During pregnancy, you will start to feel your baby’s movements during the second trimester. Exactly when this happens varies for everyone, but it often starts as flutters and turns into jabs and kicks. There are times, though, when you’ll notice jerky, rhythmic movements, which are actually fetal hiccups!

pregnant woman holding belly - Baby Hiccups in the Womb: What is Normal?

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That’s right — babies get hiccups in the womb. Fetal hiccups are normal and usually nothing to worry about. However, there are a few key points to know when it comes to timing and whether those jerking motions should ever be a concern. In this post, we’ll explore fetal hiccups and answer your questions, including when to call your provider.

Why Do Fetal Hiccups Happen?

Experts actually aren’t completely sure why babies hiccup in the womb[1]“What causes hiccups in babies in the womb?” Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322372#how-to-stop-fetal-hiccups. There are a couple theories, though. One is that fetal hiccups help to control the amount of fluid in the amniotic sac. As pressure from the increased amniotic fluid builds, babies are prompted to hiccup and swallow the excess.

Another hypothesis is that fetal hiccups aid in the development of the baby’s lungs, and the tiny movements of the baby’s diaphragm allow them to practice breathing. As the baby inhales, he or she swallows amniotic fluid, and the still-forming diaphragm contracts, leading to hiccups in utero.

What Do Baby Hiccups Feel Like?

Most gestational parents describe fetal hiccups as a rhythmic twitching that originates from one area of the abdomen[2]“My Baby Hiccups in the Womb: Is This Normal?” Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/baby-hiccups-in-womb. You might initially think you’re feeling a soft punch or kick, but then you’ll notice it again and again and, well, again. In that case, your baby is experiencing fetal hiccups. They are usually quick, repetitive motions that soon become a familiar pulsing.

Some pregnant people begin feeling fetal hiccups as early as 16 weeks, while others don’t notice them until 20-24 weeks or later[3]“Pregnancy: Weeks 21-24”, Kaiser Permanente, https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health/care/…. Timing varies widely and often depends on the position of the placenta. Not all fetuses get hiccups, but some will experience them often. Just like infants, babies in utero could have hiccups once or several times a day. While this phenomenon might be charming at first, you might get tired of it. There’s nothing you can do about the hiccups, and they will stop soon.

When Should I Contact my Provider about Fetal Hiccups?

In most cases, fetal hiccups are completely normal and not a cause for concern. Feeling them throughout the second trimester and at the beginning of the third trimester usually indicates the baby’s respiratory and nervous systems are developing well, as are their reflexes.

However, the frequency of fetal hiccups should decrease as you get closer to delivery, and you probably will not feel baby hiccups every day. Jerky movements late in the third trimester could suggest a problem with the umbilical cord, which supplies oxygen and nourishment to the baby in utero[4]“Oh, my! What’s this?” Project Alive and Kicking, https://www.projectaliveandkicking.org/operation-due-date/oh-mywhats-this/.

Researchers have studied this hyperactivity and determined it can be a fetal response to umbilical cord compression[5]“Umbilical cord accidents,” Jason H. Collins, MD, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3428685/. This results in disturbances to intrauterine umbilical blood flow, stimulating the fetus to react reflexively and excessively. If you perceive a change or significant increase in the amount of fetal hiccups, reach out to your provider[6]“Association between maternally perceived quality and pattern of fetal movements and late stillbirth,” Billie F. Bradford, et al, Scientific Reports, … Continue reading.

All that said, it’s important to note that umbilical cord accidents are rare, and many babies are able to reposition themselves to relieve any cord compression. For anxious loss parents, though, it is helpful to be aware of the signs of cord accidents. Just like counting movements and kicks is important, pay attention to those fetal hiccups.

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