Maybe you felt them when you were pregnant - those little, repetitive bumps signaling that your little one had hiccups while in your belly. Maybe you never noticed them until your baby was born. But now you’re worried that your newborn’s frequent hiccups could mean something is medically wrong. Rest assured - hiccups are common and seem to bother parents more than babies.
For babies just as for adults, hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm - the muscle just below your rib cage that goes up and down when you breathe - that can be uncomfortable. Hiccups can startle a baby and cause some fussiness, but are rarely a signal of a health problem. Your job as a new parent, then, becomes making your baby more comfortable.
Keep a diary
Your first step is to figure out if something regularly triggers your baby’s hiccups. Record feeding (amount, length, position, etc.), spitting up, sleep and wake periods - then note when the hiccups happen. If you begin to see relationships, you’ll have a better idea on comfort measures to pursue.
Adjust feeding patterns
It’s common for hiccups to be related to feedings - especially since your baby is just mastering the suck / swallow / breathe of eating on top of a developing digestive system. Whether you’re breast or bottle feeding, try feeding more often. With breastfeeding, this may mean shorter feedings. With bottle feeding, you’ll give your baby fewer ounces but closer together. This can keep an overfull stomach from prompting muscle spasms of the diaphragm (since they’re right next to each other in your baby’s abdomen) and keep the contents of the stomach from coming back up in the process. Try to keep baby calm before feeding - catch those early hunger cues rather than trying to start a feeding when baby is already crying. Even trying to feed in different positions can sometimes help.
Burp more often
Try to keep your baby from swallowing less air when feeding. If you’re breastfeeding, be sure you get a deep latch. If you have an overactive letdown or oversupply of milk, feed in an upright position and take your baby off the breast if he’s being overwhelmed by the flow. If you’re bottle feeding, keep the bottle at a 45-degree angle and give your baby frequent breaks. You can stop and burp your baby more often during feeding sessions - don’t wait until the end but burp several times, especially if you notice lots of gulping! If your baby already has hiccups, rubbing rather than patting the back may be more comforting for baby - and may soothe the diaphragm spasms.
Keep baby upright
Sometimes babies benefit from being held upright for 20-30 minutes after a feeding - especially if your baby’s hiccups tend to start after burping or spitting up following a feeding. This allows air to rise to the top of the stomach so the burping comes easier - and in turn it alleviates that pressure on the diaphragm.
Sucking sometimes helps
Put your baby to the breast or give her a pacifier. Sometimes this is enough to coordinate breathing and relax the diaphragm. Steer clear of dipping the pacifier in sugar, though - this part of the old wives’ tale doesn’t have any support!
Avoid ‘old wives tales’ remedies.
While your mother, aunt or grandmother might tell you they always worked for her babies, some cures may do more harm than good. And what works for adults may not be appropriate for babies.
- Don’t offer water to baby - especially if he’s younger than 6 months old.
- Don’t startle or scare baby.
- Don’t put a wet cloth on your baby’s forehead.
- Don’t pull on baby’s tongue.
- Don’t press on baby’s forehead, eyes or soft spot.
- While holding your breath is a common treatment for adult hiccups, never do this to your baby.
Could your baby have reflux?
“Reflux” is the term for any regurgitation or spit up. It’s normal for babies to occasionally spit up small amounts of milk - this is a laundry problem not a medical one. It is only a problem if the spit up is copious, forceful and frequent. Babies with gastroesophageal reflux disease (sometimes referred to as GER or GERD) tend to have other symptoms, as well, such as excessive crying, “colicky” behavior, seeming to be in pain, back arching during or after feedings, and more frequent hiccuping. Reflux is caused by an immature muscle valve allowing stomach contents (food and stomach acid) to pass back up into the esophagus, causing burning pain. Once diagnosed, GERD can be treated with medication. Babies typically outgrow GERD as their digestive system matures, and rarely have long-lasting health consequences from it.
Many times hiccups will continue to occur no matter what interventions you try. As your baby’s digestive system matures, hiccups should decrease in frequency. Check with your baby’s doctor if the hiccups are unmanageable with simple interventions, or if they continue to happen frequently after your baby’s first birthday.