BREATH HOLDING SPELLS – Nightmare for us


Nemit experienced these breath-holding spells twice a couple of months back (when he was 17 months old). And that was the most horrifying incident where I just went blank and was shivering with shock and fear. Also, I had no idea what action to take in response to that.

It was the afternoon time and I was trying to make him sleep.  He was sleepy, little cranky and crying at the same time.  The doorbell rang, as I was alone at home had to go and check which made him cry even louder. I couldn’t step out of the room because within a few seconds he stopped breathing, yes he was not breathing at all.

When I turned around to look at him he was crying but there was no sound and his face & lips were turning blue, he was trying to hold me but couldn’t. I was so terrified, completely blank at that moment. I was just tapping his back clueless as to what to do and how to bring him out of this. Somehow after an interval of around 40-50 sec, his breathing came to normal and blood flushed back in.

He always cries like this, taking long breaths but this time it was too intense. I turned to Google and searched frantically for hours about it.

Came to know about the term – Breath-Holding Spells

  • These are the episodes in which a child cries because he is hurt, frightened, or upset. He may turn pale or blue, and lose consciousness.
  • They typically start between 6 to 18 months of age and usually stop by the time the child is 7 years old.
  • The child will start to cry and then will make no sound although he will appear to still be crying.
  • The child cries and is exhaling or breathing out, not inhaling or breathing in.

The only thing which calmed me down was reading further…

  • Although breath-holding spells are frightening to watch, the child is not harmed by them and they do not cause any brain damage.
  • There is no treatment intervention that is needed, keeping the head down restores blood flow to the brain.
  • While considered by many to be “attention-seeking” behaviour, these spells are not intentional; they result from an involuntary reflex, and the child has no ability to control them.
  • Sometimes these spells are linked with anaemia so it’s always good to mention about iron deficiency to your baby’s Pediatrician to rule out any further problems.
Breath holding spells in babies and young toddlers


There are 2 classic forms of Breath-Holding Spells

  1. Cyanotic (respiratory) spells they are often provoked by an upsetting situation, in anger or in frustration. The child usually cries loudly and then the cry gradually becomes noiseless. The child turns blue (cyanotic) and then the child may again start breathing or may proceed to lose consciousness. Sometimes, fits or seizure-like activity may follow the loss of consciousness.  
  2. Pallid (cardiac) spells they are usually seen following a painful or fearful experience. The child becomes pale and often loses consciousness within a single gasp or cry.

The pain or frustration causes the heart rate and blood pressure to change and triggers the loss of consciousness. Anaemia may cause a child who has breath-holding spells to have more frequent episodes, but anaemia is not the cause of the episodes.

Although breath-holding spells are frightening to watch, the child is not harmed by them and they do not cause any brain damage or result in epilepsy.

We met our doctor, she asked us to get his Iron Studies blood test done. When we got the reports we were shocked to see the results.

Below is the snapshot of Nemit’s report.



We were suggested to start Iron Syrup (Ferrous Sulphate) as it was clear from the report that a low level of iron could have played a role in these spells. But our experience with the Iron supplement was not good, soon after the 1st Dose Nemit suffered from a very bad case of stomach upset and diarrhoea which took him around 10 days to recover completely and he lost 2 Kgs weight.

We went to the doctor and this time she changed the Brand and again asked us to try giving it. As per the doctor, there is no way to check which medicine will suit him apart from using hit and trial method.

But we were too scared to again experiment with Nemit’s health. Although we knew it was the best way to improve his iron levels, we dropped the idea of giving medicine directly and started introducing more of iron-rich food in his diet. Since then there had been ‘No spells’ and we are considering the iron-rich food to be the reason.

We will be waiting until the month end to get the blood test done again to check if there is any improvement in iron levels. We are keeping our fingers crossed, can’t see our little baby suffer like this.

ETAI have great news to share with you all, as you may have read above how Nemit experienced Breath-Holding Spells and how his low Iron Levels played a major role in those freaking episodes. It was back in July when we started with a dose of Iron and apparently, Nemit’s body rejected it resulting in the severe case of indigestion. We were too scared to start with another medicine. Hence made few changes in his diet and incorporated lots of iron-rich food in his daily meals.




We went for another blood test in the first week of September and were pleasantly surprised to see the reports. It was a miracle for us, without giving medicine we were able to bring Nemit’s iron levels in the normal range. You can have a look at the above-attached report.

Here, I want to advise parents not to panic in such a situation. It was my mother who wanted to start iron-rich food in place of medicine. And she also asked us to again get the test done. Whereas our doc didn’t say anything for the second test neither she gave us an option to avoid medicine. Sometimes trusting your instinct also work wonders.

Hope this information is helpful for new parents and they can be prepared in case of such a situation.



