But maybe you weren’t expecting fetal hiccups.
Like the first flutters and pronounced kicks, these rhythmic, repetitive motions in the womb are common.
More importantly, they’re often a harmless part of prenatal development.
But why do babies hiccup in the womb? What does it signify? 🤔
Here’s everything you need to know about baby’s latest movement.
In this article: 📝
- What are fetal hiccups?
- Why do babies get hiccups in the womb?
- What do fetal hiccups feel like?
- When to worry about fetal hiccups
What are fetal hiccups?
These are exactly what the name suggests: hiccups!
You’ll recognize them as regular, rhythmic movements that last a few minutes at a time—quite different from baby’s more sporadic kicks or jabs. 🤸♀️
It’s thought that these little spasms are a sign that your baby’s diaphragm is beginning to develop and function.
As your fetus inhales, the surrounding amniotic fluid—the liquid surrounding them in your womb—enters their lungs.
As a result, their diaphragm contracts in a sudden, quick manner. And there’s your hiccup.
But scientists and doctors are not fully convinced.
And it’s hard to find a study that affirms this adorable theory.
Why do babies get hiccups in the womb?
The truth is no one quite knows why fetuses get hiccups.
And, we’re not 100% sure why we adults hiccup either.
Sure, the most popular theory is that hiccups are your baby learning to breathe, but some scientists believe there’s more to it than that.
A 2019 UCL-led study suggests that baby hiccups in the womb might be helping to activate crucial brain signals. 🧠
Now this study is based on brain scans of newborn infants, but the researchers have extended their findings to fetuses (since fetal ultrasounds reveal hiccups can start as early as week nine in pregnancy).
What they’ve found is that these little involuntary contractions actually cause a response in the brain, suggesting that hiccups may be helping it learn how to monitor baby’s breathing muscles.
Basically, hiccups are a little flag telling the brain to pay attention—like a little nudge of self-awareness. 👋
Still, there’s no definitive answer.
At best, we can say that those twitches are pretty common with over 60% of pregnant women experiencing them (according to one research group).
What do fetal hiccups feel like?
Fetal hiccups are like a series of consistent, gentle twitches.
Unlike the more sporadic kicks or playful jabs, fetal hiccups are consistent and can last for a few minutes at a time.
Imagine a steady, repetitive pulse or a soft drumbeat emanating from your belly. 🥁
Some moms on Peanut even describe them as tiny, rhythmic flutters or regular pulses that feel like a slow heartbeat.
Let’s say, once you’ve felt them, you won’t mistake them for anything else.
Normal baby movements (or 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.
And just like any other twitching or kicking in there, they show that your baby is developing well.
When to worry about fetal hiccups
Usually, fetal hiccups is a reassuring sign at all gestations—especially after 28 weeks.
But one 2012 study about fetal hiccups—in sheep of all things—found that these twitches can 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 wait, are fetal hiccups a sign of distress or development?
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 always good to work out what’s going on—if only for your peace of mind.
Fetal hiccups might seem like a small thing, but they could tell a lot about how your baby is growing.
Think of them as a sneak peek into how your little one is doing inside.
As you near the end of your pregnancy, these little reminders can be both comforting and exciting.
All the more reason to honor your mama instincts if something feels different.
You’ve got this.