Take a Deep Breath: When Your Newborn Has RSV


Blood samples for an RSV test.Mamas of newborns, I’m holding you close to my heart. While it has been some years since I had a newborn with RSV, the current season has triggered me emotionally from that traumatic time. While this serves as a blog post to help moms feel less alone, I think it also serves as a warning sign to anyone who will be spending time around a newborn soon. Take a deep breath and read with caution.

My second child, my daughter, was a birth that was an attempted VBAC. I had an emergency c-section with my first baby and was willing to try a vaginal birth. It didn’t go as planned, and we ended up with a c-section. I had a bladder tear, and my daughter was born with a hole in one lung. She spent a couple of days in the ICU, I had a Foley catheter, and within a few days, we got better and headed home. My oldest had a slight head cold at the time, and after a few days, I had a slight head cold too. Nothing too exciting, just runny noses and some coughing.

A couple more days passed, and my daughter turned one week old and got this cold too. After a long night, I called my pediatrician with concerns. The nurse assured me she was likely fine; she was a breastfed c-section baby. She would come through. She gave me the warning signs to look for, flared nostrils, belly pulling in with breathing, refusing to eat. I told the nurse my baby had all of those. She advised me to immediately head to the ER of our local children’s hospital.

I remember the ER being filled that winter.

We squeezed into a small, curtained area, and I watched with horror as the respiration therapist (people I didn’t even know existed before, bless their souls) stuck small tubes up my baby’s nose to suck out all her mucous. My daughter’s oxygen level continued fluctuating for a couple of hours, and the doctor decided we needed to be admitted. The problem was they had no beds for her.

The hospital took a double room and turned it into a triple. We squeezed a crib in the middle of a room between two other babies, only one who currently needed oxygen, so that we could use the wall set up for my daughter. I was given a metal chair to sit on. It was almost 10 p.m., and I had not slept for more than an hour in two days.

I spent the night on that chair next to my baby’s crib listening to her shallow breathing. She had RSV.

My daughter didn’t get better. She wouldn’t breastfeed. I pumped and tried to feed her. My Foley catheter bag kept leaking down my leg. I didn’t stop crying for over 24 hours as the doctors decided to move my daughter to the PICU to be put on a helium-oxygen blend. She turned two weeks old in the PICU. The nurses begged me to go home and get some sleep. I had a follow-up with my doctor and balled my eyes out as they asked how my baby was. My bladder was healing, but my baby wasn’t.

By God’s grace, a couple of days in the PICU brought improvement. My daughter came off the breathing machines and started taking bottles of my many ounces of pumped milk, and we moved back into a double room, still being used as a triple. On day ten of our hospital visit, the nurse ran into our room and shouted the good news to me. We were going home!

She warned me not to let anyone near my baby. Even though we came through RSV, my daughter could still catch anything easily and was still weakened. Don’t let anyone put their face in hers; hand sanitizer was our best friend, and to stay home. I obliged for likely longer than necessary. I strapped my daughter to my chest that afternoon at home, and she stayed there. 

My daughter is now a teenager. Besides a few broken bones and our first ear infection when she was five, she has been relatively healthy. I can still picture her chubby newborn life strapped to a breathing machine as I sat beside her, praying for her life. I pray for your babies’ lives and health for them all. Take a deep breath.

For more information on RSV, visit Yale New Haven Health.

For advice to stay healthy, see our Ask a Pediatrician post here.


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