Breath-holding is when a baby or child stops breathing for up to 1 minute and may faint. It can happen when a child is frightened, upset, angry, or has a sudden shock or pain. It's usually harmless but can be scary for parents, particularly when it happens for the first time.
These could be symptoms of breath-holding, but could also be related to other, more serious conditions. If a doctor has not previously told you it's breath-holding, it's important to get it checked immediately.
During breath-holding, your child may:
Your child may be sleepy or confused for a while afterwards.
Although breath-holding can be scary for parents, it's usually harmless and your child should grow out of it by the age of 4 or 5.
Your child is not doing it on purpose and cannot control what happens when they have a breath-holding episode.
stay calm – it should pass in less than 1 minute
lie the child on their side – do not pick them up
stay with them until the episode ends
make sure they cannot hit their head, arms or legs on anything
reassure them and ensure they get plenty of rest afterwards
do not shake your child or splash them with water
do not put anything in their mouth (including your fingers)
do not give them mouth-to-mouth or CPR
do not tell them off (they're not doing it deliberately)
your child has already been diagnosed with breath-holding and:
The GP will try to find out if there's a more serious underlying condition. They may suggest an ECG to check your child's heart rhythm.
There's no specific treatment for breath-holding. It should eventually stop by the time your child is 4 or 5 years old.
Medicines are rarely used to treat breath-holding.
Breath-holding is sometimes related to iron deficiency anaemia.
Your child's blood iron levels may be checked. They may need iron supplements if their iron levels are low.
Breath-holding is usually triggered by a sudden shock or pain, or strong emotions like fear, upset or anger.
There are 2 types of breath-holding:
This is the most common type of breath-holding and happens when a child's breathing pattern changes.
This type of breath-holding happens when a child's heart rate slows down.