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A newborn baby’s hiccups could be key to brain development: Study

"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," said lead author and research associate Kimberley Whitehead.

By: Parenting Desk |
November 13, 2019 11:33:45 am
newborn baby hiccups, baby brain development Newborn baby hiccups help them regulate breathing, says study. (Source: Getty Images)

Wondering about your newborn baby’s hiccups? A study says it could be essential for a child’s brain development.

Published in Clinical Neurophysiology, the findings suggest that each time a baby hiccups, it triggers a large wave of brain signals which help them learn how to regulate breathing.

“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,” commented lead author and research associate Kimberley Whitehead (UCL Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology).

Hiccups begin in the womb at just nine weeks gestational age, making it one of the earliest established patterns of activity, according to the study. Preterm babies are more likely to have hiccups and spend an estimated one per cent of their time hicupping, that is, about 15 minutes a day.

The babies analysed for the study were both preterm and full-term, between 30 and 42 weeks gestational age.

Researchers found that contractions of the diaphragm muscle from a hiccup evoked a pronounced response in the brain’s cortex — two large brainwaves followed by a third. A newborn’s brain may be able to link the ‘hic’ sound of the hiccup with the feel of the diaphragm muscle contraction. According to researchers, postnatal processing of multi-sensory inputs is important to develop brain connections.

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Senior author Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi added that activity resulting from a hiccup can help the baby’s brain to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles so that the process can be eventually controlled by moving the diaphragm up and down.

“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,” he said.

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