Fetal Hiccups: Why They Occur & When To See Doctor

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Fetal hiccups are normal during pregnancy. However, you may be surprised, confused, or even scared if it is your first time carrying a baby. As the baby grows inside, you will experience several movements such as kicks, rolls, and jabs that become stronger each day. Fetal hiccups are similar movements that are usually not a cause of concern. Continue reading this post as we explain what fetal hiccups are, how to ease them, and when you should see a doctor.

What Are Fetal Hiccups?

Fetal hiccups in the womb are little movements the diaphragm makes when the baby begins to practice breathing. When the baby inhales, the amniotic fluid enters into the lungs causing the diaphragm to contract, resulting in hiccups (1). They are a normal part of fetal development, and rarely indicate a problem of the umbilical cord.

What Does It Feel Like When Your Baby Gets Hiccups In The Womb?

Fetal hiccups feel like repetitive taps or kicks from the baby, which you will experience once or many times a day. They are a series of little rhythmic or jerky movements that show a positive sign of the baby being healthy and active. However, not all women feel baby hiccups, but still, deliver healthy babies (2).

Why Do Babies Get Hiccups In The Womb?

Fetal hiccups show signs of baby development in the womb. The reasons behind the occurrence of baby hiccups are as follows (3) (4):

  1. Contractions in the diaphragm as said above are the major contributing factors of baby hiccups in the womb. As the fetus sucks in the amniotic fluid, the diaphragm contracts leading to hiccup effect.
  1. Development of reflexes, where the fetus is trying to suck fingers or thumb may also result in hiccups.
  1. Brain finds it necessary to practice reflux when swallowing food or expelling wastes that might also lead to fetal hiccups. It is a healthy process by which it strengthens the heart muscles and respiration.
  2. Cord compression could also cause hiccups when the umbilical cord winds along the fetal neck, limiting the oxygen flow (5).

When Are Fetal Hiccups Common?

You will feel the hiccups at the end of the second trimester. They become stronger in the third trimester. This is usually after nine weeks of pregnancy when the arms and legs start developing (6). Hiccups will not be felt with the same intensity as the pregnancy progresses, and their frequency tends to reduce as you get closer to labor.

If hiccups aggravate during three to four weeks nearing the due date, it could be an umbilical cord issue that needs doctor’s attention.

How To Ease The Baby’s Hiccups?

Although baby hiccups are perfectly normal, they could be annoying sometimes. They may even distract you or disturb you, preventing uninterrupted sleep. The following measures can help to tackle the discomfort.

  • Take a walk when you feel the rhythmic movements of the hiccups. It will shift the baby’s position and relaxes the diaphragm. This could even make the baby sleep.
  • Have more water as hiccups could also develop when you are low on fluid levels.
  • Consume a light snack or meal containing protein. It helps your body relax and helps your baby sleep.
  • Do not hold your breath to get rid of hiccups, as it could be dangerous for the baby.

Remember, these are only tips but not sure-shot ways that stop the fetal hiccups. The hiccups subside by themselves and are a normal part of a baby’s development.

Is It Hiccups Or Your Baby Kicking?

It is possible to differentiate between the baby’s hiccups or kicks. In some cases, your baby will move if they are uncomfortable in the same position, or when you eat something cold or hot. If You feel these movements in different parts of your tummy, and if they stop if you change your position. These are likely to be kicks.

But if you are completely still and feel rhythmic twitches from only one part of your tummy, they are likely to be fetal hiccups. It may take you a while to understand and identify these movements (7).

When Should You See A Doctor?

If you experience a sudden increase in hiccups, for instance, if they last longer and get stronger than usual, you should contact a doctor. An ultrasound will help the doctor understand the condition of the baby. This is also a reason you must pay attention to the baby’s movements.

Next, we answer some queries raised by our readers.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.Are fetal hiccups a sign of labor?

No, fetal hiccups are not a sign of impending labor. Their frequency usually decreases with the nearing due date.

2. How long do fetal hiccups usually last?

Fetal hiccups usually last a few seconds or minutes. If they continue for more than 15 minutes, it could be a cause of concern, and you should see a doctor.

3. Is it normal to have fetal hiccups for more than 20 minutes?

Yes, sometimes fetal hiccups may continue for 20 minutes or more. This condition needs a doctor’s attention, and the baby may be evaluated for reflux.

Fetal hiccups are unrhythmic jerking motions or pulsating jumps that may move your belly during pregnancy. They could be caused by the contraction of the fetal diaphragm and the beginning of some developmental reflexes. These movements are more evident at the end of the second and third trimesters but are not a sign of labor. Taking a walk, drinking water, and consuming a light protein-rich snack may help ease the hiccups. Though they are normal in most cases, you may seek medical care to ensure the baby’s well-being if you experience continuous and persistent fetal hiccups.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Mary Pillai & David James; Hiccups and breathing in human fetuses; Archives of Disease in Childhood (1990)
2. Pregnancy—your baby’s movements and what they mean; ANZSA
3. Elisabet O. Orville; Fetus to Newborn: The Perinatal Period; Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute (2018)
4. Midwivesonline.com; Ask a Midwife; page 101
5. Edited by Janel C. Atlas; Books on Google Play They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth; page 201
6. E.E. van Woerden et al.; Fetal hiccups; characteristics and relation to fetal heart rate; European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology (1989)
7. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer; Feeling your baby move during pregnancy; UT Southwestern (2018)
8. Edited by Frank J. Domin et al.; The 5-Minute Clinical Consult 2014; page 574
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Dr. Anita Gupta

(MS)
Dr Anita Gupta is currently working in University College of Medical Sciences (Medical School) & Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Delhi. She has been practicing as a gynecologist & obstetrician for the past 31 years and as a lactation consultant for 18 years. Dr. Gupta is a fellow of Indian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and a master trainer and course... more

Rebecca Malachi

Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She has been into health and wellness writing since 2010. She received her graduate degree in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig... more