Breath Holding Spells in Infants and Toddlers

Breath holding spells are quite common in children between the ages of six months and two years. It occurs when a child, crying hysterically and holding his breath for too long between cries, turns blue and passes out. Understandably, this incident is quite frightening for parents to witness. However, a true breath holding spell is often harmless and actually occurs in at least five percent of all children.

Assuming that the child has not injured himself by a fall when he passes out from a breath holding spell, then the problem is a behavioral one and not a medical one. However, the first spell should definitely be followed by a visit to the pediatrician. Although a breath holding spell doesn’t increase a child’s chance for developing a seizure disorder, epilepsy can sometimes be mistaken for a breath holding spell.

A short-lived seizure can result from a breath holding spell. That is why it is best to let the child finish with the spell before interfering, as it may injure the child otherwise. Doctors recommend standing back until it plays itself out. Keep in mind that you should only do that if you are sure that your child is having a breath holding spell and if the child is not in any harm’s way where they are.

Telling a parent to stand back and ignore their child turning blue and passing out is easier said than done. Of course one’s instinct is to jump in and help or “fix” their child. Just keep in mind that the spell itself is harmless and only lasts for thirty to sixty seconds. Studies show that once a spell occurs, it is very likely to happen again that day, possibly even minutes after the first.

The good news is, breath holding spells are a short-lived behavioral phase. They are not cured, however, by giving in to every whim your child has. Doctors say children are much more likely to grow out of it quickly if it is ignored (with precaution, of course). Parents with children who experience these spells often begin to fear another onset, which causes the household great anxiety. Rest assured that the spells are a common occurrence that your child will outgrow at least by age five, probably sooner.

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