I Didn’t Know My Infant Was THAT Sick

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Disclaimer: This post is written by our contributor who is a mom and a physical therapist. This is a generalized overview of bronchiolitis and should not be taken as specific medical advice. The advice here is not intended to provide a diagnosis, but to raise awareness of symptoms and steps to take. We urge you to always contact your child’s medical professional. The advice here is not intended to provide a diagnosis.

Being a first-time mom is HARD! You constantly second guess yourself and if you’re like me, with no previous baby experience, you often feel under qualified for the job. My first child was a rather difficult baby. She had various health issues including difficulty feeding and failure to gain weight. 

The two things she was great at were sleeping and snuggling her mama. So at three months old when she stopped sleeping and fussed even when I held her, I knew something wasn’t right. However, I didn’t know she was that sick. 

I called my doctor’s office and spoke with a nurse. She said it was just reflux and prescribed an increase in my daughter’s reflux medicine. However, I insisted we get an appointment with the pediatrician just to be sure.

I went to the appointment expecting a quick weight check and increase in routine meds. They took one look at her and checked her pulse and respiratory rate and immediately set her up on the oxygen monitor. Her oxygen levels were in the low 80s (normal is 98-100.) They put an oxygen mask over her mouth and nose. I was instructed to hold it in place as my child screamed so that she could get enough oxygen to her little body.

EMSA arrived soon after and my child was buckled into her car seat carrier, which was strapped onto the stretcher. I can still see the looks on other mom’s faces as I followed my infant through the building. I called my husband and told him between sobs that he needed to meet me at the local pediatric ICU. Everything felt so surreal and I was still unsure what was wrong. It clearly was not “just reflux.”

It turned out she had bronchiolitis or inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. It is usually caused by a virus such as RSV. According to the Mayo Clinic, bronchiolitis starts out with symptoms similar to those of a common cold but then progresses to coughing, wheezing and sometimes difficulty breathing. Most children will recover at home, but some require hospitalization. Because of my baby’s age and the severity of the sickness, she was one of the few requiring an inpatient stay. 

She never had a fever or what I would describe as a cough. Looking back I now realize what sounded like choking from reflux, was actually her little body struggling to breathe with all the inflammation and mucus in her airways. She didn’t exhibit wheezing, but did have an increased breathing rate and labored breathing (when the ribs are pulled in with each breath). I didn’t know she was so dehydrated, because she had difficulty feeding before she was sick. Luckily, I did realize something wasn’t right and followed my motherly gut instinct to seek medical attention. 

She spent six long torturous days in the hospital. I don’t think I left her room for a second – probably not healthy. I stared at the oxygen monitor and called the poor nurses every time her oxygen dropped a little too low. Luckily, they were gracious and my child was discharged after a week and totally healthy by four months old. 

So for all those new (and experienced) moms reading this, I don’t aim to scare you! But my advice is this: even if you feel like you have no clue, trust your gut. And as we enter cold and flu season, know the symptoms associated with RSV and if your child exhibits any of the following, seek medical attention according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Vomiting
  • Audible wheezing sounds
  • Breathing very fast — more than 60 breaths a minute  — and shallowly
  • Labored breathing — the  ribs seem to suck inward when infant inhales
  • Sluggish or lethargic appearance
  • Refusal to drink enough, or breathing too fast to eat or drink
  • Skin turning blue, especially the lips and fingernails (cyanosis)

Cold and flu season can be very scary for new moms especially. You may find these past articles helpful for when to choose urgent care vs emergency care and tips for surviving strep and flu season. 

Resources: mayoclinic.org 

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