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Is It Normal for Children to Hold Their Breath?

My 2-year-old recently started to hold his breath when he doesn't get what he wants, and it terrifies me. Is this normal?
LaVonne

As frightening as it may be when your son holds his breath, it's actually quite common among toddlers — and is likely to be more alarming to you than it is dangerous for him.

The best response to such behavior is to make sure he is safe, look the other way, and try to stay relaxed. Responding will only serve as positive reinforcement, and most kids outgrow breath-holding episodes by the time they are 4 or 5 years old.

But do let your doctor know about these spells, since occasionally other medical conditions can look similar. The doctor might want to test for anemia, which is sometimes associated with breath holding. When the anemia is treated, kids are often less likely to pass out when holding their breath.

Occasionally, kids may pass out for 30–60 seconds during a breath-holding spell. If this happens, talk with your doctor to be sure nothing more serious is going on.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: February 2010

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