Did you EVER hear of Breath Holding Spells? I sure had not — until just a few months ago.
One day, a few months ago, I dropped off my 18 month old daughter at the gym daycare, while my oldest two were in swim lessons.
My kids have always loved babysitters and childcare – in moderation that is. They are silly that way. My oldest once said, “yeah, it’s fun because you pay for them to play with me.” Well…good attitude. But I digress.
Now, my baby had never been in childcare before. So I wasn’t sure how she would do. But when I left, she was off playing in the play kitchen and having a great time!
After swim lessons, I headed into childcare to pick her up. She smiled when she saw me but went back to playing. I announced it was time to go and collected her jacket and things. I announced again it was time to go. I was still ignored.
I signed her out and went to her. I told her sweetly it was time to go. She said “no” quite adamantly and ran to the baby carriage to resume her play.
I walked over to her and said, “Time to go sweetie. Let’s go eat.” and I picked her up. She began to cry and squirm, wanting to get back down.
I consoled and rocked her, telling her it was OK but she was getting really upset. She began a full-out tantrum and then the trip to the silent cry, that leads to the blood curdling scream, began. You know what I’m talking about…red face, shaking, mouth open, but NO SOUND.
We had seen it many times before. In fact, I consoled and chuckled a little at the same time and said “Oh no, here comes the scream.”
But the scream did NOT come.
She kept shaking. No sound.
“Come on, baby” I said. Still no sound.
Then she put her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes. She went limp. Her lips were blue.
Then my baby girl jerked back up, opened her eyes, looked at me and began to cry again. But this time with noise.
“I think she just passed out,” I said to no one in particular.
On the drive home, I kept thinking about it. Replaying it. Did she REALLY pass out? But she acted normal that evening. Maybe that wasn’t the case. Maybe she just wore herself out. Doubtful, but I was trying to let it go. Noting to talk to my husband and call the doctor later.
The next day she was fine, until….
Baby girl fell off the couch. Nothing serious. More of a roll really but it scared her and she began to cry. I picked her up and tried to console her. No use, she was sobbing, then did the silent cry and I waited with anticipation for the scream.
But it didn’t come!
Instead her lips turned blue and she passed out in my arms again. Seconds later, she jerked awake with a gasp, a terrified look on her face, and whimpered. She laid her head down on my shoulder and sobbed. She was exhausted!
I was FREAKED OUT!
I called my husband.
I’m not sure he really believed me. I mean, really, our baby passed out? Really? What baby passes out?
I called and left a message for the doctor and then did what you should NEVER do…consulted Dr. Internet. Yikes!
Google: “Baby passed out from crying.”
Yep, there are pages on it. Seizure disorders, illnesses, brain injuries, rare disease, anemia and “Breath Holding Spells.”
Yep. There are breath holding spells.
According to WebMD it effect 0.5% to 5% of children ages 6 weeks to 4 years of age.
No, your baby isn’t stubborn. Yes, I actually had one person say that, as if an 18 month old would have the cognitive ability to DECIDE to hold her breath until she passed out to make a point. Sure.
Anyway, the spells, which most commonly affect children from ages 1 to 3, occur when the child has trouble catching his breath when he gets upset from being hurt or getting angry. He continues to cry and can’t catch his breath. He passes out and then the involuntary breathing takes over triggering a gasp for air and a quick regaining of consciousness.
It all happens within seconds. The act of passing out actually makes the baby breathe. Then he breathes and wakes up.
The child may even appear to seize in order to regain consciousness. Scary!
Of course, you should still see a doctor to ensure there are NOT other reasons for the involuntary behavior. We did and there were not – thank goodness!
They did a physical exam, a quick test to ensure our baby girl was not anemic, and determined she was having “Breath Holding Spells.” Goodie!
The doctor stated she would grow out of them. “When, next week I hope?”
The doctor stated that most grow out of them in their own time but usually by the time they can be cognitively reasoned with and therefore calmed more easily – typically by 3 to 4 years old.
3 years of this? Oh dear!
The doctor said she had seen it as early as 6 weeks old and as late as 5 years old. But the most common is ages 1 to 3.
The biggest concern is safety. Ensuring the child does not pass out and fall into something, hurting herself worse (i.e. fall and hit her head into a table).
I asked about lack of oxygen to the brain being a problem but was told it is negligible and is not a concern. Maybe not to them but I’m still worried.
In the end, we were told to watch her. Keep her safe, and she will grow out of it.
We continue to work hard to get her to catch her breath by blowing on her face, patting her back, and jostling her. I must say these means seem to work most of the time. But sometimes it does not and I could cry it frightens me so, to see her collapse on me like a rag doll, with her red face and blue lips.
She seems no worse for the wear after it’s over. Our worst week was 4 times in 5 days but there are days when it happens several times and days weeks when it doesn’t happen at all…here’s to the power of prayer!
I would guess we aren’t finished with this stage just yet just because we have had a few good weeks. But it’s nice to see her catch her breath on her own.
I worry EVERY TIME she gets upset.
We pick her up to ensure she is safe in case she passes out. Her lips have turned blue a few times before she has caught her breath but she didn’t pass out those times.
I took to Facebook looking for answers the first day and was surprised at the fact that I had 2 other friends that had their children do this but I was unaware. Not that you wish such a thing on anyone else but it does help to hear that other children has done it and you know those children and know they are OK.
I don’t have any tips or secrets to stop this from happening but I do know that it’s more common than I would have ever known.
Now we tell everyone that stays with our daughter from the gym and church childcare to family and friends that play with her. We want them to be prepared and ready.
Our kids know what to do to keep her safe, not to leave her alone, and to get an adult’s attention immediately.
We don’t treat her differently however. For instance, we still tell her “no,” even if we know it might trigger a tantrum. But we certainly don’t leave the room. We ensure she doesn’t launch into a full-fledged fit that will result in one of her spells.
In the end, I can only offer advice if your child has displayed signed of “Breath Holds Spells.”
- Keep Him Safe – pick him up or ensure he is in a place where he can’t fall and hurt himself on walls, furniture or toys
- Try to help him catch his breath – he won’t love you blowing in his face or patting his back hard, but the startling effects may result in the involuntary gasp for air, preventing him from passing out
- Let him know his is OK – your baby is NOT doing anything wrong. He can’t help it and may be scared. Hold him, hug him, and tell him he is OK. It is likely both exhausting and scary to not be able to catch his breath and pass out. Don’t scold him for getting so worked up. Love him and make him feel safe.
Have you had a child that has “Breath Holding Spells?” Do you have advice to share? When did he or she grow out of it? We would love to know your experiences.