If you have a baby and it is hiccuping a lot, it can be really distressing for you as a parent, as well as painful and upsetting for your baby. You naturally want to do all you can to assist your baby in having any distress alleviated.
Fortunately, there are ways of helping your baby that can ease the hiccups and return his or her breathing patterns to normal.
Causes of Baby Hiccups
Eating quickly or gulping air while eating
This is probably the main way a baby gets the hiccups, as it is for us as adults too. It will maybe be because your baby eats too fast, or swallows too fast, or that its habits as it breathes mean that it takes in too much air.
If your baby gulps his or her food a little, which can be quite difficult to stop, even if you are feeding him or her carefully and slowly, this can cause hiccups. It causes a build up of air in the stomach and this can lead to the body wanting to get rid of that air, which it does by hiccuping.
So, if you see that your baby is taking in air a little too much as you feed, pay attention to how many times a minute you are putting in a spoonful. Really slowing down the feeding process will make a difference to the speed at which any air gathers in your baby’s stomach. Talk to your baby as you do this, to help them focus on other things than just the eating process.
Swallowing too much air while drinking
You may have noticed that when your baby drinks their bottle or sippy cup, they end up with hiccups. Though we might sometimes wonder how it happens, this could be due to your baby swallowing too much air while drinking. This is due to the fact that when a baby is drinking with a bottle or cup, the natural tendency is to be more aggressive as they suck, which can cause them to swallow a lot of air. The same can also happen when they are drinking from a straw.
In truth, we need to be aware of this speed, and many parents forget to check this. Be mindful of how hard your baby is sucking, and try to encourage them to take shallow sips instead. If you gently pull back on the cup or drinks bottle, it will make a difference to how much the baby is swallowing and the speed at which they are doing so.
Drinking too quickly
When we drink too fast, air ends up being swallowed along with the liquid, and this air bubbles up in the stomach and causes hiccups. This happens at any age. With babies, one way to minimize this risk is to hold the bottle or cup in a vertical position. This has the natural effect of encouraging slower sipping, which will help the baby from gulping the liquid forcefully and with too much enthusiasm.
As we said earlier, distraction also matters. Don’t be afraid to really interact with your baby as it drinks. Great distraction techniques, such as singing, chatting away to your baby, or making funny faces and having your baby laugh, all work. Perhaps use that time as quality time to point out things in the room, or use it to put on songs for the baby to hear. This can help the baby focus on other things than just the drinking and can slow down the intake of the liquid.
And make sure that you, too, take frequent breaks when feeding. Give your baby time to pause and breathe.
Stress or excitement
We need to think also of stress or excitement, as these extreme emotions can lead to a form of panic that initiates hiccuping.
As we said earlier, hiccuping in babies is common, and many babies get overstimulated easily.
They are healthily prone to being animated or excited – such as when laughing or being given some lovely interaction by you as parents, or when being given something, like a new toy or plaything. Even playing with siblings or interacting with other babies can cause this kind of excitement.
However, be aware that when your baby is in an unfamiliar environment, he or she may also feel stress and that this may cause hiccups. Pay attention, too, to loud noises or strange changes. Sometimes when a baby sees a new face, it will feel stressed, and this may cause hiccups. So try to control your baby’s environment carefully.
Practice slow, relaxed eating and drinking habits
Eating matters. It really does. Both for your baby’s physical digestion processes, but also for its understanding of food as a lovely thing.
Start by feeding very slowly. Set aside much more time than you really need and make meals a real occasion. Take pauses between bites and sips and model a slow, relaxed attitude when you’re eating and drinking. As we said before, eating is about bonding with your baby.
Take healthy breaks in between any different foodstuffs you are using and let your baby process what is happening. Babies need to have all their different senses in operation as they eat, so do not overload them, either in the stomach or in the speed at which you rush through a part of their day. Offer calming words and positive reinforcements when your baby eats beautifully.
Reduce stress and/or excitement levels
You will probably have seen with your baby how excited or stressed he or she can be just before they start hiccupping. In fact, hiccups are really a natural response to high and spirited emotion levels.
To help your baby stay calm, model a calming environment. One great way is to take deep breaths and have your baby imitate you. This is proven to help babies relax and lower their overall arousal level.
As we intimated earlier, a great way to do this is to sing a calming and soothing song, or gently rock them back and forth in a steady, relaxing way that is implicitly calming and settling. Alternatively, use a distraction technique, or a fun activity to reanimate your baby’s attention and take its body and mind off the hiccups. Reorienting the baby’s focus has proven effects on alleviating temporary behaviors like hiccups, so have some ready approaches to hand that you can experiment with to see what works best for your child.
