RSV. Three letters that fill any parent of a preemie with dread.
For adults, RSV often manifests as a cold or flu but for young babies and especially preemies it can very serious due to their tiny lungs and an immune system that is compromised by their early arrival. It’s a highly contagious virus and even with all the hand washing in the world, preventing exposure can be difficult. This is made even more challenging for babies with older siblings attending crèche or schools where the onslaught of germs is unavoidable. It’s for this reason that babies like Amy, born extremely prematurely at 25 weeks, receive a monthly shot of antibodies (“Synagis”) during RSV season to help their fragile systems fight this nasty bug.
You can imagine then how my heart sank when, just 5 days before Amy was due to receive her first Synagis shot, I woke up to the sound of the harshest cough I’ve ever heard from a baby. Over the subsequent days, as Amy’s breathing became more and more strained and as she became more unwell, we went spent our time going back and forth to our GP and Crumlin Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. Amy was diagnosed with bronchiolitis and a swab later confirmed it was RSV. I just couldn’t believe it. How could this have happened? My poor little girl.
Of her 8 months in this world so far, Amy had spent almost 5 of them in hospital. My heart broke at the thought of a readmission. Thankfully we narrowly escaped the admission from Crumlin ED and were told to return if we felt Amy required oxygen or intravenous fluids – the only real hospital treatment that can be offered to babies with RSV apparently, otherwise its best managed at home where she was at less risk of picking up other bugs.
Thanks to our great support network we got some good advice to help us help Amy and nurse her at home. That said, the days that followed were hairy and scary and true to the adage she got “worse before she got better”. The baby was miserable as she coughed, wheezed and regularly almost choked as the mucus tried to escape from her little preemie lungs. Her feeding, challenging at the best of times, was an enormous struggle and she was just about consuming enough to keep her hydrated. To add insult to injury, she’d also acquired a strep bacterial infection in her throat and ears so I can imagine the pain for her most have been unbearable. It was very hard to watch her so sick and struggle, yet again. In my exhausted and irrational state I felt like it was all my fault; the fact that she was premature in the first place and furthermore that she had caught this bug on my watch.
Now 10 days on, there is a sniffle and cough that still lingers but Amy is back to her lovely smiley self. I think we got away lightly. While it was a tough week for Amy, I reflect on it today and feel the week represented a sort of catharsis, for both of us. For the first time in Amy’s life I was able to care for her while she was sick. This was so empowering and helped heal the guilt I felt for all the (143) days Amy spent in hospital when I had to let others be her primary care givers. For Amy (again probably in my crazy irrational head) I think she has forgiven me, forgiven me for the journey she has undergone and forgiven me for the fact that there were so many times I couldn’t help her at all. I can’t explain how much the last week has strengthened our bond – Amy seems to be happier than ever and yesterday even giggled for the first time.
So to any parents out there living in fear of RSV or in the thick of the bug right now, please know you will get through it. Hopefully you’ll escape a hospital admission too but if not, know that you are now your baby’s primary nurse, you know best and you’ll come out of this stronger than ever.
A huge thanks to all of Baby Amyazing’s followers for all the messages of love and support through this chapter.
Ps. Here are some of the tips we got to help treat Amy’s RSV at home:
- Give small feeds; big volumes can be difficult with the coughing so feed little and often and through the night. This will also help baby stay hydrated.
- Use a saline nasal spray to keep mucus in the nose moist.
- Regular steam/vapour to help release the mucus from the lungs. We bought the Vicks Warm Steam Vaporiser but we are thinking of investing in the Dyson Humidifier which is supposed to be brilliant
- Give a chest massage – I found this one online here and used a vapour rub on Amy’s chest (she’s 4 months corrected so we could use this)
- Baby wearing – the closeness to you can help comfort a baby when they are really miserable
- Elevate baby’s head – sleeping at a slight incline can help relieve your baby’s congestion during sleep .