What are Prenatal Hiccups?

Synopsis: What are prenatal hiccups and should moms be worried?

Prenatal hiccups are a very common and normal phenomenon of the developing fetus. The expectant mother generally feels prenatal hiccups in the second trimester, although they may occur earlier and generally taper off early in the third trimester.

What’s happening during prenatal hiccups?

This spontaneous movement occurs after the central nervous system reaches maturity in utero, when the fetus gains the capability to make “breathing” type movements in and out. The fetus sucks in and expels some of the surrounding amniotic fluid. At this point, the muscle separating the fetal chest and abdominal cavities rapidly contracts, resulting in a hiccup. Hiccups do not appear to cause any discomfort to the fetus and oxygen is still being amply supplied via the unbillical cord.

What will I feel when my unborn child hiccups?

When a fetus hiccups, the pregnant mother often feels small, repeated spasms in her womb, distinct from larger fetal movements, like startles or kicks, for example. Hiccup movements are short and rhythmic. The hiccups may show up on ultrasound as small thrusting movements of the body.

What is the purpose of fetal hiccups?

The prevailing theory is that fetal hiccupping is “a programmed isometric exercise” as described by research scholars at Northwestern University Medical School in the medical journal Gut, who note that, “both fetuses and premature babies have hiccupping spells.”

In essence, prenatal hiccups are thought to be a form of “practice” or reflex development, helping the fetus learn the movements of suckling that will be necessary to feed (without choking) as soon as he or she is born. Hiccups also appear to help regulate the fetal heart rate during the third trimester.

When should I worry about prenatal hiccups?

Rarely, the hiccupping movement may signal a problem requiring medical attention. Hiccupping may mean that the unborn baby isn’t getting enough air. This rare complication is known as umbilical cord compression or entanglement, when the cord wraps around the baby’s neck. Signs to watch for include a sudden increase in fetal hiccupping, followed by increased fetal movement. Your obstetrician may notice an increase in the fetal heart rate as well. An ultrasound should be conducted immediately, however there’s no need to panic, as cord compression generally occurs over time, rather than suddenly.

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Sources here and here.

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