I just wanted to weigh in on this subject since it has happened to two of our young children. Our son, who is 3 1/2 now, experienced his first "apnea of crying" or "sobbing spasm" when he was about 8 weeks old. He was sleeping in his swing and I noticed a definite pattern of (1) a sharp and sudden intake of breath (2) holding the breath for anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds (3) release or deflating of breath. All of this was involuntary, and happening beyond his control. This was definitely not a case of a child getting upset or crying and deliberately holding his breath. The best way I could describe them was "breathing spasms" or "involuntary gasping."
We rushed him to our pediatrician that night and the doctor said it looked like a hiccup, but was definitely something different. Oxygen levels were fine. The doctor had no answer so we just went home. The spasms continued throughout that night, even as my infant son slept. In the morning, they were gone completely.
This same scenario repeated itself throughout his infancy - nine out of ten of the episodes being triggered by sobbing or intense crying. As time passed, they began to shorten in duration and severity. By the time he was 2, they were gone for good and we've seen no repeats (again, he is now over 3 years old).
The best answer I ever got from a medical professional was from my friend, a speech pathologist. She said his throat structures were all normal, but that what was happening during an attack was something like a "Laryngospasm" where the throat/windpipe briefly and involuntarily closes up. The triggers for such spasms are varied, just as people experience headaches for a variety of reasons.
We had another baby last year and he ALSO has experienced these same spasms, however they were much milder and went away by the time he was 12 months old.
My personal theory about these sobbing spasms, esp. in infants and children: in an otherwise "healthy" child they are most likely triggered by:
1. Allergies (i.e. a very common allergic symptom is to have the throat swell, close up or spasm)
2. Exertion (i.e. similar to asthma but not actually a diagnosed condition - this would be classified as Intermittent Asthma, which is usually outgrown)
3. Intense Crying (this is a known phenomenon and happens to many of us - we get hiccups or spasms of the diaphragm after sobbing. In some people, perhaps this reflex is highly sensitive or exaggerated)
And in almost every case....not life threatening. I think you would need to be very concerned only if an underlying condition was diagnosed such as asthma or other respiratory disorders, structural abnormalities in the throat or lungs, or a severe allergy.
In our children's case I noticed something VERY interesting in hindsight. Both of our little boys had a serious milk protein allergy from birth (this is different from lactose intolerance). They were so sensitive that if I ate a little dairy and then breastfed them, they would have a reaction (usually extreme fussiness, gas and vomiting). Fortunately, both of my sons outgrew this allergy. AND about the same time they outgrew the milk allergy....the spasms stopped! This to me is no coincidence, and now I've seen it happen twice.
Finally.....there is an article on the web called "The sobbing spasm or the apnea of crying: a review and a proposal for care" but I can't access it because it's in Spanish! If someone can get a hold of the English text, please let me know. Thanks.
I don't know if this thread is still being watched, but my 9 month daughter has the same type of "spasms" since she was a month old. We're able to manage it, but given the number of threads/posts I've seen on the issue, has anyone been able to successfully sleep train their babies who have the issue? I'm hesitant to even attempt sleep training her, given the cry-it-out component, but on some particularly rough nights, I have to admit to wanting to give it a try. Your stories/posts are greatly appreciated!
Hi, I'm the one who posted above and yes, I was able to successfully sleep train both of my boys that were having the sobbing spasms. But I did put it off for a very long time because I was worried about extended periods of crying and how that would effect them.
But since I noticed the spasms lessening over time as my boys got older, this helped to put my mind at ease a little. Ben's spasms were very frequent at 3 months of age; by age 10 months they occurred very infrequently. So I felt more confident about using the cry it out method.
Basically, I just monitored him very closely that first night when he cried the most. Yes, it caused a lot of sobbing spasms, but they subsided during the night. And it never compromised his breathing or anything worrisome like that. The second night was better. By the third night he slept all the way through with no crying and no spasms. To this day, he sleeps better and longer than all my 6 children! He is 5 now and has zero sobbing spasms.
Hope this helps!
I'm wondering if there has been any resolution to this problem yet. My daughter has had this since 12mths, she s now 6 and healthy but she used to randomly have these after crying but now she randomly has these spasms when she's asleep. The doctor had no idea what it was and wanted to refer her to a sleep clinic but they may happen 3 times a year or once every other year. Any feedback please?