Affective spasms, what to do when the baby cries and holds his breath

Source: Shutterstock

Affective spasms are manifestations characterized by the temporary loss of breath resulting from a situation of discomfort or anger. They affect about 5% of children (but the percentage is controversial) and can appear between 6-9 months and 4-5 years of life.

In this article

  • How do affective spasms manifest? 
  • What are the causes of affective spasms? 
  • How to distinguish affective spasms from others? 
  • What to do when the crisis is over? 
  • How to prevent the baby from holding his breath? 

How do affective spasms manifest?

"After a more or less long phase of intense crying, in which the child appears very agitated, suddenly the baby stops breathing in the expiratory phase, becomes red or pale in the face, cyanosis appears in the mouth area (the lips become bluish ), there is stiffening of all the muscles or myoclonia, that is, small spasms or involuntary muscle contractions ”says Giovanna Tripodi, child neuropsychiatry.

“In some cases there may be a brief loss of consciousness or real seizures. After a few seconds, everything passes, the child takes a deep inhalation and resumes breathing normally, as if nothing had happened; at best he appears a little weaker ”.

Read also: Why do babies cry?

What are the causes of affective spasms?

"Affective spasms or apneas never happen suddenly, but always as a result of an event that causes tension or disappointment in the child" says Leo Venturelli, family pediatrician in the city and member of the board of the Paesena Society of Preventive and Social.

"In younger children they can constitute an automatic and unconscious reaction to a discomfort or pain, towards which they show greater sensitivity (in practice, there are children who, when faced with discomfort, react more calmly, limiting themselves to crying , others who hold their breath until they reach apnea); in older children, however, it is easier for it to be a reaction 'on command', of the series: if I do this, mum listens to me and makes me happy. "

  • "The interpretation that in the medical field is given of these episodes is in fact that they are demonstrative acts by the child, who in this way tries to attract the attention of the mother (at the base there seems to be a conflict with the figure maternal), it is not for nothing that the children most affected by certain manifestations are those who define themselves as having a decisive and 'rebellious' character, reluctant to respect the rules or to recognize the authority of the parent ”adds the neuropsychiatrist Tripodi. “Even if we cannot speak of familiarity, furthermore, it seems that children with a sibling or a parent who had similar episodes as a child are slightly predisposed”.
  • How to distinguish affective spasms from others?

  • Faced with certain manifestations, parents' main fear is that they may be caused by pathologies, such as epilepsy or heart disease. "Affective spasms are always triggered by very specific events, such as a whim, a fright, an excess of anger, a pain, and this is the main element that allows us to distinguish them from pathologies, such as epileptic seizures, which can also occur when the child is quiet or when he sleeps ”says Giovanna Tripodi. "In any case, after the first episode it is a good rule to show the child to the pediatrician, who, based on the visit and the story of the parents, will evaluate whether to deepen the investigation, with the help of the specialist".
    Also read: 20 tricks to manage tantrums

    How to behave when the baby holds his breath?

    It is normal for affective apneas to frighten the mother very much, however as much as possible she must try to pretend nothing has happened, not give the impression of being worried or agitated: in fact, the child must understand that it is not with these excessive reactions that he gets the attention of the parents, otherwise he will try again.

    "However, if it is a small child and his is an automatic reaction, you can try, to stop the crisis, suddenly blow on the face, or clap your hands near the ears or sprinkle some water with your fingers. on the eyes: they are all stimuli that can stop apnea and make the baby breathe back to normal ”suggests Venturelli.

    What mothers shouldn't do

    • Do not appear agitated, on the contrary, try to avoid his gaze.

    • Do not shake it and do not massage it: it is better to put it on its back or hold it in your arms to prevent it from getting hurt.

    • Don't put anything in his mouth and don't give him a drink.

    What to do if the baby cries and goes into apnea?

    Dr. Sperandeo of Guida answers in this podcast

    What to do when the crisis is over?

    When the crisis is over, parents should hug and reassure the child, but immediately resume normal activities, as if nothing had happened. Likewise, do not emphasize the episode with friends and relatives in the presence of the child, who for this reason might feel 'important' for what he has done.

    Parents need to remember that affective spasms are not dangerous, do not cause brain damage, and tend to pass by themselves as the child grows.

    How to prevent the baby from holding his breath?

    If the mother already knows that the baby can have this type of reaction, she should avoid reaching certain limits. "This does not mean giving them all for granted, but simply trying not to exasperate the situations, avoid the clash and try, in case of conflict, to console him differently" advises Leo Venturelli.

    "At the same time, if the child has had the spasm because he has been denied a toy, he should not be given it even after the seizure, otherwise he will be convinced that the spasm was the only way to get what he wanted and could adopt it, more or less consciously, as a form of 'blackmail' for mum and dad. With these little tricks, little by little the crises will diminish ".

    You may be interested in the VIDEO: HOW TO MANAGE YOUR WHIMS

    • affective barely
    • loud crying and then cyanotic
    • crying and apnea
    • 1-2 children years
    • podcast
  • add a comment of Affective spasms, what to do when the baby cries and holds his breath
    Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.