Babies Holding Their Breath

What Is Breath Holding Spells (BHS)?

Approximately 1 in 20 babies have breath holding spells (BHS), which are involuntary periods of holding their breath. Babies who have these spells often hold their breath to the point of passing out, and may experience a few twitchy movements before regaining consciousness after a few seconds. When they lose consciousness their bodies kick start the breathing mechanism and they taking a deep breath and then going back to breathing normally. During BHS, babies' eyes can roll back and they may go limp. Breath holding spells usually last between 30-60 seconds, which feels like a lifetime to concerned parents watching it happen. BHS usually start from 6 months - 2 years, but they usually stop by age 3-4. Some babies have BHS several times a day, while other babies have breath holding spells only occasionally.

Why Do Breath Holding Spells Happen?

BHS are involuntary; your baby isn't doing it on purpose. The exact cause of BHS is not known, but it seems to be a reaction to pain, fear, injury and sometimes anger. Some scientists believe BHS are genetic, and are more likely to occur if either of the parents did BHS as children. Breath holding spells are naturally very distressing for the parents (and the babies often feel scared by them too), but try to stay calm during an episode as your baby will get more distressed if she sees you upset. BHS are rarely a sign that your baby is ill, and BHS in themselves aren't harmful to your baby. Babies who hold their breath aren't more prone to epilepsy. You should take your baby to see a doctor however the first time they hold their breath, as there are conditions which make these episodes more common, such as iron deficient anemia, neurological disorders or heart problems. Babies who have BHS don't usually have underlying illnesses, but it is best to get it checked out.

If your baby jerks her limbs while holding her breath, or doesn't seem to recover immediately after an episode, or has difficulty breathing properly you should see a doctor immediately or call 999 as this can be a sign of a seizure.

How To Deal With Breath Holding Spells.

If your baby loses consciousness, when she comes to, she is likely to be scared by what happened. Cuddle your baby so she feels safe and secure.

Although distressing to parents and baby, BHS don't harm your baby at all. Some parents worry about brain damage, but babies can't damage their brain by holding their breath. During a BHS, try startling your baby into breathing. Say his name really loudly, or clap your hands in front of his face. You can also try blowing on his face. Make sure your baby is somewhere they can't get hurt if their legs and arms move around, like the floor.

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This internet site provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child, you should always consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.