Breath Holding Spells: Have You Watched Your Baby Turn Blue?
Imagine watching as your baby’s precious face turns blue, their tiny body limping lifeless in your arms, only for them to regain a regular breathing pattern and “wake up” as if nothing happened. Breath-holding spells sound like a mother’s worst nightmare, but why don’t more parents know about this frightening diagnosis?
According to WedMD, breath-holding spells (BHS) are brief periods in which a young child (common between ages 1 to 3 years, but can occur in children between 6 months and 6 years of age) stop breathing, causing the child to lose consciousness. Some children have spells everyday, while others have them once in awhile. The article goes on to state that, “Breath-holding spells usually occur when a young child is angry, frustrated, in pain or afraid. But the spell is a reflex. Children don’t have breath-holding spells on purpose.”
While medical professionals state that breath holding spells are not serious and don’t cause lasting damage, enduring this experience can paralyze a parent. Lindsey from Colorado explains how her son’s first spell occurred while he was eating, making her question the doctor’s original diagnose, “This condition was nothing I had heard of. In reading the BHS hand-out given to us by the doctor, I wasn’t convinced. In my mind, it was the avocado. My child had choked and I needed to cut his food smaller”. Like many BHS babies, the following week Lindsey’s son became agitated and started to cry, minutes later she was calling 911, “As my limp, blue baby lay in my arms I waited for an operator to answer my emergency call. My mind raced and I kept thinking, ‘please don’t die, please don’t die, I don’t know what to do’. On the second ring, about two minutes after the initial crash, baby B started to move, cry and slowly sat up.”
Certainly a cause to consult your pediatrician, the common advice for babies enduring a spell is to lay them on their side or back, prevent head damage and clear air passage if necessary. While tempting to view the condition as a behavioral reaction, research suggests that BHS is a physiological response to a baby’s environment. Proactive parents like Lindsey have become experts in their child’s triggers, aids and work to create a protective environment, “He is more likely to exhibit the associated symptoms when unexpectedly hurt or overly upset. Also, though this is not the case with all BHS children, blowing in his face when an episode starts helps my son to breathe before a full blown spell starts”.
Breath-holding spells, while brief and apparently not dangerous to the child’s health, can impact a family tremendously. All caregivers should be notified and educated on BHS symptoms, especially new babysitters. A response plan should be enacted and communicated to those who interact with the child. And sometimes, just sometimes, a healthy dose of humor is prescribed to get a BHS mom through the day. As Lindsey jokes, “When people ask me about BHS, I usually start by saying ‘so, my kid will play dead to get what he wants…’
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