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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13 thoughts on “PSA: Breath-Holding, Parent-Terrifying Babies

  1. Salaams Dear Friend:

    Alhamdulillah, Mabrook on the new baby!

    I have seen babies cry so hard that the poor little thing’s face turns purple. How frightening.

    What a handy little trick, blowing on their face. Everyone should know about it.

  2. Subhanallah. Little babies are just sooo funny with their quirky behaviors. Spread the word about blowing on the face. Oh, and of course congrats on your new baby.

  3. Salams Sissies,
    I’ve been reading through some more message boards and am just amazed by some people’s child-rearing attitudes. I have seen several people insist that these babies are “throwing tantrums” or being “manipulative.” They suggest to just let the baby pass out and then they will learn to stop doing it. SubhanAllah, I hope other parents find out how to deal with it. It’s very upsetting. Have also read for some breath-holders it works to squirt them with a little water-lol-I couldn’t even do that to my cat!

  4. Maybe a gentle spray of water like one of those face refresher bottles. Not like a menacing, hard spray or anything.

  5. People are so odd sometimes, an infant cannot be “manipulative” or throw a tantrum. Babies are not bad nor do they have bad behavior. What they do is simply instinct at this point, and quirky personality things, lol. But to suggest that a baby is being manipulative, come on! Subhan’Allah, we are born with a natural state of goodness, and anyone who says otherwise, hasn’t spent much time with a newborn…

    Hugs! Glad to hear things are going well for you and your family 🙂

  6. Its quite alarming when a child holds his/her breath to the point they go blue in the face! I feel sometimes the parents reaction to it (of fear) can aggravate the problem

    1. It seems there is a lot of ignorance about this condition and unfortunately that probably causes parents to freak-out, which is upsetting for little kids–to see their parents not only not know what to do but also freak-out. So yeah, that could aggravate the problem 😦

  7. i know this is a old post, but just FYI – the blowing on face only worked until my lil guy was 6 months old. After that it stopped working.

    1. It is ancient in blog terms, but a lot of people stop by it- so did you find another way to cut it off? Blowing worked well for my three, though we sometimes had to blow hard and repeatedly.

  8. I have a 2 year old who held his breath since he was a day old. Blowing in his mouth or face does not work for him. I have tried everything nothing works. About 2 weeks ago his left side of his face is drawing up during the spell. Has anyone ever experienced this with “breath holding”

    1. I’m so sorry Jessica. I had one baby pass out on me once and it was horrible. The passing out can cause some damage if it happens frequently/too much. I would suggest that you find a helpful practitioner if possible. I have also heard of spritzing them with water- like you do bad cats!- but never had to try that.

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