When you hit your second or third trimester of pregnancy, you should be ready for all sorts of kicks and movements. But maybe you weren’t expecting fetal hiccups.
These are exactly what the name suggests: hiccups! No one quite knows why babies hiccup in the womb. But then again, we’re not 100% sure why we adults hiccup either. Some scientists think it’s because your little one is practicing breathing. Hiccups might actually be the earliest movement you’ll feel – starting potentially as early as 9 weeks.
But what do fetal hiccups feel like? And when should you worry? Here, we’ve got everything you need to know about baby hiccups during pregnancy.
What do fetal hiccups feel like?
Around about the halfway point of your pregnancy, you’re likely to feel your baby move. Kicks, rolls, jabs, and fluttering movements are all completely normal – and eagerly anticipated!
But rhythmic twitches and pops? That’ll be fetal hiccups. Just like with your own hiccups, these are spasms in your baby’s diaphragm. The first time you feel them, you might think it’s a kick. But then it will happen again and again and again.
Let’s say, once you’ve felt them, you won’t mistake them for anything else. Normal baby movements – often known as quickening – will happen randomly, often if you move or if you eat something cold or hot. With fetal hiccups, that movement can last for as long as 15 minutes – a regular rhythm that will originate from the same place repeatedly in your belly.
It’s a good sign. Fetal hiccups – just like any other twitching or kicking in there – show that your baby is developing well. However, if it happens too often, particularly at a later stage in your pregnancy, there is a chance that it’s a sign of distress.
Why do fetuses get hiccups?
Why do babies hiccup in the womb? Good question. And the honest answer is that doctors and scientists aren’t yet quite agreed.
The best-known explanation is that hiccups are your baby learning to breathe. Your fetus inhales, and amniotic fluid – the liquid surrounding them in the womb – enters their lungs. As a result, their diaphragm contracts. And there’s your hiccup.
But doctors believe there’s more to it than that. Those baby hiccups in the womb might be helping to activate some crucial nerves in the spine too. And that means those twitches and pops you’re hearing are actually pretty important for preparing them for life in the outside world.
When to worry about fetal hiccups
So, all good? Nothing to worry about? Usually, yes. However, there’s that possible cause that’s not so reassuring.
The bad news always gets the most attention. And one study about fetal hiccups – in sheep of all things – found that these twitches may be a cause of concern. How come? The review found that hiccups could be caused by compression on the umbilical cord. In these cases, the researchers speculated, the hiccups were the result of an obstruction to the supply of oxygen and blood to the fetus.
So, are fetal hiccups a sign of distress? Now, as we said, the study involved sheep – not humans. So we don’t quite know if the same applies to us.
However, if after about 28 weeks your baby’s fetal hiccups become stronger, more frequent, or change in some other way, it’s worth informing your healthcare provider. With any sudden change in your baby’s activity, it’s good to work out what’s going on – if only for your peace of mind.