A Baby's Hiccups Are Actually A Sign Of Brain Development, Study Shows

Hiccupping newborns make parents really anxious. But a recent scientific study says there's nothing to fear about this involuntary action - it actually aids brain development of the infant.

The spontaneous contractions of diaphragm muscles lead to hiccups. Scientists identified that electrical activity is triggered in the brain along during the process, which helps the baby to learn breath regularization.  Kimberley Whitehead, the study's lead author, a research associate at University College London’s (UCL) department of neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology said, "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."

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As compared to full-term babies, hiccups are more frequent in preterm babies who are born three weeks before their due date. They often spend on average 15 minutes of every day hiccuping. After nine weeks of gestation, the fetus may start hiccupping in the womb; sometimes, scientists believe hiccupping is a distinct quality of development related to the final trimester.

The Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology published a study by University College London (UCL) researchers who examined 217 babies, out of which 13 babies had persistent hiccups. They were of the gestational age of 30 to 42 weeks. Both preterm and full-term babies had brain scans using specialized equipment to record the brain activity of infants while hiccupping by attaching electrodes to the scalp. Also, sensors were placed on the neonate's torsos to monitor the movements.

The waves of brain signals were triggered, indicating the chances of developmental support. Three different waves were produced during this process, the first two brain waves are probably linked to the feeling in their chest, and the third brain wave is believed to help the baby connect the sound 'hic' to the diaphragm contraction they feel. Hiccups also train babies on how to control their diaphragm muscles.

RELATED: Baby Burping And Hiccups: 20 Things Every Mom Should Know

Lorenzo Fabrizi, the study's senior author, quoted that the brain activity detected might help babies "to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles," supporting them in learning contraction and expansion of muscles by training them. He also said, "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."

Kimberley Whitehead, the study's lead author, told CNN: "The muscle contraction of a hiccup is quite big -- it's good for the developing brain because it suddenly gives a big boost of input, which helps the brain cells to all link together for representing that particular body part."

She added that hiccups have no known advantage for adults, and suggested they could be an example of "a hangover from early periods of our life that persists into later life." The same researchers have previously theorized that a baby's kicks in the womb may help it to create a mental map of its own body.

So, parents, you have one reason less to bother about in your newborn!

RELATED: 10 Facts About Newborn Hiccups


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