Breath-Holding Spells ‘Common,’ But Terrifying

We are smack in the middle of a double dose of the “terrible twos” at my house, which for my twin boys started well before they were 2 and now include terrifying breath-holding spells.

Noah and Nikoh’s temperaments often get the best of them, with Nikoh resorting to breath-holding spells every time he is really frustrated or angry. He’s done it since he was a newborn preemie, but now that Nikoh is more aware of himself and his emotions, it seems as though he holds his breath more often and for much longer.

The breath-holding spells mostly happen during playtime. So I spend the majority of my days acting as a referee between my twin boys. We have two of just about every toy, yet they always seem to want what their twin brother has at that moment. So once the tug of war commences over the object they want at that second, one of my boys ends up in tears from having to give up what he was playing with, and the other one will end up crying because of the discipline I give. I am very big on teaching them why “sharing” is a must in our house. But it’s a concept they have yet to master.


(Nikoh (Left) & Noah (Right) playing with one of their favorite toys.)


Through my research –which also includes talking to family and friends — I know that breath-holding is common among children, especially ages 6 months through 6 years old. But when it happens, it is not easy to deal with as a parent. It is absolutely horrific to watch your child battle through trying to catch his breath. The medical term for what Nikoh does is called a Cyanotic Spell, meaning a child’s breathing pattern changes in response to them feeling anger or frustration.

He’s done it several times sine he was born, but this last episode that happened on Friday, June 24, 2016, rocked me to the core. It was the worst that it had ever been. I was all alone, with two toddlers, one who couldn’t catch their breath and I found myself in a total state of panic.


(My little love, Nikoh Jude, not very happy!  **This was not during one of his breath-holding spells.)

I was in the middle of getting dinner ready at home when they started to fight over something, at this point I don’t even remember what it was. When I looked over to where they were I saw Nikoh grabbing Noah by the back of his shirt, with the shirt pulling on  Noah’s neck and making him cry. I ran over to pull them apart and immediately grabbed Noah to make sure he was OK. Once I knew he was I then walked over to Nikoh . I knelt down next to him, and in a forceful and stern voice I said, “Nikoh you cannot pull on Noah’s shirt. You are hurting him. Do not do that again.” Or something along those lines. He immediately burst into tears and ran away from me. Knowing Nikoh’s history of breath-holding, I followed behind him to make sure he was OK too. I noticed he wasn’t making any crying noises, so I turned him around so I could see his face and sure enough, he was holding his breath.

I picked him up and started to try and console and calm him down, but it was to no avail. As the seconds ticked by with him not getting any air, I got more and more frantic. I started to blow on his face in an attempt to get him to take a breath, but he just couldn’t catch his breath. I was so terrified as I watched my little boy struggle to breathe, his face and lips started to turn purple, his eyes rolled back and I felt his body getting limp in my arms. When I felt that, I completeley panicked. At this point I was screaming his name, “Nikoh, breathe baby! Breathe! Please! Nikoh! Nikoh!” All the while still blowing on his face and even forcefully patting his face to try and get him to breathe. (Noah then started to cry because of the commotion). Just as I was about to call 911, Nikoh finally took a breath. I am certain one or two more seconds without air and he would have passed out.

I cannot begin to describe how it made me feel to be so helpless during a moment when I am sure Nikoh was absolutely frightened and desperate for air. Here I am, his mother, his protector, and he’s in my arms gasping for air and I cannot do anything to help him. It tore my heart apart to see his beautiful face losing color, to see his eyes wiggle around as he was fighting to catch some air, and to feel the energy almost drain out of his tiny body while he was in my arms. I pray I don’t ever have to see or feel that ever again. Once he was breathing I immediately took him outside for fresh air and  gave him some juice to distract him from what he had just experienced. I was not crying because I held it in, so I wouldn’t scare him or Noah anymore. But I was shaking. And I shook for several minutes afterwards. My heart was beating so fast. I was in shock at how life can turn into utter chaos in a matter of seconds.

