Although hiccups seem a nuisance, scientists have discovered they may play a crucial role in our development - by helping babies to regulate their breathing.

In a study led by University College London (UCL), researchers monitoring 13 newborn babies found that hiccupping triggered a large wave of brain signals which could aid their development.

Lorenzo Fabrizi, the study's senior author, said in a statement that this brain activity might help babies "to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles," eventually leading to an ability to control breathing voluntarily.

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 study were pre-term and full-term, ranging from 30 to 42 weeks gestational age, the scientists believe this development could be typical of the final trimester of pregnancy.

According to the researchers, fetuses and newborn infants often hiccup.

The phenomenon is seen as early as nine weeks into pregnancy, and pre-term infants - those born at least three weeks premature - spend approximately 15 minutes hiccupping every day.