When my third child was born, it was a crazy time in my life. (Isn’t it always?) My husband and I had two older boys, ages 4 and 2. Charlie was a sweet baby from day one, healthy and adorable. We were thrilled when we were all home from the hospital so that we could begin this new chapter of our lives.
For the first few days after we brought Charlie home, we had regular visits to the pediatrician to check his bilirubin. He never needed further treatment for jaundice, but daily heel pricks were an unpleasant part of his earliest days. After a week, his color was less yellow, he was nursing well, and he was gaining weight.
Then about 2 weeks after his birth, he got sick. It seemed like a cold. He was stuffy and congested with a low-grade fever. But then this illness quickly progressed to something much worse: Soon, Charlie was struggling to breathe. He began wheezing and gasping for air. He didn’t want to nurse. He was uncomfortable all the time. I took him to our pediatrician, and they diagosed him with RSV—Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a respiratory virus that is especially hard on infants.
Though his oxygen levels never got low enough to require an oxygen mask, Charlie’s little belly was moving rapidly as he sucked for air. Hearing him wheeze was terrifying. He was so tiny and helpless. I knew he would lose weight quickly if he didn’t begin eating regularly again. Because he refused to nurse, I had to rent a breast pump and feed him bottles for nearly a week, at my doctor’s suggestion, which allowed him to take in more air during feedings and receive nourishment without the frustration of pulling away to get a breath. It worked, and, thankfully, it did not affect my ability to continue nursing. Still, it was a very challenging time, both physically and emotionally.
After a week or so Charlie began to improve. His breathing eased, his color improved, and he was able to nurse comfortably again. It was an amazing thing to see improvement every day. All turned out just fine after a brutal couple of weeks. Charlie was one of the lucky ones.
Years later, my fifth child came down with RSV when she was just 3 weeks old. Her case was not as severe nor scary, but any time a newborn baby struggles to breathe, it is terrifying. RSV is serious business. Though it can be mild enough to mimic a cold–it can be life-threatening and even deadly. I was lucky that my children’s cases were not worse, and that my other 4 children didn’t have RSV when they were so little. If an RSV vaccine is offered in the future, I’ll be the first to tell my friends to get theirs without question.
Annie is a mom of 6 and part time teacher. She enjoys painting, reading and spending time outside with her kiddos.
Editor’s Note: A few RSV vaccines are in development to give to moms during pregnancy with the idea that they will pass the protection through the placenta to the fetus—thus, the baby will benefit from this protection after they are born, which would be so important during the first weeks of life.