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Breath-Holding Spells (BHS) and Passing Out

This is a story of a baby who held his breath and passed out under stress.

I saw a 13-month-old boy from the Midwest for a torticollis intensive last week. Mom said his intestinal area was hard, and he “pooped hard balls”. He also had a weak cry. In my mind all of that was doable with CFT.

But he had an unusual situation where he held his breath until passing out when he was overly upset and when meeting any health care provider. Mom said all of his Midwest doctors and therapists freaked out with his cyanotic breath-holding spells (BHS). He even had a seizure during one episode, which was very scary for the family.

It became an issue for me when mom wanted to know, before they scheduled their appointments in Pa, the local EMT response time to my office in King of Prussia. In 40 years no one had ever asked that question. As I have said at the seminar, the most difficult babies will come to you, and you need to be prepared for any circumstance.

During the pregnancy he was stuck for at least 4 months under mom’s ribcage…a CFT bingo. He was born with torticollis after a C-section (because of being breach). He had latching and nursing issues with constipation, colic, and reflux. He also had a weak cry for at least six months. The MRI, EEG, EKG, and X-rays were all normal, and he had PT/DT/DC in the St Louis area.

As an unusual feature, two hours after birth he turned purple and blue and stopped breathing. How would you like to experience that cyanotic episode as first-time parents? Mom said this is what he does now, as he frequently passes out completely.

On my evaluation he had a pelvic twist so characteristic of the torticollis babies. His abdominal tissues were very tight as expected. As I moved up the body, his diaphragm was totally stuck and arching presented.

At this point I stopped the evaluation because proceeding further would probably have induced the passing out. As Dr. Loose, I had felt enough to get the clinical “tightness” picture. It was just as well because mom and grandmom had driven from St. Louis and were understandably tired and nervous, not quite knowing what to expect with me and CFT. Was this going to be another dead end?

I started to work with his pelvic twist with small baby steps. I worked the abdominal area next. The diaphragm was so tight that I felt it could possibly create his restrictive breathing issue. I wanted to clear the diaphragm first with many sessions to establish better breathing before I touched his upper body.

As his lower body cleared, I felt the typical torticollis left neck/shoulder strain. As the back arching cleared, he became a pure neck archer. Mom said he has done that since birth. By the end of their six-hour CFT intensive over three days, he still had not cleared the neck arching. There was still more work to do for another time. In the meantime mom will seek out a muscle therapist to help loosen him more.

So if you have been a reader for a while, you can connect all the dots around a baby with a very tight and twisted craniosacral fascial system. My hypothesis was that his secondary intercostal muscles could function well enough to allow him to breath and live. But under stress, he could not get air fast enough with his diaphragm stuck to function and had to pass out.

Even with all of this CFT, his neck arching is still prominent. Maybe he was stuck in utero in this neck arching position for four months? It may seem comfortable for him to return to it now, but it may also be creating physiological respiratory issues for him.

It was interesting during the first day we had a few passing out moments. But as his diaphragm released, these moments faded away. He had many CFT intensive arching sessions on days two and three where his mom said he would have normally passed out at least 20 times per day. As his breathing improved, his cry also became stronger and more normal.

Mom reported today from home: “Since our first CFT visit a week ago when he had two BHS episodes, he has only had one BHS incident when we could not sit him up fast enough. I truly believe that the BHS are 95% gone, and we now have a way to stop them by sitting up before passing out. He is having regular bowel movements now without fussing. He is still throwing his neck back into the arch when he gets upset, but he also has a bit of attitude.”

This case was interesting because I felt the breathing was the main issue with the constipation the secondary issue. The torticollis, the purpose of the visit, was not even a major factor. He needs to be checked again after the muscle work to see if the craniosacral fascial strain has fully cleared from his abdominal and diaphragmatic areas. Ideally we would want that neck arching to clear also for him to become totally strain-free.

One case does not make a scientific proof, but I would strongly recommend for health care providers and parents with a BHS child to be aware of the possibility of a severely restricted diaphragm. As a muscular organ, the diaphragm has fascia around each of its muscle cells. Birth trauma may create craniosacral fascial tightness here that can dramatically impair an infant’s breathing. The diaphragm needs to be loose for the infant (or anyone) to breathe well.

Mom has had such a traumatic time that she adamantly does not want a second baby. I get that she has been through it all, to the point where she drove to Philadelphia for some hope of correction. In my world we would have evaluated and treated him at birth, even before that frightening breathing episode two hours after birth. I believe that CFT at birth could have given the family a totally different experience. We are the happy baby people. Let’s make it happen globally.

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Dr. Barry Gillespie

Dr. Barry Gillespie founded Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy, which provides patients with a freely moving brain, spinal cord and fascial web, all critical to optimal health. Dr. Barry Gillespie also created the Baby Brain Score and discovered effective therapeutic techniques for newborns and infants. Read more about Dr. Barry Gillespie.

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