Now I am here wondering how do we avoid these breath-holding episodes in the future? Because he does it so much. Am I not supposed to discipline him? I know since it happened I have tried to change my approach, and my tone of voice when putting him in time out or disciplining him, but still I feel uneasy and I am not looking forward to the next time he holds his breath again.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again. Everyday I feel like I fail as a mom to my twin boys. I get so overwhelmed having two, 2-year-olds, who need and demand me just about every moment of everyday. It gets exhausting and after things like this happen, it makes me question myself and my mothering skills, and it strips away the confidence I had built up over the last 2 and a half years. We have been through a lot together my boys and I, and I know there are more things to come. I know I do the best I can do at any given moment, but after this happened last week I have had a hard time “getting over it.” When I was all alone, babies asleep, I cried and cried. And I thanked God for once again taking care of my precious little boy. And I prayer to be able to forgive myself for maybe not reacting as fast as I should have, and for maybe scolding him too much.  I am only one person tasked with the huge job that is twin motherhood. I am human and I make mistakes.We all do, right?  But I am tough too. Emotionally and physically, and so with that I remind myself to get up everyday and trust in myself to take care of my little boys the best way I can. And I can only pray that Nikoh will outgrow his breath-holidng spells, hopefully much sooner rather than later.

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(Everyday I remind myself I am tough and resilient, just like my babies.)

Does your child hold his/her breath? I would love to read your experiences and advice!

XO~ Noah & Nikoh’s Mommy


3 thoughts on “Breath-Holding Spells ‘Common,’ But Terrifying

  1. Oh my!!! What a horrific thing to experience all of a sudden. I had no idea kids do that. I would have felt to helpless too and to have another baby crying at the same time. Yikes. Good thing you all got through it. I pray that is the last time and if not hope you find a method that will help if he does it again. Hang in there Mama you are doing AWESOME!

  2. Hey Nisha! I read your blog and I’m sorry to hear that your little guy is going thru such an unfortunate experience. But as mothers, pretty much anything that our little ones do “out of the norm” will always scare us or makes us catch our breath. However, I may have some good news for you and I’m maybe it will help you out if this situation if it ever presents itself again (which I’m hoping it won’t). I heard about it thru one of my family members who is a preschool director out in Lake Elsinore, CA., (she was a preschool teacher before). Anyhow, she recommends this method to all of her teachers whenever their preschool children have a meltdown and needs to calm down. She said that some of her teachers have had great success with it. It is called the, “One Ingredient Calm Down Bottles!” It’s a water bottle (similar to a Voss drinking water bottle) that is filled up with colored water beads. You soak them overnight and watch them expand, then the water and the beads blend together creating a water effect. Just picture a lava lamp combined with a Kaleidoscope. You can use the water bottle with colorful bands or even magnets. Apparently it is supposed to help soothe and stimulate the toddlers emotions while they are having a tantrum. Here’s the website if you want to look into it some more. In the meantime I highly recommend a book that was given to me by my pediatrician when my boys were toddlers. It’s a book written by a pediatrician named Harvey Karp, MD, and it is called,”The Happiest Toddler on the Block.” This book will help you understand why your toddler is frustrated and why it is difficult for him/her to communicate with you. He discusses everything from how normal development can make them misbehave to how their temperaments can make them overreact. It even explains how their brains struggle with language and logic and how sometimes even our own homes can even be a little over stimulating for them. It teaches us parents on how not to be the boss or their buddies but to be more like an ambassador to them. Dr. Karp originally wrote his first version in 2004 and then republish it again in 2008. It even has a green light/yellow light/red light method that I used on my boys and let me tell you, it helped me A LOT! I’m hoping the suggestions I have given you will help in some way, as well as the other information parents have given you. One thing for sure, never blame yourself for trying your best in raising your boys. We as parents will always strive to become better parents in our child’s eyes, even if we know we are struggling at it. You are not alone and will never be alone when it comes to your little ones. Remember that it takes a village to raise a child.

  3. having an oxycan may help. using a shorter phrase like: “ok. timeout.” as a timeout warning may also help. hugs! our pedia’s general rule for a timeout is 1 min per age in years until 5 years old, then the transactional form of discipline can begin: “if you… then i’ll…” 🙂

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