Q: Last week, my 16-month-old daughter held her breath and passed out. My doctor says it’s common and nothing to worry about. He said she’ll probably outgrow it by the time she’s five. But I’m afraid she’ll hurt herself and I’m nervous all the time that it’s going to happen again.
A: Your doctor is correct: Breath-holding spells are common, but that in no way makes them less frightening. They affect about five percent of toddlers and children, and often start by one year of age, peak at two and, by age five, fifty percent are spell-free. Breath-holding spells are not epilepsy or related to brain damage in any way. There are two types: cyanotic, where the child turns bluish before passing out; and pallid, where the child goes very pale. Pain, injury and temper tantrums can bring them on. The cause is unknown, but it appears to be a reflex and not behavioural. The challenge is not to change your parenting because of fear of causing a spell. It’s more important that your child be treated (and disciplined) normally. Head injury is a concern, so careful supervision and using a helmet for trike riding and other such activities are in order.