Breath holding

Why on earth do babies hold their breath? I am feeling sick because my baby held his breathe until he went blue and fainted. Should I go to the doctor?

There are some warning signs that would inform you when you should take your baby to the doctor with regard to breathe holding:

– the baby holds his breathe for longer than one minute

– the breathe holding episodes are frequent and severe

– your baby is holding his breathe when he does not seem to be unhappy or sore

– you feel uneasy about it for any reason

This is an extremely alarming behaviour for any adult to witness, and is generally far more traumatic for the adult witness than for the baby involved. A baby who is overwhelmed by a situation, usually because of frustration, pain or fury, cries in a way that becomes increasingly hysterical, until the baby becomes blue around the mouth and passes out. Once the baby is unconscious, the breathing will resume automatically, although there may be body rigidity and twitching while the baby is unconscious. Since these episodes are generally over quickly, within a minute, there is no danger of brain damage. This situation is more common than you would think – about 20% of babies engage in breathe holding, but it unusual for this behaviour to continue beyond the 4 year mark. There seems to be some genetic connection as it runs in families.

Since this situation is often the result of extreme frustration, it is worth looking at your life style and the way you manage your baby to see how this frustration can be reduced. Sometimes we do not realise how easily babies get overtired, and how hard this is for them to cope with. An overtired baby is often unable to fall asleep and is overwhelmed by the smallest event. So try to introduce more calming activities, and learn to recognise the signs of overtiredness early on, so that you can intervene and calm baby down with cuddles and quiet activity before the problem escalates. In addition, babies are very susceptible to the tension that they live with, so if there is a lot of tension in your home, it is important to do all you can to reduce this in order to help baby cope.

You will have to learn to manage the way you feel when baby holds his breathe. When you are over whelmed by anxiety, baby will pick it up and this will feed into a cycle of increasing stress. Try a variety of stress reduction methods for yourself. Also make sure that baby is not using this behaviour as a bargaining tool to get what he wants. If you give in to his demands because he held his breathe then he is likely to do it again. In effect you are rewarding him for holding his breathe. Try to be aware of these type of dynamics, as sometimes we fall into these traps without realising what is happening.

It is worth discussing iron supplements with your doctor as research seems to show that babies who take iron supplements stop holding their breathe.

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*Important : The information provided is for information purposes only. No medical diagnosis or prescription can be inferred or is implied. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

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