Can a 3 Year Old Have a Migraine?


A pounding headache, sensitivity to light and the immense feeling of nausea. Migraines are more than just a headache, I can tell you from personal experience. Having migraines myself made me worry about passing them onto my girls. I find it difficult to think of my girls going through such a horrible experience. I wanted to research and find out about if 3 year olds can have migraines?

Yes, 3 year olds can have migraines. It’s unfortunately sad but true. Migraines have been reported in babies as young as 18 months old. Migraines are relatively common in children in general, with half of all migraine sufferers having their first attack before the age of 12. By the time a child gets to school, 10% of their class will suffer from migraines.

Surprisingly there is also a large difference in attacks between boys and girls. Before puberty, boys suffer from migraines more often. Then as children reach the age of 17 more girls suffer from the problem.

If you think your child is having a migraine it can be a scary can confusing experience, but rest assured that you can help them and it’s also worth knowing when it could be something more serious. I have done the research on the topic and if you read further then I am sure you will find the following article very useful for both you and your 3 year old.


It’s unknown what causes migraines. It’s even unknown how they cause all the symptoms that they bring along. If you don’t suffer from them it can be easy to dismiss them as a bad headache but it’s important to know the signs as your 3 year old will have trouble telling you what is wrong. This is why it’s important to know the signs, so you can limit any suffering for them.

Medical professional’s best guess about what causes migraines are that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. To put it simply, there is abnormal function in the brain, and it starts to send out signals which then become painful and affect other parts of the brain which control mood, attention, sleep etc causing a migraine.

In many cases of migraine for 3 year olds they can be “triggered” (brought on) by external factors. The triggers are varied for each child but it’s worth knowing the different types of triggers, so you can try and make some changes to your 3 year olds routine to see if that helps them.

Common migraine triggers are:

  • Emotional stress: This is believed to be the most common of all the triggers for your child. Children are far more susceptible to stress than adults. It can be easy to forget just how scary and confusing everyday life can be when you are that young and small. When your child is stressed, your child’s brain sends out chemicals to help them through the situation. You might have heard it called the flight or flight response. These chemicals can also be a trigger for your 3 year olds migraine.
  • Changes in diet / eating patterns: When your 3 year old’s diet changes or they accidentally miss a meal this can mean their blood sugar level drops. This drop in blood sugar levels can trigger the same chemicals in the brain that bring on a migraine.
  • Weather changes: This is an unusual one but it can affect certain people. It’s normally to do with the changes in pressure with weather systems rather than getting caught in some light rain for example. I don’t suffer from this myself so I have no experience with it but I know it does affect some people.
  • Specific chemicals / preservatives: Tiny amounts of common chemicals around the house and preservatives in food can cause your 3 year old to have migraines. There is some evidence that they can be triggers for your little ones. There is also a lot of hearsay about what foods cause migraines that I’m sure you’ve heard about (chocolate, somebody once told me, although maybe they just wanted to keep it for themselves!).
  • Poor sleep: Our 3 year olds sometimes don’t always get the best night’s sleep, which unfortunately can also trigger migraines. Annoyingly, too much sleep can also trigger migraines for some 3 year olds aswell!

Now I have explained all of the possible causes, I know you are probably wanting to get to the information on what we can do to help or 3 year olds.


Watching your 3 year old in pain or with nausea is always difficult as a parent. It can be even more frustrating if these bouts of illness are more common. If you feel like your 3 year old may have migraines then it’s best to get them checked out by a medical professional. There are some easy and important things you can do to help them in the meantime.

  1. Lower stress: As I mentioned above, stress is probably the number one cause of migraines in your 3 year olds. Try and eliminate as much stress in their lives as you can. Sometimes it can be hard to think of what might be causing a 3 year old stress, but you have to view the world from their perspective. Think about what might be scary or stressful to them, not just yourself.
  2. Eat well and eat regularly: There are two parts to this tip. The first is to eat well. This means giving them a good diet, so making sure they get their fruits and vegetables in for the day. That they aren’t eating or drinking too many fatty, sugary or processed foods. These types of foods and drinks can put stress on 3 year olds bodies as they process them. The second part of this tip is to eat regularly, don’t let them skip breakfast, for example. Make sure they are eating as well as possible three times a day with a few healthy snacks in between.
  3. Keep away from triggers: Take a look at the list of triggers I gave you in the previous section and make sure you are minimising as many as you can for your 3 year old.
  4. Regular exercise: Your 3 year old was made for running around and playing all day long. I know it can be hard in the world we live in today to give them that kind of freedom and time to supervise them. Exercise for them and for everyone is a stress buster, it helps keep down the levels of the chemicals that can cause migraines and keeps them fit and healthy too. Just try to build in exercise into their everyday routine. Walking more is a great example, it can be easy when we are in a rush to drive everywhere. Just try and make one of your trips in the day with two feet rather than four wheels.
  5. Migraine diary: If you are still struggling to find out what is causing your 3 year olds migraines then I would suggest keeping a migraine diary. You will want to note down when their migraines start and end. You will also want to take a note of what they had been doing, eating and how they were feeling just before the migraine happened. Then either you or a medical professional can look a the diary and hopefully see the patterns that might be triggering your little one’s migraines.


Migraines are so much more than just a headache. If you’ve never had one then they are hard to explain. I will list the most common symptoms in your 3 year old. They could have any / all of the following (I have had most of these symptoms myself so I can describe them pretty accurately!):

  • Head pain: It can feel the same as a headache or very different (like your head is splitting). It can be extremely painful for some people or mild for others. It’s the most common symptom that everyone knows about migraines, but there are many more.
  • Nausea / vomiting: It’s a very sick feeling in your stomach and it can come on even before you realise you have a migraine. It can be severe for some people, enough to make them sick enough to be unable to keep food down.
  • Dizziness: It can feel like a rocking motion or just a general unsteadiness on your feet.
  • Sensitivity to touch, light, odors: This is probably the most unusual symptom and it’s hard to describe or maybe even believe if you haven’t had it before. It affects people in different ways, to use myself as an example, I feel sensitive to light, so only low lighting feels comfortable. I also feel sensitive to touch. When suffering from migraines and you touch an object or an item touches you, it can feel different and unpleasant, as if the sensation has been amplified.

Unfortunately, if you suffer from migraines there is a high chance (around 50%) that your 3 year old will develop them too. If both you and your partner suffer from migraines then there is a 75% chance that your 3 year old will suffer from them.

This is why I wanted to do my research into the topic so I could recognize the signs and find out how to help my little ones.

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