Friday, 24 May 2013

Breath Holding

The first time it happened, G was about 7 months old, and we were at a 'Music with Mummy' class. While I was putting my coat on, he suddenly leaned back (thinking I was still sat on the floor behind him) and hit his head on the floor. It was carpet, and I knew he hadn't seriously hurt himself, but he screamed and then went silent. After a second or two of him being silent and floppy, he suddenly started crying again and was then fine. I didn't think too much of it until a few weeks later when it happened again. He was sitting on his bedroom floor playing while I put his clothes away. He overreached for a toy and toppled over sideways. Again, he screamed and then after a few seconds went silent. This time I was watching him carefully. He screamed, and then at the point where a child would normally take a deep breath to give another bellow, he didn't or couldn't take a breath. His face was frozen in a silent scream, his eyes looked panicked and then he went deathly pale, floppy and seemingly unconscious. An eternity later (but actually only a few seconds), with me shouting his name, blowing in his face, pinching his cheeks etc, he opened his eyes and started crying again. He was then VERY drowsy and pale for a good half hour, before the colour started to come back.

I mentioned it to the health visitor, who just said it was "breath holding" and he would grow out of it.

After another couple of episodes over the next few months, the big one happened. He was about 13months old, and still showing no signs of moving at all. We'd dropped big brother at nursery at 8am and come home. He was sitting on the sofa with some books. As I leaned over to pick him up to take him into the kitchen for breakfast, he leapt towards me and did a kind of forward roll off the sofa onto the mat on the floor. I swept him up quickly and he went into a breath-holding episode. Except this time he didn't regain consciousness after a couple of seconds. About a minute went by of me trying to bring him round and I knew something was wrong, so I lay him on the floor and dialled 999. The ambulance came within 5 minutes, by which time he had come round. The 999 operator had transferred me to a paramedic who had kept me talking the whole time, talking me through putting him in the recovery position etc. When the ambulance crew arrived at the door, they had a camera-crew in tow (something they had omitted to tell me on the phone!). They were filming for emergency rescue or one of those sort of real-life docu-dramas, and did I mind being filmed? Well apart from the fact that I'd thought my baby was dead, I hadn't yet had a shower and looked like a greasy scarecrow! I was told to pack a bag with nappies, food, milk etc for him, as he would need to be taken to hospital to be checked over. They got it into their heads that it was a head injury due to the fall and didn't seem to be listening to me about the breath-holding thing. By the time I had run around gathering a few things, G was fine and beaming at all the camera crew, paramedics etc. I phoned husband quickly to let him know what was happening, leaving a message on his mobile (he later arrived at the hospital in a major panic, as he had only listened to the first part of my message which said "G fallen off sofa, unconscious, called an ambulance, on our way to hospital" but he didn't hear the last bit of "he's fine, everything is ok"!!). We had to stay in hospital all day for observation, first in children's A&E and then on the ward. I had to keep talking people through it over and over again, and every one of them focused on the fall & potential head injury bit & not the repeated breath-holding bit. Eventually, late afternoon, a paediatrician came to discharge us. She decided that it had just been another breath-holding (thank you!) but had no idea why he was doing them. She thought it was possibly due to the fact that he was so immobile, so that when he did a sudden movement & fell he went into shock. She advised to try to keep him calm in these situations ie not sweep him up the second he falls, and hopefully he would grow out of it.

I googled it and discovered that what he does is something called "pallid breath holding" as opposed to tantrum breath holding, where the child holds their breath on purpose.

The last episode he had was not long after we moved here, just over a year ago. The boys were fighting in the shopping trolley while I was trying to pay for the shopping. When I glanced over, I suddenly realised that G was slumped in the seat unconscious. W freaked out and started screaming, as he thought he had killed his little brother! Tesco staff were brilliant - a first aider was called, someone finished packing my shopping for me and took it to my car and loaded it for me. He was only out for a few seconds thankfully. Later that year, he finally started walking and has not had an breath-holding since.

Until this week....I was trying to get them upstairs for bathtime, and G was messing about. He tripped over my feet and plonked down heavily on his bottom. He yelled, and exasperated, I grabbed him up to take up for his bath. But I must have picked him up at the wrong moment, as he failed to take the breath and passed out. W at first found it funny, thinking G was pretending, but then realised it wasn't funny at all. G came round after a few seconds, and was then very sleepy. W kept saying "Mummy, DO NOT tell anyone what happened, as they would be very sad and scared". It shook him up as much as me.

G has been fine ever since, but it was still a frightening experience. I usually leave him a few seconds when he falls or hurts himself, until I hear him take another breath after the first cry, as it seems to be the sweeping him up mid-cry that shocks him. On this most recent occasion, in my haste to get them upstairs for their bath, I wasn't really thinking.

I really hope he grows out of this soon, as it is not an experience I want to repeat any time soon.


  1. It is so scary isn't it. One of my twins used to do it and she used to fit with it to, which was super scary. I remember hearing the cry start and I would run to her to make sure I blew on her before she could pass out and fit. She is nearly 6 now and has not done it for at least 2 years.

    I hope it passes soon, Mich x

    1. We really thought he's grown out of it, as it has been aout a year since the last one. Then out of the blue he has one over a minor thing. He's just turned 3, so really hope he outgrows it soon.

      This time he wet himself when he passed out, something we didn't realise he did, as he was in nappies last time he did it. He also no recollection or awareness of what happened.

  2. I can't imagine how scary that must be, I was white-knuckled just reading it. Did the hospital offer you a referral or any more specialist support? Sounds it's something we could all do with knowing more about, I'm not sure I would have responded as effectively as you.
    Janie xx

    1. All the doctors, health visitors, hospital etc just said he should outgrow it and that it was nothing to worry about, provided they didn't get any worse, more frequent etc.
      When it happens, I seem to go extremely calm and just deal with it. It is only afterwards that the terror hits me and I feel shaken. Fingers crossed that it was the last one.