Why do babies hiccup so much?

Posted in Development.

Remember those clever geniuses who found babies’ kicking in utero is a way for their wee brains to ‘map’ their own body? Well, they’ve done it again with this new research that shows those cute little baby hiccups serve an important purpose too.

Activate baby brain waves!

The team from University College London (UCL) have discovered that when a newborn baby hiccups, a wave of vital brain signals are triggered. It’s suggested that these brain waves may help a baby learn how to regulate their breathing.

We told you hiccups were important!

Their findings were published in Clinical Neurophysiology, and they’re based on the brain scans of a bunch of new babies. This work is helping to demystify why tiny people hiccup so very much (even while in the womb!)

“The reasons for why we hiccup are not entirely clear, but there may be a developmental reason, given that foetuses and newborn babies hiccup so frequently,” the study’s lead author, research associate Kimberley Whitehead said in a press release about this research.

“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 voluntarily controlled by moving the diaphragm up and down,” the study’s senior author, Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi elaborated.

The third wave

So what happens when a baby hiccups, is that the diaphragm muscle contracts. But – as we now know – that’s not all.

When a baby hiccups, their brain responds with what the researchers describe as “two large brainwaves, followed by a third”. 

The researchers say it’s that third brainwave that has given them some clues about why hiccups are helpful. It’s a very similar brainwave to that emitted when a baby hears a noise.

They’re suggesting that the combination of the “hic” sound of the hiccup and the diaphragm muscle contracting is teaching a baby’s brain important lessons about breathing, and making vital connections in the brain.

“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,” Dr Fabrizi explained.

It’s also thought that adult hiccups may be a reflex leftover from babyhood when hiccups were teaching little babies big lessons.

So if you get the hiccups, you’re being a big baby. And that’s okay.


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