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.

In This Article

What Are Fetal Hiccups?

Baby hiccups in the womb are little movements the diaphragm makes when the baby begins to practice breathing. When the baby inhales, the amniotic fluidiXA transparent, light yellow fluid that protects the fetus from harm enters into the lungs causing the diaphragm to contract, resulting in hiccups (1). They are a normal part of embryonic development and rarely indicate a problem of the umbilical cord or maternal health.

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).

Kourtney Nichole, a mom and blogger, shares her 34-week pregnancy experience. She says, “I love talking about my pregnancy. I love how warm I feel when I tell people how I can feel her little hiccups beneath my belly button or when she hears her father’s voice and starts kicking. It’s almost like she knows it’s him. I love going through this amazing time and sharing it with those around me (i).”

protip_icon Quick fact
Fetal hiccups last for a brief, consistent period before disappearing, as in babies and adults (10).

Why Do Babies Get Hiccups In The Womb?

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

  1. Contractions in the diaphragm are the major contributing factors for baby hiccups in the womb. As the fetus sucks in the amniotic fluid, the diaphragm contracts leading to hiccup effect. David A Kaufman, MD, a neonatologistiXA health professional specialized in providing care for newborns from Charlottesville, Virginia, says, “As the placentaiXA temporary organ formed in pregnancy that clings to the uterus and supplies the developing fetus with nutrients and oxygen is doing the breathing (oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange) for the baby, the fetal breathing occurs about six times per minute and is important for lung development.
    “Since fetal breathing is due to the contraction of the diaphragm and rib muscles, the baby can have hiccups. These are the same as a hiccup in any infant, child, or adult: a more forceful, rhythmic, and involuntary contraction of the diaphragm!”
  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?

Fetal hiccups are stronger after nine weeks
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Image: S: iStock

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 cordiXIt is a tube-like structure that connects the fetus to the placenta and allows the flow of oxygen and nutrients 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 relax the diaphragm. This could even make the baby sleep.
Walking may ease the fetal hiccups by relaxing the diaphragm
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Image: Shutterstock

  • 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.
Consuming a light snack helps the body relax
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Image: S: iStock

  • Do not hold your breath to get rid of hiccups, as it could be dangerous for the baby.

protip_icon Quick tip
Lying on the left side helps you sleep comfortably in the later stages of pregnancy and improves blood circulation for the placenta and the baby (11).

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?

Contact a doctor if there is a sudden increase in hiccups
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Hiccups generally aren’t a cause for concern. However, post 32 weeks, you are less likely to feel fetal hiccups daily (8). Still, if you experience a sudden increase in hiccups, if they last longer or get stronger than usual, you should contact an obstetric/gynecology specialist. An ultrasound will help the doctor understand the condition of the baby. This is also why 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 or preterm 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.

4. Do fetal seizures feel like hiccups?

Periodic fetal movements that are forceful, abnormal, and jerky are fetal seizures. Whereas fetal hiccups feel like repetitive taps from the baby (12).

Fetal hiccups are unrhythmic jerking motions or pulsating jumps that may move your belly during the gestation period. 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.

Infographic: How To Prevent Fetal Hiccups In Utero?

Fetuses can be seen hiccuping, especially on ultrasounds. But, they can be felt in the mother’s belly too. Sometimes the hiccups continue without reason causing discomfort for the mother. This infographic helps you understand some strategies that could help you prevent baby hiccups in the womb.

tips for preventing fetal hiccups (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Fetal hiccups are a normal aspect of fetal development induced by diaphragmatic contractions caused by the baby breathing amniotic fluid.
  • Hiccups are distinguished from baby kicks by their rhythmic motions from a single area of the abdomen.
  • Fetal hiccups begin at about 9 weeks of pregnancy and become more intense in the third trimester.
  • They are an indication of normal reflex and respiratory development.
  • If the mother notices an increase in hiccups, she should see a doctor.

If you want to know whether fetal hiccups are a good sign during pregnancy then find out what experts say in this informative video. Learn the importance of fetal hiccups and how they can be a sign of a healthy pregnancy.

Personal Experience: Source


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
9. What are Fetal Hiccups?; Project Alive And Kicking
10. Fetal hiccups won’t harm your baby – they’re totally normal!; UT Southwestern (2021)
11. Best Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy; American Pregnancy Association
12. Eui Jung et al.;Prenatal Diagnosis of Fetal Seizure: A Case Report; PubMed

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