Breath Holding

29 Apr 2016


Watching your child suddenly have a breath-holding spell - and even turn blue - can be scary. Fortunately, breath-holding spells won’t hurt your child. Your child will start breathing again within about one minute.

Breath-holding usually happens when babies or children:
       •  are crying
       •  are frightened or upset
       •  have had a minor accident and have gone into shock

These children will cry, then catch their breath and ‘hold’ it without breathing. They don’t do it on purpose – even if it looks like they’re holding their breath as part of an extreme tantrum.
Breath-holding spells can happen as often as several times a day, or as rarely as once a year.

Children as young as six months can have breath-holding spells. Around 90% of children stop doing it by the time they’re six.

Some cases of breath-holding are associated with iron deficiency anaemia. Your GP can do a simple blood test to determine whether this is a likely cause. It’s natural to panic the first time your child has a breath-holding spell – especially if you’ve never heard of breath-holding before. It might help to know that breath-holding doesn’t cause long-term damage. There’s no evidence that it has any harmful effects on the brain.


Raising Children Network, (2014). Breath-holding. Raising Children [Online]. Available: [May 16, 2014]


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