Even though hiccups seem like a nuisance, scientists have revealed they may play a vital role in our development by helping babies to control their breathing. In a research led by University College London (UCL), researchers monitoring around 14 newborn babies found that hiccupping triggered a large wave of brain signals, which could aid their growth. Lorenzo Fabrizi, the study’s senior author, stated in a statement that this brain activity might help babies “to learn how to check the breathing muscles,” eventually leading to an ability to control breathing freely. He added: “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.”
Since the babies involved in the research were full-term and pre-term, ranging from 32 to 42 weeks gestational age, the scientists thought this development could be distinctive of the final trimester of pregnancy. According to the team, fetuses and newborn infants frequently hiccup. The occurrence is seen as early as nine weeks into a pregnancy, and pre-term infants — those born at least three weeks premature — spend approximately 15 minutes hiccupping every day. The full-term and pre-term newborns involved in the research had electrodes placed on their scalps, and sensors were placed on their torsos to monitor their hiccups. Scientists discovered that contractions in the babies’ diaphragms generated three brainwaves and believe that through the third brainwave, babies may be able to link the ‘hic’ sound of the hiccup to the physical contraction they feel.
Kimberley Whitehead, the study’s lead author, stated recently: “The muscle contraction of a hiccup is quite large; it’s good for the developing brain as it suddenly gives a big boost of input, which helps the brain cells to connect together for representing that particular body part.” She added that hiccups have no known benefit for adults, and recommended they could be an example of “a hangover from early periods of our life that persists into later life.” The same researchers have earlier theorized that a baby’s kicks in the womb may help it to create a mental map of its own body. Their new findings may show the same method occurring internally.