The Grapevine

Let Baby Hiccups Continue: Study Says There Are Benefits

Parents think that baby hiccups are not normal and some may even try some weird things to stop it. But researchers suggest that you should let it happen because of its surprising health benefits. 

The baby starts to experience hiccups in the womb. Estimates show that preterm infants spend 1 percent of their time hiccupping or up to 15 minutes a day. 

A new study, published in the journal Clinical Neurophysiology, shows that hiccups support brain development in newborns. It triggers a flow of brain signals that could help the baby learn how to regulate breathing.

"The reasons for why we hiccup are not entirely clear, but there may be a developmental reason, given that fetuses and newborn babies hiccup so frequently," Kimberley Whitehead, lead study author and a research associate at University College London, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the brain activity in 13 newborn infants in a neonatal ward. The team used electroencephalography (EEG) to observe the brain of each baby and placed movement sensors on their torsos to record their hiccups.

They found that a hiccup causes contractions of the diaphragm muscle. These physical changes trigger brainwaves in the brain's cortex.

The series of hiccups cause a large wave of signals, which then allow the brain to link the “hic” sound with the feel of the diaphragm muscle contraction. 

"The activity resulting from a hiccup may be helping the baby's brain to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles so that eventually breathing can be voluntary controlled by moving the diaphragm up and down," Lorenzo Fabrizi, senior study author from University College London, said. "When we are born, the circuits which process body sensations are not fully developed, so the establishment of such networks is a crucial developmental milestone for newborns."

An earlier study by Fabrizi and his colleagues suggested that when babies kick in the womb they may be creating “mental maps” of their own bodies. The latest research supports the previous findings that certain activities in the womb and after birth contribute to the development of brain connections in babies. 

Whitehead said hiccups in adults are commonly considered annoying. But they could be a “left over from infancy when it had an important function.”

baby Estimates show that preterm infants spend up to 15 minutes each day hiccupping. Pixabay