baby doesn’t seem bothered or uncomfortable by wind and they haven’t burped after you’ve given them the opportunity, resume their feed.
When should I see a doctor?
It’s important to follow your own feelings about your baby and when to get them checked.
As a general guide, have your baby checked by a doctor if:
- your baby’s hiccups have not settled within 5-10 minutes
- you feel your baby’s hiccupping is affecting their sleep or behaviour
If your baby’s skin colour changes or if they appear dusky or blue, go to the emergency department or call triple zero (000).
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: October 2022