As pediatric nurses- we have seen time and time again a terrified parent walking into the children's hospital after their baby has held their breath! We felt this was a great article by Parents explaining what a breath-holding spell is and when to be concerned.
A viral TikTok has parents collectively holding their breath. But a healthcare provider has taken to the platform to help clear the air.
In the video, you see someone holding a baby. The poor little one has their mouth open and appears frozen. Look closely, and you'll see they aren't breathing.
"This is what a breath-holding spell looks like," says the doctor, Dr. Fayez Ajib, who goes by @lifeofadoctor on TikTok. Ajib's bio says he's an emergency physician in Los Angeles. The doctor says it typically happens in children 6 to 18 months old—and they're not doing it on purpose.
What Is a Breath-Holding Spell?
"It's sort of like a reflex," Dr. Ajib explains in the video. "It's usually in response to an event like they got angry or startled."
Dr. Ajib said the episodes usually last one minute, but the short clip sure did feel like an hour. Sometimes, the baby passes out, which is what the little one did in the video the doctor was discussing.
In that case, the body takes over to help the baby breathe again. Right on cue, the baby in the video begins breathing again. However, the babe's lips turn blue from the lack of oxygen. The doctor assures viewers that the baby should go back to normal but to discuss the episode with their child's pediatrician, especially if it's the first time it happened.
Despite the happy ending, TikTok was pretty terrified.
"Well, that's absolutely terrifying," wrote one commenter.
"You [gave] me a breath-holding spell, Mr. Doctor, but really, I would freak if my child did this," said another.
"My daughter did this for six to seven months….She eventually grew out of it, but it's terribly terrifying," said someone else.
"I would panic so much," another commenter wrote.
The doctor empathized. "It's a scary experience, but it might help to know that breath-holding doesn't cause long-term damage or have any harmful effects on the brain," he replied.
TikTok isn't always the best place for medical or parenting advice, and it's always important to vet what you see before getting worried or shrugging it off. Two pediatricians confirm that the TikTok video accurately portrays breath-holding spells.
Breath-Holding Spells Are Usually Harmless
"Having personally seen these events…it can be terrifying for a caregiver to experience," says Betty Choi, M.D, a pediatrician and author of Human Body Learning Lab. "Time can feel frozen. But breath-holding spells usually resolve on their own in less than a minute, and they don't usually cause damage to the body or brain.
Amanda Stovall, M.D., an Illinois-based pediatrician, adds that parents may notice some stiffening or muscle jerks if a child passes out. "After one to two minutes, children are back to their normal selves," Dr. Stovall says. "Breath-holding spells are common in children 6 to 18 months old, but can occur in children as old as 6 years."
What To Do if Your Child Has a Breath-Holding Spell
Though the situation can be terrifying, Dr. Choi says parents can take some steps to ensure their child remains safe during the episode. "Make sure nothing is in their mouth that they could choke on," Dr. Choi says. "Carefully lay the child on something flat like the ground or floor, and try to stay calm and reassuring near them. Sometimes, blowing air in their face or putting a cool towel on their forehead can help shorten the episode."
After the episode, Dr. Stovall and Dr. Choi say it's essential to check in with the child's pediatrician, even if you believe it was one of these breath-holding spells.
"Because of how closely these spells can mimic seizures and cardiac conditions, it is essential to discuss it with your pediatrician," Dr. Stovall says. "They will be able to help determine if your child needs further evaluation."