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What to do when your child has breath-holding spells?

May 25, 2023

What to do when your child has breath-holding spells?

When a young child stops his/her breath for a short period, usually for less than one minute, it is called a breath-holding spell. Breath-holding spells result in your child losing consciousness or passing out.

Breath-holding spells are common in children from 1-3 years. While some kids experience breath-holding spells regularly, some have them once in a while.

Types of breath-holding spells:

Breath-holding spells are completely involuntary, and your child does not get them purposefully. They are simply your child’s reaction to sudden events. Based on the cause of breath-holding spells, they can be categorized as follows:

Cyanotic breath-holding spells:

These are the most common type of breath-holding spells. They occur when your child is upset, frustrated or angry about something.

In cyanotic breath-holding spells the child does not breath after exhaling and their face turns blue

Pallid breath-holding spells:

Pallid breath-holding spells are unusual and unpredictable. They occur when your child is extremely scared, startled or surprised. In this breath-holding spell, your child’s face becomes pale white instead of blue.

Symptoms of a breath-holding spell:

• Your child’s body stiffens
• Your child’s face and lips either turn blue or pale white.
• Your child loses consciousness
• Your child becomes sweaty
• Your child body stiffens
• Your child has jerky movements
• Your child breathes again within a minute and looks completely normal in about 2-3 minutes

Things to do when your child has breath-holding spells:

1. Find Out What Triggered your Child: Was he/she upset, scared or surprised? What situation triggered the breath-holding spell? Though breath-holding spells are involuntary they occur due to situational factors or strong emotions.

2. Stay calm and wait: Keep in mind that breath-holding spells last only for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

3. Do not hold your child: Lay your child to their side and wait till they start breathing again. You can cushion their head when you lay them down on the floor or bed.

4. Avoid moving or shaking your infant or child: Moving or shaking your child might seem like a good way to help them regain consciousness, however, this does not help during a breath-holding spell and it can cause injuries.

5. Do not place anything in your child’s mouth: Do not insert your fingers to clear your child’s air passage, it can lead to choking.

6. Keep sharp objects away: During breath-holding spells, your child may experience jerky movements. Hence, to keep your child safe during the spells keep sharp objects away. This will prevent his/her arms, legs or head from getting injured.

7. Let them breathe on their own: Do not try mouth to mouth resuscitation, splashing water on your child’s face or pressing your child’s chest.

They will start breathing on their own without any aid and their heartbeat will be back to normal when their breath-holding spell ends.

8. Reassure your child after they recover: Once your child recovers act as nothing happened and do not make a fuss about it. Do not punish them or reward them. Instead, reassure them that they are fine and help them relax.

9. Take your child to a doctor: Breath-holding spells do not chronically affect your child and go away completely with time. However, it is important to consult a doctor if:

• Your child is younger than six months.
• Your child takes longer than 1 minute to recover from their breath-holding spells
• Your child experiences breath-holding spells more than once in a week- this might be an indication that your child has anaemia.

To reduce the frequency of breath-holding spells, try to distract your child in situations which trigger them. Make sure your child is well-rested and not hungry or overstimulated. Help your child manage emotions like frustration, fear or anger in a better manner.

If the breath-holding spells occur after your child throws temper tantrums, do not give in to their demands just to prevent breath-holding spells. This will reinforce your child’s behavioral problems.


1. A breath-holding spell is when a child involuntarily stops his/her breath for less than a minute. Breath-holding spells result in your child passing out or losing consciousness.
2. There are two types of breath-holding spells: Cyanotic and Pallid. The child’s face turns blue in cyanotic breath-hold spells whereas in pallid breath-holding spells their face turns pale white.
3. Stay calm and lay your child down when they are experiencing a breath-holding spell.
4. Do not try to help your child breath and keep sharp objects away from your child if they have jerky movements during breath-holding spells.
5. Consult a doctor if your child is taking longer than a minute to recover from breath-holding spells and experiences these spells for more than once in a week.


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