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Why Do Toddlers Hold Their Breath?

When children hold their breath, it is a scary thing for parents to deal with. Sometimes they stop breathing until they pass out, which can send parents into a panic. Why do kids do such a troubling thing?

In the case of babies and toddlers, it’s rarely a voluntary thing. Kids this young don’t just come up with the idea of intentionally holding their breath to get attention, or to get what they want. While breath holding frequently accompanies tantrums, it’s not something they do on purpose.

Involuntary breath holding is usually a direct result of intense crying. The child begins to cry, and at some point, she fails to inhale. This is just as scary to her as it is to the parents, if not more so. If she holds her breath long enough, she passes out.

The good news is that she will start breathing again as soon as she’s out. Her body’s involuntary breathing mechanisms take over, and she comes to soon after. In this type of episode, there is no permanent damage.   Still, the first time it happens, it can be extremely worrisome. And there are certain health problems that can cause similar episodes. So if you are concerned, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s pediatrician.

How to Handle a Breath Holding Episode:  Properly handling a breath holding episode is very important. If you make a big fuss, your child is more likely to have such episodes in the future. She sees that throwing a tantrum and holding her breath get her what she wants, so she might decide to do it intentionally.

Startling your child by clapping or shouting can, in some cases, cause her to start breathing. And some parents find that placing a cold washcloth over their children’s faces will cause them to start breathing again. If you have one handy, there’s no harm in trying. But if you have to go after one, you’ll probably find that your child is breathing again by the time you return.

One of the most important things to do when facing a breath holding attack is to make sure the child doesn’t get hurt. Put her on the floor if possible, so that if she passes out she won’t fall. Remove any objects that pose a danger of injury as well.

Breath holding in children is rarely dangerous. They can’t hold their breath long enough to cause brain damage, because they will pass out and resume breathing long before that is a concern. If you find that your child is holding your breath, do your best to remain calm. If you don’t encourage the behavior, it is less likely to become a common occurrence, and your child will grow out of it before long.