Is it normal for my baby to have hiccups in the womb?

pregnant woman laughing while holding belly
Photo credit: Katie Rain for BabyCenter

Baby hiccups in the womb are totally normal. Many pregnant women feel them, and baby hiccups can even be observed on an ultrasound. Your baby may have started hiccupping late in the first trimester or early in the second, although you wouldn't have felt them that early.

Just like hiccups in adults and kids, fetal hiccups usually last only a few minutes and go away on their own. Hiccups happen when the diaphragm (a muscle at the bottom of the rib cage) gets irritated or stimulated. The muscle contracts involuntarily – or spasms. That spasm causes air to be sucked into the throat. As the air comes in, the vocal cords quickly close in response, producing the telltale "hic!"

Advertisement | page continues below

Of course, your baby in the womb isn't breathing air yet, and you won't hear that "hic." But you may feel your little one hiccupping regularly.

What do hiccups in the womb feel like?

Baby hiccups in the womb feel like small, rhythmic, jerking movements. In the beginning they may be hard to distinguish from your baby's kicks. Many expecting moms start to feel baby hiccups around the same time they feel other fetal movements, typically between 16 and 22 weeks.

Some women notice that their baby has hiccups several times a day, while other women notice them only once in a while. And some expecting moms never feel fetal hiccups. It's all normal.  

Why do babies get hiccups in the womb?

Not much is known about why babies hiccup in the womb, but one theory is that it could be a way for babies to regulate the amount of fluid in the amniotic sac. Your baby starts to swallow amniotic fluid by week 13 of pregnancy.

By mid-pregnancy, the amniotic sac contains up to 26 ounces of fluid. The thinking goes that pressure from a buildup of amniotic fluid prompts babies to hiccup and swallow the excess.

Other theories to explain hiccups in the womb are that they play a role in lung maturation or are a result of your baby practicing breathing. (Babies "breathe" amniotic fluid!)

You may have heard that fetal hiccups in late pregnancy could indicate a problem with the umbilical cord like umbilical cord compression or prolapse. But that theory is based on limited studies in animals, and hasn't been validated in humans.

Advertisement | page continues below

In fact, fetal hiccups are generally thought to be a good sign – and feeling your baby hiccup in the womb daily in late pregnancy is associated with lower risk of stillbirth.

Infants get hiccups too, so you'll probably see your baby hiccup once they're out of the womb. Experts aren't sure why newborns tend to hiccup so much, but one hypothesis is that hiccups may help babies get excess air out of their tummies.

Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

AAP. 2009. How your newborn behaves. American Academy of Pediatrics. a new window [Accessed October 2021]

ACOG. 2020. How your fetus grows during pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. a new window [Accessed October 2021]

Murchison AG. 2015. Hiccups and amniotic fluid regulation in early pregnancy. Medical Hypotheses 84(5):448-450. a new window [Accessed October 2021]

Mayo Clinic. Undated. Hiccups. a new window [Accessed October 2021]

Heazell, A. et al. 2018. Alterations in maternally perceived fetal movement and their association with late stillbirth: findings from the Midland and North of England stillbirth case–control study. BMJ Open. 8(7): e020031. a new window [Accessed October 2021]

Darienne Hosley Stewart
Darienne Hosley Stewart is a content strategist, writer, and editor. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her spouse, two teenagers, a goofy dog, and even goofier chickens. She enjoys movies, gardening, reading, and quiet outdoor spaces.