The hiccups of the fetus

Here are some things you need to know about fetal hiccups and when you should see your doctor.

Hiccups, or kicks?

Pregnancy is a time of constant change for both you and the child growing inside you. The baby sometimes moves because he doesn’t feel comfortable in a certain position, or because you ate something hot, cold, or sweet, something that stimulates his senses. You may feel his movements in different parts of your belly (top, bottom, or side). By changing your position these movements may stop: in this case, it is probably just kicks.

If, on the other hand, you sit completely still and feel a rhythmic spasm coming from only one area of ​​the belly, this time it could be the fetus hiccups. Did you know that – together with the kicks and blows of the fetus – you could also feel its hiccups inside your belly? The first time this happens to you, you may be amazed and maybe even a little scared and wonder if this is normal or not. Then after some time it will become familiar to you, and you will be able to recognize this phenomenon.

It is usually a normal reflex

In most cases, fetal hiccups during pregnancy are a completely normal reflex: your future baby is starting to experience it in your belly, and soon you will be able to see/hear him sobbing outside your belly too! 

The causes of fetal hiccups

The causes of fetal hiccups can be different. The most common may be due,

a) to a contraction of the diaphragm

In the mature fetus, a contraction of its diaphragm can lead to hiccups.

  • For this to happen, its central nervous system must be complete and the fetus must have the ability to breathe in the amniotic fluid.
  • As fluid moves in and out of your lungs, your diaphragm contracts suddenly causing you to hiccup.
  • This is a fairly common phenomenon, and on ultrasound scans it can often be seen as jumping or rhythmic movements of the fetus.
  • Fetal hiccups are just a reflex and cause no discomfort to the baby.
  • Plus, it prepares her lungs for postpartum breathing, and regulates her heart rate during the third trimester.

b) to a compression of the umbilical cord

Sometimes hiccups occur when the fetus does not get enough air due to compression.

c) the development of his reflexes

A mature fetus may hiccup while it is developing the reflex that will allow it to suck on its mother’s breast after delivery without the milk entering its lungs. 

When to contact your doctor

In case you notice a sudden change in the baby’s hiccups, and if this is louder, or if it is longer, or something else, and you want to feel calmer, contact your doctor.

Instead, see your doctor immediately if you notice a sudden decrease in the frequency, intensity, or duration of hiccups, because in this case the  umbilical cord  could be compressed.

This occurs when the cord becomes tangled around the baby’s neck, cutting off the air supply.Complications of umbilical cord compression can be,

  • changes in the heart rate of the fetus;
  • changes in the blood pressure of the fetus;
  • an accumulation of CO2 in the blood of the fetus;
  • brain damage;
  • the delivery of a stillbirth.

These are conditions that may either reveal the existence of a possible problem, or otherwise serve to eliminate the doubts of a fetal Doppler or an ultrasound. 

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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