NOV 19, 2019 8:43 AM PST

Hiccups Key For Infant Brain Development

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Although we know how we hiccup, why has remained a mystery for some time, with researchers suggesting it to be an evolutionary hangover from when our ancestors had gills and lived in the sea (Snow: 2012). Now however, a new study from University College London (UCL) has found a biological purpose the function: when newborn babies hiccup, certain brain waves are triggered that help them regulate their breathing. 

Unborn children begin to hiccup in the womb at just nine weeks old, making them one of the earliest patterns of human activity. In particular however, children born before 37 weeks of gestation, known as preterm infants, are especially prone to hiccuping, spending an estimated 1% of their time in the act; equal to 15 minutes per day. 

According to Kimberley Whitehead, the lead author of a study uncovering why newborn infants hiccup, “The reasons for why we hiccup are not entirely clear, but there may be a developmental reason, given that foetuses and newborn babies hiccup so frequently (University College London: 2019).”

For the study, researchers studied 13 newborn infants in a neonatal ward who frequently hiccupped. Ranging from 30 to 42 weeks gestational age, the researchers selected a mix of preterm and full-term babies in an attempt to reflect typical natal development within the last trimester of pregnancy. 

Previously, the same researchers had found that babies may kick in the womb to develop mental maps of their own bodies. Thus, they suspected that hiccuping may serve a similar mechanism- rather than mapping the external body however; mapping the internal. 

To establish this, they recorded the babies’ brain activity with electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes on their scalps, alongside movement sensors placed on their torsos to gather a linked record of when they were hiccuping. 

When looking at their results, they found that the contractions by the diaphragm muscle from their hiccups led to the simultaneous release of two large brainwaves, followed by a third. As the third of these was similar to that stimulated by a noise, they hypothesized that a newborn baby’s brain may be able to associate the “hic” sound of the hiccup to the feeling of their diaphragm muscle contracting, and thus be better able to regulate their breathing. 

Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi, the study’s senior author, said, “The activity resulting from a hiccup may be helping the baby’s brain to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles so that eventually breathing can be voluntarily controlled by moving the diaphragm up and down...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.”

Thus, the researchers suggested that hiccups in adults may indeed just be a vestigial reflex left over from early childhood when it served a function. 

 

Sources 

 

Snow, John B.: Live Science 

University College London 

 

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
You May Also Like
AUG 22, 2020
Neuroscience
Why Don't Babies Always Remember What they Learn?
AUG 22, 2020
Why Don't Babies Always Remember What they Learn?
Researchers from Ruhr- Universitaet Bochum (RUB) in Germany have found that the mood babies are in when they learn somet ...
AUG 25, 2020
Neuroscience
Study Shows Exercise Relieves Major Depression
AUG 25, 2020
Study Shows Exercise Relieves Major Depression
Depression is a common mental condition that many feel at some point throughout life. While antidepressants work for som ...
SEP 29, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
What We Call Parkinson's Disease May Actually be Two Distinct Disorders
SEP 29, 2020
What We Call Parkinson's Disease May Actually be Two Distinct Disorders
Researchers have used imaging tools to show that Parkinson's disease may actually be two different diseases, one that st ...
OCT 12, 2020
Neuroscience
Effects of Oxytocin Depend on Where it Comes From
OCT 12, 2020
Effects of Oxytocin Depend on Where it Comes From
Oxytocin has gained its reputation as the 'love hormone' for its role in regulating prosocial behaviors like emp ...
OCT 21, 2020
Neuroscience
New Theory Says Consciousness Arises from Electromagnetic Energy
OCT 21, 2020
New Theory Says Consciousness Arises from Electromagnetic Energy
Professor Johnjoe McFadden, a researcher from the Univerity of Surrey in the UK, has proposed a new theory for conscious ...
NOV 18, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Nerve Damage as a Prognostic Marker for Rare Autoimmune Disease
NOV 18, 2020
Nerve Damage as a Prognostic Marker for Rare Autoimmune Disease
Researchers have identified a new prognostic biomarker for Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare autoimmune disor ...
Loading Comments...