Parents, don't panic if your baby has hiccups: it's usually harmless

Burping your baby periodically during and after feeding could help prevent them from developing hiccups. — Dreamstime/TNS

Hiccups can be repetitive, uncontrollable and irritating.

When our babies have hiccups, we tend to worry that something is wrong.

But should you really worry if your baby has hiccups?

Hiccups can occur in all age groups, including babies.

They are a common and natural reflex.

We all have a muscle between the chest and abdomen called the diaphragm, which moves when we breathe.

Sudden contractions or spasms of the diaphragm, together with closing of our vocal cords, produce hiccups.

Some babies develop hiccups if they have been drinking too quickly or if they have been crying for a long time.

Hiccups are actually harmless to babies and a positive sign that your baby is healthy.

Most bouts of hiccups are temporary and last between five to 15 minutes.

Occasionally, they may continue for a couple of hours.

Hiccups do not disturb the baby; some babies may continue to sleep even when they have hiccups.

It is usually parents who are worried that their baby is not comfortable, or that hiccups are a sign of illness.

Wait them out

Hiccups don’t require any special treatment.

The best thing to do is to let the hiccups resolve on their own.

If your baby is feeding well, gaining weight and doesn’t have difficulty sleeping, don’t be anxious.

If your baby has other symptoms, together with persistent hiccups, you may wish to consult a doctor.

Occasionally, babies with gastro-oesophageal reflux (GER) may have hiccups, alongside other symptoms.

GER is a condition where the stomach acid goes up the oesophagus and causes irritation.Do consult a doctor if your baby has any of the following signs:

  • Not growing well.
  • Forcefully spitting up frequently.
  • Repeatedly crying during feeds.
  • Arching of the back while feeding.
  • Coughing or choking while feeding.
  • Crying continuously.
Stop them from starting

Here are some tips to help prevent hiccups:

Practice proper feeding techniques

Preventing excessive intake of air is crucial.

When breastfeeding, make sure the baby has a proper “latch” around the whole nipple.

If your baby is bottle-feeding, ensure that the bottle’s nipple is completely full of milk before feeding.

Use the right nipple size so that the flow of milk is not too fast or too slow.

Ensure proper posture during feeding

Make sure to feed your baby in an upright position with the head elevated.

Keep baby in an upright position for about 30 minutes after feeding.

Periodic “burping” during and after feeding

Periodically “burping” your baby every now and then during feeding sessions, by gently patting your baby’s back, can help to ease any built-up air in the stomach.

Feed and drink at a slower pace

Hiccups often occur from feeding too quickly.

Feeding at a slower pace reduces the chance of hiccups.

Avoid feeding when your baby is agitated

Feeding when your baby is agitated, crying and moving, will interfere with swallowing, irritate the diaphragm, and thus, trigger hiccups.

Soothe and calm your baby first before attempting feeding.

Dr Mary J. Marret is a consultant paediatrician. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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