Medical Q&As

Infant - funny turns?

My baby seemed to lose consciousness for a few seconds last night. He started to cry, seemed to hold his breath. There wasn’t a sound from him. He turned a strange colour then felt stiff in my arms. I called his name a few times and he came around and was very calm and seemed normal. Please could you advise as to what caused this to happen and what should be done if it should happen in the future? It was a very frightening experience.

This sounds like a breath-holding attack. They can be extremely alarming for parents especially when they encounter such an event for the first time. Breath-holding usually occurs if a child has a fright, experiences a minor accident or gets upset. The child then cries and during the act of crying will often hold its breath. As a result of this the child can become cyanosed, which means the skin develops a dusky blue colour. The cyanosis develops because the blood is low in oxygen due to the suspension of breathing. The low oxygen level in the blood also means that the brain is temporarily starved of oxygen resulting in the child going stiff and then limp. At this point the child faints. Once this happens the child’s muscles go limp and the child resumes normal breathing. The process I have just described happens very quickly and the duration of oxygen starvation is very brief, which means that there is no risk of brain damage or other serious injury. It is also important to appreciate that there is no connection between breath-holding attacks and epilepsy. Furthermore children who have experienced breath-holding attacks are not at increased risk of epilepsy in later childhood. I would suggest that you visit your doctor in order to confirm the diagnosis and establish that your baby is otherwise well.