What Causes Hiccups in Newborns?

Traci Behringer

Hiccups are spontaneous, convulsive tightenings of the diaphragm, and they are a common occurrence. The exact cause of hiccups in newborns is not known, but many specialists believe that they occur because a newborn drinks too quickly. Like people of any age, drinking too quickly will cause a newborn to swallow air. It also is possible for a newborn to be fussy or upset while feeding, hastening each sip and increasing the likelihood of hiccups in newborns.

Hiccups in infants often occur when the baby is feeding, either by breast or from a bottle.
Hiccups in infants often occur when the baby is feeding, either by breast or from a bottle.

Preventing hiccups in newborns requires parents to be a attentive during feeding. If possible, the parent should try to slow down how fast the baby drinks. If he or she seems to be drinking too quickly, the parent should gently pull the bottle or breast nipple away and let the baby catch his or her breath. Feeding can be resumed after a moment. Burping a baby more frequently can also help prevent hiccups.

When the larynx and diaphragm tighten at the same time, the glottis closes, resulting in a hiccup.
When the larynx and diaphragm tighten at the same time, the glottis closes, resulting in a hiccup.

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Medically speaking, hiccups arrest the airflow. When the larynx and diaphragm tighten at the same time, the glottis — the space between the vocal cords — closes. The end result is a hiccup.

Newborns suffering from intractable hiccups may also suffer from fatigue and weight loss.
Newborns suffering from intractable hiccups may also suffer from fatigue and weight loss.

Though parents might be concerned when hiccups occur, there usually is no reason to worry about them. Hiccups in newborns, like those in children and adults, are normal. They can occur at any time of day. Normally, hiccups will last just a few minutes, but they can last for an hour or even the entire day.

Newborns who are upset and crying while they feed may be more at risk for hiccups.
Newborns who are upset and crying while they feed may be more at risk for hiccups.

On rare occasions, hiccups can actually last beyond 48 consecutive hours. When this happens, they are known as persistent hiccups. On even rarer occasions, hiccups can persist for more than a month. Hiccups in newborns lasting more than a month are known as intractable hiccups, and this causes fatigue and weight loss. Parents should take a newborn who is experiencing persistent or intractable hiccups to see a pediatrician.

Drinking too quickly can cause a newborn to swallow air.
Drinking too quickly can cause a newborn to swallow air.

Hiccups do not actually harm a newborn in any way. In fact, a newborn will rarely ever seem bothered when they happen, even if they become loud and violent. In fact, more often than not, the parents find themselves more bothered than the newborn. If the newborn still seems happy and is smiling, there is no concern.

When the larynx and diaphragm tighten at the same time the glottis closes, causing a hiccup.
When the larynx and diaphragm tighten at the same time the glottis closes, causing a hiccup.

When hiccups do occur, parents can take a few measures to try to make them go away. For example, parents can walk around with a newborn and try to distract him or her from the hiccups. Showing a newborn objects around the house also can also help distract him or her, effectively stopping the hiccups from returning.

Drinking too quickly can cause hiccups in newborns.
Drinking too quickly can cause hiccups in newborns.
Parents can try to distract a newborn from his or her hiccups to help them go away.
Parents can try to distract a newborn from his or her hiccups to help them go away.

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