Breath-holding is when a baby or child stops breathing for up to 1 minute and may faint. It can happen when a child is frightened, upset, angry, or has a sudden shock or pain. It’s usually harmless but can be scary for parents, particularly when it happens for the first time.
What happens during breath-holding
During breath-holding, your child may:
cry and then be silent while holding their breath
open their mouth as if going to cry but make no sound
turn blue or grey
be floppy or stiff, or their body may jerk
faint for 1 or 2 minutes
Your child may be sleepy or confused for a while afterwards.
After your child’s first breath-holding spell, take them to their doctor to rule out any health problems.
There are no tests to confirm a breath-holding spell. Your pediatrician usually can diagnose it after hearing what happened. They’ll want to know what set it off, how your child looked, and how they started to breathe again.
Rarely, the pediatrician may refer your child to a heart doctor, called a cardiologist, or to a neurologist, who specializes in the brain and the nervous system, to check for any underlying causes.
stay calm – it should pass in less than 1 minute
lie the child on their side – do not pick them up
stay with them until the episode ends
make sure they cannot hit their head, arms or legs on anything
reassure them and ensure they get plenty of rest afterwards
Don’t do this
do not shake your child or splash them with water
do not put anything in their mouth (including your fingers)
do not give them mouth-to-mouth or CPR
do not tell them off (they’re not doing it deliberately