What causes hiccups in babies in the womb?

A pregnant woman will notice many different movements as the baby develops, and these movements are likely to get stronger with each trimester. As well as kicks, rolls, and jabs, a woman may also notice fetal hiccups.

Identifying fetal hiccups can be difficult. A woman may notice, however, that the sensation of hiccups is more rhythmic than other movements. Some people have described it as a twitch or pulsating feeling that is akin to a muscle spasm.

Women may start to feel the baby move between weeks 16 to 20 or sometimes later than this. The first fetal movement is called quickening.

Factors such as the position of the placenta can affect how soon a woman feels her baby move. The weight of the mother can also play a role, with those carrying less weight around their abdomen may be more likely to feel kicks and other movements sooner.

What causes a baby to hiccup in the womb?

Doctors do not know the reasons why babies hiccup in the womb.

Not all babies will get the hiccups, yet others will get them often. Some theories suggest fetal hiccups are linked to the baby’s lungs developing. This is not proven, however.


Are they normal and when should I see a doctor?

Pregnant mother holding ultrasound image of baby
Doctors consider fetal hiccups to be a natural part of pregnancy.

Even though it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why some women will feel their baby hiccup in the womb, it is considered a good sign and a natural part of pregnancy.

Rarely, however, fetal hiccups may be a sign of something being wrong with a pregnancy or fetus.

After week 32 of pregnancy, it is unlikely that a woman will feel the baby hiccup in the womb every day.

A woman who does notice fetal hiccups regularly, especially if it occurs daily and more than 4 times per day after 28 weeks should contact their doctor.

While frequent hiccupping does not necessarily signify a problem, it could be that the umbilical cord has become compressed or prolapsed. The blood and oxygen supply to the fetus may become restricted or stop altogether in these situations.

A prolapsed or compressed cord may result in complications, including:

  • the baby’s heart rate slowing
  • the baby’s blood pressure dropping
  • build up of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the baby’s blood
  • brain damage
  • stillbirth

More evidence is needed to be sure whether increased episodes or duration of fetal hiccups later in pregnancy are cause for concern. However, a report on umbilical cord accidents cited a study on sheep that suggested fetal hiccups might occur when the umbilical cord is compressed.

A woman who is concerned about fetal hiccups should contact her doctor. To put the mother’s mind at rest, a doctor can check that the baby is happy and healthy.

If there is a cord issue, a doctor will also be able to advise on steps they can take to try and relieve pressure on the cord.

What weeks are they most common?

As said earlier, most women will begin to feel their baby move anywhere between weeks 16 and 20 or possibly 25 of pregnancy. Some women describe the initial feeling as reminding them of popcorn popping or a butterfly fluttering its wings.

As the pregnancy progresses, women will be able to distinguish the movements and feel kicks, rolls, and jabs that can occur throughout the day and night.

Most women become aware of fetal hiccups in the second or third trimester, though some babies do not get hiccups in the womb, and some women never feel them.


Other things babies do in the womb

A baby begins to do lots of surprising things as it grows and develops in the womb.

As well as hiccupping, babies can kick, jab, turn, and roll and can even smell, see, and hear before they are born. Some babies may start to suck their thumbs in the womb too.

Eating sugar can often stimulate a baby’s movements, as can eating or drinking something hot or cold.

How to stop fetal hiccups

glass of water on table
Staying hydrated may reduce the discomfort of fetal movements.

While fetal hiccups can be distracting, they are not painful, and episodes should not last longer than 15 minutes.

Fetal movements can be uncomfortable and make it difficult for pregnant women to relax or even fall asleep.

Some tips for reducing the discomfort of fetal movements include:

  • lying on the left side of the body
  • using pillows to support the bump and ease pressure from the spine
  • eating a varied and healthful diet
  • continuing to exercise moderately, as long as it is safe to do so
  • staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • sticking to a regular bedtime and napping in the day, as necessary


Takeaway

Pregnant women should keep track of their baby’s movements.

It is recommended to pay attention to kicks and jabs as frequent, regular fetal movement is a sign that the baby is developing correctly in the womb.

If a woman notices any unusual or reduced movement, they should contact their doctor immediately.

In most cases, fetal hiccups are nothing to worry about. However, if there is any reason a woman is concerned about fetal hiccups, it is best that they contact their doctor who can check to ensure that there is nothing wrong or recommend treatment if necessary.

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