Baby Talk: Why do babies hiccup so much?

September 10, 2013 

There are plenty of theories about baby hiccups. One is that their tummy is small and they might overeat, they might swallow air when crying, or it just may be that their digestive system is still immature.

Babies have the hiccups when they are still inside their mother. So this is nothing new for a baby. Over the first few months of life outside their mothers, the baby adjusts and matures.

If a baby is experiencing a lot of spit up with the hiccups, GERD ( Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease) may be suspected. GERD isn't a disease as much as it is a condition. If food keeps bouncing out of the stomach and back up the esophagus, it can lead to irritation and discomfort for the baby.

If a baby has a lot ofspit up with the hiccups you should definitely let your pediatrician know this.

Some babies have what is called "silent GERD." These babies don't eat enough to spit up all the way to the mouth. The food they ingest just bounces up into the esophagus enough to cause irritation and pain.

This is the diagnosis that is used when a baby eats just enough to satisfy hunger, but not enough to grow. They start associating eating with pain.

These babies fall into the category of "failure to thrive." They cannot thrive because it is so painful for them to eat. All of this is treatable.

The medical term for hiccups is: SDF (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter). It is described as the sudden, involuntary contraction of the diaphragm which occurs at the same time as a contraction of the voice box (larynx) and the total closure of the glottis, effectively blocking air intake (

Which means the diaphragm, which is located close to the stomach, is affected by the fullness of the stomach, which causes it to contract or flutter, this then stimulates the glottis to open and snap close, which then gives us the sound that is associated with the hiccups.

Other possible causes for hiccups are hot food irritating the phrenic nerve, gas in the stomach (when a baby cries for a prolong period of time it can fill their tummy with air), too much food, eating too rapidly, sudden change in temperature.

There are also other things that can cause hiccups in adults, but those are the usual causes in babies.

If a baby is having occasional hiccups, has minimal spit up, is gaining weight, seems happy and content, there is nothing to worry about. The hiccups are probably going to bother the parents much more than the baby.

Some cultures have some interesting cures for the hiccups. I have seen pieces of string or pieces of paper on baby's foreheads. These are supposed to help the baby get rid of hiccups or prevent hiccups.

The reality is that babies will get the hiccups and they will go away, probably without any intervention from anyone.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital's Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living. Contact her at

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