A couple of weeks ago, you gave us quite a scare. I must pause to say that to make up for it, you have also been more hilarious than usual lately. Case in point, as I started typing this while you eat lunch at the table next to me, you rubbed some beans together in your little hands and then smoothed them through your hair, as though bean hair gel is the latest craze!
Anyway...from early on, your occasional tantrums have included you briefly holding your breath, as though you're saving it up for the HUGE scream that you're about to let out. Because this has been par for the course when you express displeasure, I didn't think much of it when you threw yourself on your play mat and drew in your breath when you got upset that I made you come in from playing on the front porch. I calmly rubbed your back and said "Okay, let it out." and waited for the inevitable scream. Only the scream didn't come. Instead, you flopped over and your eyes rolled back in your head.
I scooped you up and screamed for your father, who was in the basement painting the walls. My scream stirred you, and you were "out" for less than 10 seconds, but your father and I were horrified. My first thought was that you'd had a seizure. I took your temperature while I dialed the Nurse Advisor. No fever. The very patient Nurse Advisor calmly walked me through the triage questions, and when I got upset that I couldn't remember whether you had cried out before you passed out, she assured me that I was doing a great job recounting what had happened.
She explained to me what breath holding spells are and reassured me that as scary as they are, they are not harmful and there was need to rush you in to the emergency room. She recommended that I follow-up with an appointment with your regular doctor just to be on the safe side and to put my mind at ease. I immediately started reading everything I could find on breath holding spells and turned to various online communities that I participate in for support and experiences of parents who have witnessed the same thing in their children.
The most common advice I found was to blow in your face when you start holding your breath; that doing so would kick-start your breathing again before you passed out. I was also advised to try not to react to the spells, which is easier said than done, and not to give in to your every whim in hopes of avoiding a tantrum and breath holding spell. The appointment with your doctor went well; he gave you a thorough checking over and determined that it was indeed the scary but harmless breath holding spells we were dealing with, and nothing more ominous.
Armed with all of this knowledge and advice, I felt prepared the other night when you got upset because you were asking to nurse, and I told you that you could, as soon as I finished eating. When you drew in your breath, I tried to remain calm, and started blowing in your face. This had the opposite of the anticipated effect. Instead of kick-starting your breathing, it seemed to make you pull your breath in even harder and longer, and sure enough, you passed out again, this time as your father was lifting you up to try to calm you.
Even though we now knew that this was a harmless episode that is relatively common among toddlers, it was no less upsetting. Holding your child limp in your arms is a difficult thing to remain calm through, even when you logically know that it's "no big deal".
If anyone reading this has experience with children who have breath holding spells and has suggestions for preventing them or staying calm during and after them, I am all ears! In the mean time, I will try to do as I wish you would when you get upset. Inhale, exhale, repeat. The literature says that most children who have breath holding spells grow out of them by the time they are 5. Please grow out of it long before then, or you'll be dealing with a nervous wreck for a mother!