Child with hiccups

Child hiccups are seldom cause for alarm

Oh, the joy of a baby’s hiccup!

The baby’s eyes get big and their whole body jolts with that cute little hic!  There it goes again: hic! Ha-ha! So cute. And again: hic! Hmmmm. Hic! OK, you can stop. Hic! Anytime, just stop. Hic!

Not so cute anymore. What’s going on? Is something wrong?

Probably not.

“A hiccup is part of a natural process,” said Ameera Nauman, MD, a pediatrician with OSF Medical Group – Pediatrics. “Hiccups and sneezes are just two things babies do. Generally, they’re very mild, and they usually go away after a few minutes.”

Feeding plays a major role

Hiccups occur with a spasm of the baby’s diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle below the lungs. When it contracts, air is drawn into the lungs. When it relaxes, air is pushed out.

Usually, those retractions and expansions occur in an even, controlled rhythm. However, when that rhythm is interrupted by an involuntary contraction, the vocal cords suddenly close and produce a hiccup.

“Mostly with newborns, hiccups are associated with feeding,” Dr. Nauman said. “The baby might eat a little too fast or a little too much. Their belly gets distended and starts to touch the diaphragm and cause those spasms. Sometimes, they ingest air while taking a bottle or breastfeeding. Sometimes, there’s a little reflux involved.”

Stopping your baby’s hiccups

Most adults tend to have hiccups infrequently. When hiccups do occur, a teenager or adult might overcome them by turning to an array of time-honored tricks: drink a glass of water, hold their breath or breathe in and out of a paper bag.

Young children, particularly babies and toddlers, might get hiccups several times a day. And the remedies don’t translate as well. After all, Dr. Nauman said, “You can’t give a 6-month-old child a glass of water to drink.”

Burping is the best way to get rid of the hiccups. If breastfeeding, burp the baby when switching breasts. If bottlefeeding, burp the baby about halfway through.

“Sometimes, the baby needs a break so their tummy has time to digest. When they stop feeding and relax, they’ll stop hiccupping. “

As a child grows, gradually introduce them to other remedies.

“A lot of times, you can stop the hiccups by distracting the child, getting their mind on something else,” Dr. Nauman said. “I usually recommend something mild, like drinking a glass of cold water. If the child is a little older, you can try having them hold their breath and count to 10, or maybe put some sugar under their tongue.”

Steps to prevent child hiccups

Another thing to do is try to prevent hiccups from starting in the first place.

Adults have learned the basic triggers. They know to avoid eating or drinking too much or too fast, gulping drinks or sucking too hard from a straw. They’re aware that excess caffeine or alcohol can cause a fit of hiccups, too.

Babies and kids need help learning the ropes.

“With a baby on a bottle, make sure it’s full of milk and there’s no air in the nipple,” Dr. Nauman said. “If breastfeeding, make sure the baby’s lips are really latched on. When they’re finished feeding, don’t lay them right back down. Keep them up for 15 or 20 minutes to help them better digest. Rubbing their back is soothing and helps alleviate hiccups.

“With older kids, keep them from overeating, and don’t let them eat or drink too fast.”

When to call the doctor

A baby’s hiccups don’t cause any physical damage. Even if they go on for 10 minutes or more, they generally are not a cause for concern. But if hiccups persist, a parent should be vigilant.

“Hiccups can be a little more concerning if the child also has other signs, such as being really fussy or arching their back a lot while feeding or after feeding,” Dr. Nauman said. “Sometimes the baby might spit up a lot. If they have a lot of reflux, keep an eye on how they’re gaining weight.

“If you’re concerned or your baby is uncomfortable, then call your pediatrician. Generally, hiccups are very mild and they go away. But if you’re concerned with persistent hiccups, discuss that with your pediatrician.”

Last Updated: February 11, 2022

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About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: General, Kids & Family