Not Just the Common Cold


common coldI was never a germophobe. In fact, when our first daughter was born in mid-February, my husband and I took her out with us right away – to the grocery store, out to dinner, to the library (turns out there are no classes for 1 week-olds). Newborns seemed so easy. She slept most of her time away in the bucket seat, and we could continue with our lives as usual with her safely nestled away and snoozing.

Because our daughter was the first on both sides of the family and among our group of friends, we had a TON of visitors when she was firstborn. We kept it to immediate family only in the hospital, but by the time we returned home, an entourage was waiting to meet her. Family, friends, and neighbors streamed in and out for the first few weeks, eager to hold and kiss our newborn baby girl.

I get it – babies are amazing, and the newborn stage is over in a flash. People want to catch that first glimpse of a new life: those impossibly small fingers and toes, the sweet newborn smiles, the fresh newborn smell. I see Facebook posts now of friends with their newborns, family, and friends holding the new baby in the hospital and smiling into the camera.

But now, instead of bringing a familiar smile, those seemingly innocent moments – all those people holding that fragile newborn – make me cringe. While our first and second children, both winter babies, made it through their first years without incident, our third was a different story.

Born in October, our daughter suffered right away from a case that presented much like bronchiolitis. Our physician seemed unconcerned, citing how common the lung infection was in new babies, especially those with older siblings bringing germs home from pre-school. He prescribed a nebulizer, and we went on for a few weeks watching her breathing go up and down and wondering how long her cold would last.

By three months, our daughter was in full respiratory failure. One night, when her breathing became so labored that her chest was heaving and her neck was bobbing, we called an ambulance. Upon our arrival at the emergency room, she was immediately intubated (placed on a breathing tube) and transported by ambulance to Yale.

We spent the next five weeks in a pediatric ICU (PICU), watching our daughter on respiratory support battling RSV – an infection that presents only like the “common cold” in older, healthier children and adults.

When we got to Yale, the nurses assured us that the PICU’s “bread and butter” in the winter months were newborns and young infants battling the same virus-fighting for their lives against symptoms that only present as a runny nose or a cough in stronger individuals.

Most babies who get such a bad case of RSV spend a few nights or a week in the ICU. It turned out that our daughter had an undiagnosed congenital heart condition that made it impossible for her to fight the infection on her own. If we had not called an ambulance that night, she would have gone into full cardiac failure. And, because she had gotten RSV, we had to wait five weeks until she was stable enough to be transported again by ambulance to another hospital to undergo the heart surgery that would enable her to breathe and eat on her own again.

I don’t share my story to scare or shame people that share their newborn babies with family and friends. Even now, as we are pregnant with our fourth, I know I will not tell close family and friends to stay away when the baby is born. But, I do want to undermine how important it is to take extra precautions with newborn babies.

I shrugged off the advice that visitors should always wash their hands before handling the baby or that people with a cold should stay away. Now, I know better.

I also understand why some people prefer to have no visitors at all in the first few weeks. Rather than seeming over-the-top to me like it once did, I now see this as a reasonable request.

Everyone has different comfort levels when their babies are born, and it is important to respect the requests of parents regarding visitors. Even if you are invited, please take it upon yourself to wash your hands whenever you are holding the baby. And even if you have a small case of the sniffles, it’s best to stay away until you are better. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.


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