Severe breath-holding spells (BHS) in children consist of a stereotypical sequence of provocation to cry, noiseless expiration, color change, and loss of consciousness. Parenting a child who exhibits BHS is likely more stressful than parenting a healthy child, owing to this additional medical concern. It is also likely more stressful than parenting a child with a convulsive seizure disorder (SD), because it is often not recognized or misdiagnosed as behavioral rather than medical. Mothers of children with BHS were hypothesized to suffer significantly greater stress than mothers of children with SD or mothers of children without any significant medical conditions.


To examine maternal stress in parenting a child who exhibits BHS, and to identify the specific areas of stress impact, compared with mothers of children with a convulsive SD and mothers of control children.


The Parenting Stress Index and questions regarding how mothers coped were individually administered to 34 mothers of children with BHS, 16 mothers of children with SD, and 16 mothers of children with no medical conditions (controls).


Mothers of children with BHS or SD experience more overall stress and disruption in their attachment or understanding of their child, compared with control mothers. These groups of mothers (BHS and SD) also perceived their child as more distractible/hyperactive, less adaptive, and more demanding than did control mothers. However, mothers of the BHS group alone showed significant disruption in their sense of competence as a parent, maintaining self-identity, and receiving positive reinforcement from their child. Mothers of children with SD showed a similar trend, but it was not significant. These findings were not related to maternal health or feelings of depression/isolation, insufficient spousal support, child's mood, or other life stresses.


Parenting a child with BHS or SD impacts a greater degree of life stress on mothers of these children than does parenting control children, although the stress is greater for the BHS group than for the SD group.

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