Breath holding can be a terrifying experience especially when a child passes out. A child who has a tendency to hold their breath often does so between the ages of one and three years old.
The most common reason for children to hold their breath is attention seeking. When a child becomes extremely angry or frustrated they may hold their breath and turn blue and may even pass out. Because as a parent you will be alarmed and even frightened you will of course give your child extra attention, cuddles and reassurance. This unfortunately will reinforce the breath holding behaviour. On the other hand you don’t want to totally ignore the child who has passed out.
The best management for these attention seeking tantrums such as breath holding is to distract the child. Divert their attention by doing something to engage their interest. Mind you this doesn’t always ensure you will prevent one of these tantrums. If you child does continue their tantrum, once they have stopped or come too try not to give them too much attention.
If too much attention is constantly given to a child who holds their breath it may develop into a tool for manipulation. When a child sees that their parents will give them what they have been demanding, if they hold their breath, they may begin to use this as a means to get their own way. Give attention to positive behaviour and try to avoid giving too much attention to what may become attention seeking behaviour.
The reassuring news is that a child cannot cause themselves brain damage or die for holding their breath. The worse thing that can happen is that they may fall and injury themselves or in rare occasions holding their breath has been known to cause seizure-like movements. Once these spells are over their body will automatically resume control and they will start breathing again.
If your child has breath holding episodes it is wise to inform your doctor as there may be an underlying physical problem.
It has been thought that anaemia (low iron) may be a cause. A blood test will determine if the child is anaemic and in need of an iron supplement. If your doctor continues to be concerned they may suggest and ECG (electrocardiogram) test.
On the other hand you may have the family history of fainting. This is a less common form of breath holding. A child may cry out or gasps, turn pale and pass out. This usually occurs if the child is in pain or injured. These children are more likely to have problems with fainting later in life.