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Hiccups

Hiccup; baby; stress; children; hiccups; epiglottis; hic; hick ;

Hiccups are caused by a sudden, unpredictable tightening of the diaphragm (the muscles at the bottom of the lungs that you use when breathing) sucking air into the lungs.

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Alert!

If a child with hiccups is eating, get the child to spit the food out and wait until the hiccups are gone before eating again.

What are hiccups?

  • Hiccups are caused by a sudden, unpredictable tightening of the diaphragm (the muscles at the bottom of the lungs that you use when breathing) sucking air into the lungs.
  • Just after the muscles start to move, the epiglottis (a flap in the wind pipe which stops food and drinks going down into the lungs) closes over the airway, causing the 'hic' sound.
  • Hiccups often start when someone does two things together, like laughing when eating or drinking. In babies they can start while a baby is feeding. Probably more often they start with no obvious trigger.
  • Just occasionally hiccups can be caused by something like an insect inside the ear canal touching the ear drum.
  • Very, very rarely, hiccups are due to serious illness in adults. Other signs of the serious illness will usually be present before the hiccups become a problem.

Who gets hiccups?

  • Anyone can get hiccups, but babies and young children have them often.
  • Babies in the womb start getting hiccups after about 2 months, well before any breathing movements start.  It seems possible that hiccups help some early developmental process, and then continue to happen even when there is no need for them to continue.

Hiccups and babies

  • Like sneezing and snuffling, hiccups are normal and are very rarely due to any health problems.
  • Most babies hiccup from time to time during feeds. If this happens, just keep on feeding the baby, the hiccups will stop on their own, and a baby who is hiccupping will not choke on milk (the epiglottis covers the entry to the lungs when the 'hic' happens, so milk does not go down into the lungs).
  • Babies do not get upset from hiccups, so you do not need to try and stop a baby's hiccups, but if you want to try, give your baby something to drink (a breast feed, or some water). This obviously doesn't work all of the time, otherwise babies would not get hiccups while they are feeding.

Note: Although hiccups for no obvious reason are common in babies, it has been claimed that they can sometimes mean that the baby is stressed. Hiccups may be one of the signals that tell you that you need to think about what is happening for the baby, and to help the baby to relax for a while or do whatever you know comforts your baby.

What you can do for children's hiccups

  • Hiccups will stop by themselves even if you do nothing. Because of this many things are thought to stop them, but it is just as likely that the hiccups were about to stop anyway.
  • Things that some people claim work:
    • having a drink of water (slowly)
    • holding your breath
    • sneezing
    • sucking on a lemon
    • putting a little sugar or peanut butter on your tongue
    • asking someone to give you a fright.
  • Hiccups that keep coming back can be treated by a doctor with sedatives if necessary, but this is only used if the person has a serious illness causing the hiccups.

References

Randerson J, 'Tadpoles take blame for human hiccups', New Scientist, 5 February 2003.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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