PSA: Breath-Holding, Parent-Terrifying Babies

Well it seems that I have another one. My youngest son was eight days old when we took him to the pediatrician and he demonstrated his frightening little trick for her.  He was crying and then he stopped breathing. “Oh. He’s a breath holder” she excitedly said. She asked if anyone else in our families had this habit. It’s hereditary. Why actually, my sister-in-law held her breath as an infant and toddler. Many times she did so until she passed out, terrifying her mother, father and older siblings. I am so thankful that we had this pediatrician on this day-  one of the very few times my son has ever had to go into the office. She has been practicing for many years—she’s a grandma—and happened to know about this habit as well as a response to make the baby or young child draw a breath instead of standing by helplessly, frantically watching them pass out.

“Just blow in his face” she told us “and he’ll stop.” When a “breath holder” is blown on–in short, fast breaths– he/she will be startled and “forced” to take a breath. Not much is known about breath holders and worse many people don’t seem to know this trick. I have read about people whose child passes out regularly, sometimes even daily, because they don’t know to just blow in their child’s face. Even many websites that discuss breath holding spells or expiratory apnea don’t offer this simple solution, instead they try to comfort the parent with the knowledge that the baby will quickly recover—after passing out!—and that seizures are rare.

My first daughter was a few months old when she sneakily held her breath on me for the first time. She was crying, but I didn’t realize that she was also holding her breath. When her little body went limp in my arms—I think that was the worst feeling I have ever had in my life. I nearly passed out too, but she did come around fairly quickly. She was slightly dazed for a few minutes. If I hadn’t known about breath holders, I’m sure we would have been on route to the emergency room instead of reassuringly cuddling each other.

And today  I discovered that her little two-week old sister is a breath holder too—but I blew on her and she drew a breath.

If you have a baby who is a breath holder or know someone else who does, please use this technique or tell others about it. It is so simple and effective. It could eliminate a lot of suffering for breath holding babies and especially their families.

*update 1/24

Took baby in to the doctor for the first time. She did her trick and when I blew in her face the nurse gave me a “you weird woman” side-eye.

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You Can Call Me Mary

Staring down at the glossy red ceramic platter in my hands, I wonder how a crispy stuffed bird or succulent medallions of braised meat will look against the lipstick red. Perhaps the antique white platter with the retro holly pattern will better serve my culinary masterpieces. The white one is actually already sitting in my cart. Admittedly, I am trying to justify getting both platters.
My frivolous concentration is interrupted by the joyful exclamation of a small boy riding by me in a cart with his baby sister sleeping in her car seat in the basket.

“Mommy, mommy! It’s Mary, it’s Mary!”

I glance over and give him a big smile. I’m not Mary, but I know why he thinks I am. The first couple of times I was mistaken for Mary were awkward moments. Even though I do resemble her somewhat, I was caught off guard, as are all the mommies whose children make this innocent mistake.

Today the little boy continues to try to get his Mommy’s attention, but she hurries down the isle without acknowledging either of us and they are quickly out sight, just as fast as the first time a child called me “Mary.”

Here, amongst the pine and pumpkin pie scented candles and plastic mistletoe, the boy was genuinely delighted to see Mary, too. He’s probably been seeing Mary a lot lately. She is popping up on people’s lawns and in pageants around town. She is even featured in the Oriental Trading Company catalog, surrounded by inflatable palms and stable animals. Like the little girl models in the catalog, I too cover my hair with a scarf. I am a Muslim woman that wears a hijab. Here under the soft department store lights that are somehow supposed to encourage rampant spending, I look a bit like the iconic Virgin Mary in the baroque style.

Really, I think I’m too old to look like Mary, but that just makes his comment all the more complimentary. Even if just a comparison in looks, I feel an immense honor to be mistaken for the mother of a great prophet. Isa or Jesus in the Christian tradition is also a prophet to Muslims. His mother Mariam (Mary) is revered as one of the four best women in paradise and the Quran has entire chapter written for her.

Loading my bags into my minivan, I realize that I still have a great big grin on my face. It will stay with me all day.