Worst 60 Seconds of My Life

This is a rough post to write, but before you read it, I want to reassure everyone that E is just fine right now, and Tom and I are mentally recovering too. No reason to worry.


Have you ever had your (otherwise healthy) child stop breathing in your arms?

Not something I ever needed to experience, but it happened Sunday. It’s odd, because I’ve been expecting this to happen for over a year, but I was still completely caught off guard, mostly by how long it lasted.

As some background, since he was a baby, E has often done the “silent scream” when he gets upset or hurt. Mouth open, face red, no sound coming out. And most of all, not taking in any air. We’ve always just blown in his face, which would force him to take a breath, and he’d start screaming. Since he did this, I’d done some research on it, and knew that it’s actually pretty common for kids to pass out from holding their breath while silent screaming.

However, in my mind it would last a few seconds. He would pass out, and immediately his body would start breathing again and he’d wake up. Reality? It can take up to a minute. A very long minute.

Officially, he had a cyanotic breath-holding spell. If you look at the symptoms/causes/order of events, we can check off every box exactly.

Breath Holding Spell.jpg

Lately E has been hating diaper changes. We have theories as to why, but that’s not important right now. Today I sat him on the changing table and he immediately started crying. We got a book out and a few toys, and hadn’t even started the actual diaper change, but he was already upset and not calming down.

He was sitting on the table with his back to me, which meant it took me a few seconds to notice he was silent screaming. I picked him up so I could blow in his face (I’m since learned that picking a kid up quickly can contribute to blood draining from the head and help bring on an episode) but by the time I got him flipped over so I could see his face, he was already passing out. He was blue, his back was arched, and he was stiff. I called to Tom, but apparently not with enough panic in my voice since he didn’t come running.

I tried to get him to breathe again, but wasn’t having immediate luck. I called to Tom again, and by the time he got in the room, I was lying E down on the floor and unzipping his pjs while still blowing in his face. Anything I could think of to get him breathing. I’m sure Tom will never sleep soundly again after coming into the room and seeing E unconscious, not breathing, and stiff in my arms.

Tom estimates is was closer to 30 seconds total, but it was definitely under a minute. Either way, it felt a million years longer than I expected it to be. I was about to pull out my phone when he started moving and blinking again, but he definitely woke up slowly and confused and scared, which was also not fun.

He was weak, tired and scared when he came to, and cried in our arms for a while afterwards. In my arms, then he’d reach for Tom and cry in his arms for a while and then come back to me. He recovered back to his normal personality after that, but remained a little sleepy, and very clingy for the rest of the day. We were all on edge which I’m sure didn’t help.

We’ve since learned that being anemic also can bring these episodes on more, which is great because E is definitely anemic right now. We’ve been cutting back on dairy and giving him iron supplements, but we’re definitely going to prioritize this more now too.

I’ve talked to a few other parents who have experienced this with their kids. It apparently never gets easier to deal with, but it’s nice to know we’re not alone. There’s not a lot you can do to prevent them, but they’re also not harmful for the kid, which is reassuring. Less reassuring is that they can happen multiple times a day for years and still be considered normal.

In case any of you happen to be around him when one of these happen (because usually if they happen once, you can expect they’ll happen again), here’s what you should do:

  • As soon as he starts the silent scream, blow in his face. Sometimes this is enough to stop the episode from even happening.

  • If he does pass out, don’t pick him up. Lie him down instead. If he’s in your arms, you should put him down. He should be either on his back or his side.

  • Time the episode. If it lasts longer than 60 seconds, call 911. (This shouldn’t happen).

  • You can try blowing in his face to try and get him breathing again, but he should just start on his own.

Afterwards it’s mostly cuddles and hugs as he slowly gets back to normal, and everyone’s breathing returns to normal because it’s so scary.

Scary, but we’re okay. And now this pregnant mama is going to go get some rest.

(If anyone is interested in some additional good information about these types of spells, this is a good summary. And better than general googling!)

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