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Toddler hiccups occur when the diaphragm contracts involuntarily. The diaphragm is the primary muscle used when breathing. When it contracts, it causes the lungs to expand fully and fill with oxygen. When it relaxes, carbon dioxide exits the lungs.
At times, this muscle undergoes repeated spasms, which causes a sudden influx of air into the lungs and the simultaneous shutting down of the vocal cords, producing the characteristic hiccup sound.
This spasmodic reaction in the abdominal region is believed to be the root cause of hiccups in toddlers.
When Should You Worry About Toddler Hiccups?
Hiccups are not dangerous in themselves, but if they occur for more than 24–48 hours straight, they can be a sign of something serious, (1) such as:
- Kidney failure
- Digestion issues
Persistent hiccups can cause people to worry but hiccups are very rarely a symptom of these conditions.
If there is ever a concern, the best course of action is to consult with your primary care provider to rule out any serious causes of hiccups, especially in toddlers.
Major Causes of Hiccups in Toddlers
Hiccups have many causes, the most common ones being:
- Swallowing too much air
- Eating too much
- Eating too fast
- Drinking fluids too rapidly, which often causes gulping down a lot of air
- Drinking carbonated drinks
Hiccups After Feeds
Babies are quite prone to hiccups, mainly because of the following reasons:
- Babies may have hiccups from drinking down the formula and/or breast milk too quickly.
- They also may get hiccups if the bottle is empty, and they are taking in large amounts of air.
It is important to burp the child at least once while feeding to prevent hiccups from occurring. This process should be repeated after every feeding if the parents feel that hiccups are becoming more frequent and persistent.
Can Hiccups Affect a Toddler’s Growth?
Many centuries ago, when the mechanism behind hiccups was not well understood, it was believed that when a child had hiccups, they were about to have a major growth spurt.
Now that it is understood how a hiccup starts and what a hiccup actually is, it is known that it has nothing to do with a toddler’s growth but is merely a muscle spasm of the diaphragm.
Hiccups During Sleep
If your baby has hiccups while sleeping, there is nothing you need to do. This is completely normal and harmless to the child. In fact, babies often experience hiccups while they are still in the womb.
However, if it does bother you that your child is repeatedly having hiccups while sleeping, try the following:
- You may feed the child, which may reduce the duration or frequency of the hiccups.
- Make sure that the baby does not drink any air bubbles, which is often the source of this problem.
- Change the bottle nipples if your child has chewed and enlarged its opening.
Useful Ways to Ease Hiccups in Toddlers
Here are a few things you can do to relieve and prevent hiccups in babies:
- When your child is eating, make sure that they are taking the time to fully chew and swallow their food. Eating food too quickly may cause hiccups.
- Avoid giving your child any carbonated drinks. Carbonation triggers excess gas formation, which causes burping as well as hiccups.
- If the hiccups start in the midst of a feed, stop and soothe your baby by gently massaging his/her back to let out a burp.
- Try different feeding positions to find the one which is most comfortable for your baby.
- Don’t feed your baby too much at once as it can overburden his/her tiny stomach and cause hiccups. Instead, break one large feed into two smaller ones administered at different times.
- If your baby is old enough to be given water, administering small amounts of cold water during hiccups may help calm the irritated diaphragm.
Note: While these tips may prove useful in stopping a mild case of occasional hiccups, you must consult a doctor if the condition persists for hours, occurs frequently, or makes your baby extremely distressed.
It is completely normal for toddlers to have hiccups, especially since their digestive system is still developing and learning how to function. Although there is no definitive cause for hiccups, they can be avoided by adopting good dietary habits while letting go of the bad ones.
In children too, pay attention to potential triggers and try to avoid them. All in all, this spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm is usually beyond your control, but the good thing is, it typically resolves within a few minutes without doing anything.
However, if your child is experiencing persistent, prolonged, or frequent hiccups that are affecting his/her sleep and general wellbeing, consult your pediatrician to rule out any serious health concern.