Dogs get them, adults get them, and even your newborn baby might get the hiccups. And although scientists know how hiccups are usually triggered, they aren't sure why the body responds the way it does, or what purpose hiccups serve, if any. Whatever the reason, parents can be comforted by the fact that, although they can be annoying and uncomfortable, hiccups are not usually a health threat, even for a newborn baby.
Hiccups are caused by muscle spasms -- small, rhythmical spasms in the chest or throat. The majority of hiccup spasms occur in the diaphragm, which is a large muscle that sits above the stomach. When the diaphragm spasms, it causes a quick breath, which is subsequently blocked by the closure of the glottis, or the vocal cords. This creates the distinctive "hic" sound.
Spasms in the diaphragm are usually caused by an irritated stomach, often irritated because it is too full. In the case of newborn babies, the stomach is usually irritated because the baby drank too quickly or took in too much air while she drank. Hiccups can also be caused by emotional stress or too much excitement. If a hungry baby has to wait to long to eat, she might develop hiccups from all the crying.
It's likely your newborn will get hiccups at some point, no matter how carefully you feed her. Still, there are ways you can try to prevent hiccups. Feed your newborn before she is frantic with hunger. Burp your baby often as you feed her -- when you switch breasts if you are breastfeeding, and every 2 to 3 ounces if you are using a bottle. Using a nipple with a smaller hole can also slow down the flow of milk into the throat, and holding the bottle at a 45-degree angle can reduce the amount of air that enters the baby's mouth. Breastfeeding mothers should make sure the baby is latched on tightly, with no air entering the corners of the mouth.
If your baby is hiccuping so much that it interferes with feeding and burping her doesn't work, try waiting a few minutes. Often, the hiccups will end within five to 10 minutes, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. If not, go ahead and try feeding her again. Sometimes this helps stop the hiccups.
Hiccups do not usually signal an underlying medical problem, but they can be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux and other similar medical conditions. If your newborn's hiccups are persistent or last several hours, or if she seems to be in pain and spits up often, consult your pediatrician.