Why Do Toddlers Get the Hiccups?

By Rosenya Faith
Smiling toddler walking outside.

While hiccups might seem troublesome for your toddler, she was hiccuping in utero long before she was born -- and was not the least bit bothered by the spasms. Occasionally, a hiccup is more than just a hiccup; it can be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux. If your toddler has stomach pain with the hiccups, frequent bouts of hiccups, they last for longer than 20 to 30 minutes at a time, or they coincide with another illness such as a persistent cough, talk to your health care provider.

Understanding Hiccups

Hiccups are involuntary contractions of your child’s diaphragm, which is the muscular partition between his thorax and abdomen. At the same time the involuntary contraction takes place, air is sucked in suddenly and his glottis -- a flap in the middle part of the larynx that prevents food and liquid from entering the lungs -- closes up briefly, explains the Women’s and Children’s Health Network’s website. Hiccups can occur individually, but often they happen in rhythmic bouts. And while they might be a relatively minor nuisance, the steady interval of contractions might begin to irritate or even scare your youngster.

Identifying the Cause

The culprit behind hiccups is sometimes too much food consumed too quickly; your toddler’s stomach gets full too fast or her abdomen fills with air as she speeds through her green beans or birthday cake, explains the Montreal Children’s Hospital website. If your toddler is a soda fanatic, the carbonated beverage can also affect the diaphragm. A bout of the hiccups might occur after a hot chocolate followed by a cold drink of milk; the sudden change of temperature in her stomach from the hot drink and then the cold one makes her diaphragm begin to contract. Situations unrelated to your toddler’s eating habits can cause hiccups, too, such as taking in excess air during active play or a temper tantrum, and sometimes there is no identifiable cause for the diaphragmatic spasms.

Avoiding the Problem

When your toddler’s hiccups are tied to his eating habits, help him avoid another hiccup session by teaching him to eat meals and snacks slowly, chewing his food thoroughly to avoid overfilling his stomach. Eating slowly also helps to reduce the amount of air he swallows, which decreases the risk of aggravating his diaphragm. Eliminate soda from your toddler’s diet and avoid drastic temperature changes in his food. Make mealtime a calm environment as well to avoid over-excitement that can lead to hiccups.

Coping Strategies

A multitude of theories surround effective hiccup treatments. However, startling your youngster, having her stand on her head or feeding her a spoonful of peanut butter could certainly do more harm than good. Instead, focus on helping your child cope if she is bothered or scared by the spasms. Cuddle together, rub or pat her back or sit together and let the rhythmic motion of a rocking chair calm her down. Try a few safe techniques to help your toddler's hiccups pass, such as having her drinking a small cup of water or breathing into a paper -- not plastic -- bag. Tickling your toddler might ease her hiccups -- or distract her until they pass on their own. If your toddler begins to hiccup while eating, have her spit out the food quickly to avoid a choking hazard. Wait for the spasms to pass before resuming the meal.

About the Author

Rosenya Faith has been working with children since the age of 16 as a swimming instructor and dance instructor. For more than 14 years she has worked as a recreation and skill development leader, an early childhood educator and a teaching assistant, working in elementary schools and with special needs children between 4 and 11 years of age.