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    Debalina Basu Das August 18, 2017 at 11:54 am - Reply

    Hi Neha, I really love the way u put ur personal touch in all your write ups. I appreciate all your efforts that u r putting into ur blog writing. I came to know many stuffs out of ur blogs. N they have been of immense help to me. Being a mom of 2 managing house work n kids had been very challenging. I know m not the only one but yes we have our own set of challenges. Initially I used to depend a lot on digital media or cartoon shows.. But after reading ur blogs m highly inspired to limit screen time n spend time with kids. Though its not easy. I hardly find time. But m on the verge of trying hard to achieve that. Thanks a lot for showing us the negative effects of digital media. I knew it but never paid so much of heed. But its tym to change for good. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Best wishes…

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      Debalina Basu Das August 18, 2017 at 12:02 pm - Reply

      So sorry to know that u have been thru this. Its really frightening to see ur child suffer like that. My younger son is of Nemit’s age only. M trying to limit breastfeeding for him. But he gets very adamant n I try to ignore. He cries a lot and with too much of crying he gasps for breath. I never experienced breath holding spells with my kids but at that point I don’t know wat to do n i have to breastfeed to make him stop. N thts not something going to work in the long run. With my daughter it was easy. But with him I m clueless. Would highly appreciate if u please share ur experiences regarding how u weaned Nemit from breastfeeding. Thanks a lot and best wishes…

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        Neha Sharma September 10, 2017 at 8:40 pm - Reply

        Thanks for your concern Debalina, Nemit is doing fine now, his iron levels has also increased. Well, I am still struggling with weaning and have decided to continue till 2 yrs. I want to start soon with night time weaning. If by any chance I get to know the magic trick will definitely share. Till then happy breastfeeding 😉

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      Neha Sharma September 10, 2017 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Debalina, first of all apologies for replying so late. I am so glad that you find my posts helpful. Thanks a lot dear 🙂

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      Neha Sharma September 10, 2017 at 8:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Debalina, first of all apologies for replying so late. I am so glad that you find my posts helpful. Thanks a lot dear 🙂

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    Aya September 14, 2017 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    Oh gawd! That is scary!!! I’ve never had any episodes like this with my toddler.

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm - Reply

      Yes, that was scary. This should not happen with any baby.

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    Anchal September 15, 2017 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    This is scary and I had no idea about it. Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope the little one is better now.

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the concern Anchal, Nemit’s iron level has improved a lot and thankfully now we are not experiencing any spells.

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    Shubhreet Kaur | Raising Karma Blog September 15, 2017 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    OMG, that sounds scary! I did not know about all this… I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been for you. But thank for writing about this because this is something many moms would not be aware of…

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 12:45 pm - Reply

      Yes Shubhreet, I wrote and shared just to spread awareness.

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    Neha September 15, 2017 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    My sis did this when she was a baby and later she just stopped doing it on her own. I hope your kid will stop on his own. This was very informative

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 1:10 pm - Reply

      Hoping for the best, this is quite assuring. Thanks, Neha 🙂

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    Nayantara Hegde September 16, 2017 at 1:51 am - Reply

    This is really scary. And I would have never thought that anaemia would have been the cause of something like this. So glad you had the resolve to find out more about this and get it treated. Glad he is better now.

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      Yes, even I could have never thought of something like this. Thank God he is doing fine now. Thanks dear 🙂

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    Kinshoo Agrawal September 16, 2017 at 4:49 am - Reply

    Never knew about this. So informative. Glad to know your little one is doing better. We are on low iron side too and trying to introduce more iron in diet.

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 1:12 pm - Reply

      Thanks for finding the article informative, hope the iron-rich diet works for your baby too 🙂

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    Kavita Singh September 16, 2017 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Oh god! just reading about this I revisited the memories of a day when my lo did the same. Terrified would be a small word to express what I felt that day.It never happened again, but it is so important to know about this. Thank you so much for sharing this and making mum aware about it.

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 1:15 pm - Reply

      Sorry to know that your little one had to go through this episode too, but so glad to know that it was the first and the last time.

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    NEHA JAIN September 16, 2017 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Oh.. I never knew such thing exists. I am glad that you shared this along with your personal experience. And I am happy that your child has recovered from this.

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      Thanks dear 🙂

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    Deepa September 16, 2017 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Didn’t know about this because I have rarely seen cases of Iron deficiency in kids. Sorry to know that you went through it but good he is fine without any medicines. Include spinach, dry fruits, jaggery and beans and peas for future too.

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      Thanks Deepa, will definitely include these foods in his diet.

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    Udita Saklani September 16, 2017 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Neha, I never knew that a thing like this existed.I can;t even imagine what the situation was like, but glad that iron levels are restored now

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      Neha Sharma September 18, 2017 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      Thanks Udita 🙂

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    Pooja June 27, 2020 at 1:00 am - Reply

    Hi Neha, my baby going through same it was so scary to see him like this. Can you share what you gave as iron rich food, i can try that as well… my baby is of 9 months. Please help me i am so scared.

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      Neha Sharma June 29, 2020 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      I’m so sorry dear, I know these breath-holding spells are scary but the good part is these are not life-threatening. Your baby is 9 months old so you can give him everything which has iron in it. I used to make baked sticks using sweet potato, these are good as finger foods & helpful during teething too. You can give beetroot too cut in sticks or steam it, or make soup. Pomegranate juice works amazing in improving iron. Start giving green leafy vegetables (in whichever way), steamed/stir-fried broccoli is also good. If the baby takes only 1 spoon of these foods it’s good enough, just don’t force-feed. I hope your baby’s iron level improves soon and he comes out of this phase.

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