As adults we may consider hiccups a nuisance, but scientists have made the discovery that for newborns hiccups could play a crucial role in the development of regulating their breathing by forming a link between their brain and their lungs.
13 newborn babies were observed and monitored by researchers at the University College London (UCL) in the UK and found that when they hiccuped it triggered a large wave or set of brain signals that could assist in the development of their lungs .
This brain activity is thought to assist babies in learning how to control their breathing muscles and eventually leading to a babies ability to voluntarily control their breathing, reports, Lorenzo Fabrizi, who is the study’s senior author.
Fabrizi says that at birth, circuits that are used to process body sensations are not fully developed and that the forming of those networks are a crucial milestone in a newborns development.
The 13 babies involved in the study were both pre-term and full-term and they ranged from 30 weeks to 42 weeks in gestational age (time spent in the womb) and so the researchers believe that this crucial development is most likely typical during the final three months or trimester of a pregnancy.
Fetuses and newborns often hiccup it is reported by the scientists of the study and this phenomenon they report can be noticed as early as the first nine weeks of a pregnancy. Pre-term babies, who are born three weeks premature before their due dates, will hiccup at least 15 minutes a day every day.
For the study, the 13 newborn babies who were either pre-term or full-term, had electrodes placed on their scalps and also on their torsos in order to monitor them for hiccups. The researchers found that when the newborns hiccuped their diaphragms contracted and this produced three brainwaves and with the third brainwave, the newborns were able to link the so called ‘hic’ sound of their hiccup to the physical contraction that they felt.
This muscle contraction of the diaphragm is very big, reports Kimberley Whitehead, who is the lead author of this study, and it gives the developing brain a big boost of input which assists all the brain cells to link together for representing that particular part of the body – the lungs.
Whitehead notes that while hiccups are crucial to this development in newborns, there are no known advantages to adults hiccuping. She makes the suggestion that it just may be a hangover from those early weeks that persists into the later years of our life.