Hiccups in newborns could play important role in brain development, study finds

Hiccups in newborns could help with their brain development, a new study done by researchers in London suggested.

The study was conducted by research groups connected to University College London and published in Clinical Neurophysiology.

Researchers found that hiccups in infants caused a response and flow of activity in the brain, which could be important to developing brain connections.

“The reasons for why we hiccup are not entirely clear, but there may be a developmental reason, given that fetuses and newborn babies hiccup so frequently,” said Kimberly Whitehead, the study’s lead research associate.

The study involved 13 newborns in a neonatal ward who had hiccups. The babies ranged from 30 to 42 weeks in gestational age. Their brain activity was monitored with electroencephalography electrodes placed on their head while movement sensors were placed on their torsos to record hiccups.

The data showed that contractions of the diaphragm muscle from a hiccup evoked a pronounced response in the brain. Three brain waves happened in the cortex, with the third similar to a brain wave that’s evoked by a noise.

A newborn child’s brain may be able to link the sound of a hiccup with the way it makes their diaphragm muscles contract, according to the study.

Researchers said postnatal processing of multiple sensory inputs is important to brain development and neural connections.

In previous studies, authors suggested that babies kicking in the womb could be a way of creating mental maps of their own bodies. These new findings could suggest the same for an internal body map.

“Our findings have prompted us to wonder whether hiccups in adults, which appear to be mainly a nuisance, may in fact be a vestigial reflex left over from infancy when it had an important function,” Whitehead said.

Pre-term infants are particularly prone to hiccups, according to a press release on the study. The infants spend about 1 percent of their time hiccuping, or about 15 minutes a day. The phenomenon can begin in the womb at just nine weeks of gestation.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.