Take frequent breaks between feedings
This is a really important tactic. When you take regular breaks between feedings, you ensure your baby’s digestive system has a chance to rest. You also enable it to handle its intake and digest food appropriately. This naturally helps prevent air bubbles from forming, and it also ensures that your baby gets better nutrition from what it is eating.
Feeding in an upright position
There is no doubting that this makes a positive difference to your baby. It helps avoid him or her glugging, gulping and swallowing too much too quickly. Feeding in an upright position allows the milk or the foodstuffs to travel down the esophagus and prevent it from going into the windpipe and triggering hiccups.
Burping your baby after every feeding
This is far from being an old-wives’ tale. This is a genuinely important way of enhancing your baby’s digestion. Burping after a feed really is a great approach to take. This is because, as with us adults, burping helps to release air bubbles that can form in the stomach, and which can then be the cause of the hiccups.
Burping techniques vary, but the best basic approach is to hold your baby upright against your chest, and gently pat their back in a comfortable rhythm. You really do not need much pressure at all. It should feel very light and quietly rhythmical. Doing this should release any trapped air and get rid of the hiccups without any distress.
Gently rubbing your baby’s back in a circular motion
Related to burping is this other patting or rubbing approach. Gently rubbing their back in a circular motion is a proven method of reducing hiccups. The science behind it is that when you rub your baby’s back, the rhythm of it encourages your baby to take slower and deeper breaths. The effect of this is to relax the baby’s diaphragm, which is where the hiccups originate from. It cannot be overstated how important the diaphragm is for our breathing, and this includes for a baby.
In addition to its benefits for hiccups, this attitude and approach is actually really lovely for your baby. The soothing, circular motion that comes from your gentle touch can be incredibly calming. It is a great thing to do prior to your baby needing to sleep.
Holding your baby upright for a few minutes
This really is a simple action, but it is very effective, as you naturally disturb the way breath is taken and expelled by your baby. This then has a chance of limiting and stopping hiccups.
It can be done by holding the baby in your arms while they are seated up, or lying them down in an inclined position. Obviously, the incline needs to be quite steep. This more upright positioning helps gravity move the baby’s diaphragm back into place, which can help stop the hiccups, so there really is science behind it.
Offering small amounts of sugar solution
This sounds like a myth, but it isn’t. It’s a perfectly good way of getting rid of your baby’s hiccuping. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there that suggests this can be a tasty and simple way to alleviate a baby’s hiccups. That said, due to a baby’s sensitivity to sugar, be wary of using this approach as your standard approach, but if other things are not working and your baby is distressed, give it a try. It is far better to try it than to have your baby hiccuping distressingly.
Singing or talking to your baby
We have mentioned this at different points in this article, but we want to say it again: Sing! Singing to your baby is the ultimate distraction technique, and it also enhances your child’s cognitive function, as the variety of words and sounds a child hears makes a profound difference to its cognitive development. The nature of many lullabies is to provide calm and peaceable atmospheres to a baby’s mind, and this alone is a beneficial element, let alone the fact that the rhythm can impact hiccuping positively.
Discussing the issue with your doctor
As a concerned parent you will worry about sustained hiccups. On rare occasions you may even feel you need to see a doctor. If hiccuping is frequent and prolonged, this could be helpful in uncovering possible underlying medical causes for the hiccups, as well as any other health issues that may be causing them. It is always worth playing it safe with a baby’s wellbeing.
Your doctor can of course also provide guidance on the various treatments that may help your baby, from natural remedies to homeopathic solutions. They can even recommend lifestyle changes or dietary modifications that may be necessary for reducing the frequency and duration of hiccup episodes.
Administering oral medications
Remember that with a baby you want to make everything as unforced as possible. It is wise to make sure that medicine should never be forced. Instead, try offering the medication to the baby in a small cup and help them take it by tipping it into their mouth. Again, don’t be afraid to use distraction techniques here to help your baby take its mind off what it is doing. Play games, or make funny faces. Sing to your baby as it takes its medicine, and make the occasion one associated with happiness. Then, once they have finished the medication, you may choose to offer them something sweet to drink as a reward.
Providing breathing treatments
It is obviously harder to make a baby change its breathing than it is to do so with an adult. But it is still possible, and you should look to do so if you want to help your baby leave its hiccups behind.
It all comes down to communication. By repeatedly and persuasively instructing your baby to take long, slow, deep breaths in and then to exhale slowly through the nose, the diaphragm can relax, calming the spasms of hiccups and allowing them to go away. There’s no question that this technique might take some practice and a bit of getting used to, but many babies manage this perfectly well, and it is a harmless and helpful way of encouraging your baby to hiccup less and for shorter durations.