“I had literally no idea how dangerous a common cold could be for my newborn. I wish I’d know about RSV”

4 mins read

Friday 19 November 2021

Tags: health, bronchiolitis, RSV

Mum Becky Whinnerah from Devon shares her story of when, at just 5 days old, her daughter Ava developed serious breathing problems after catching a winter cold which developed into bronchiolitis.

Read our advice on protecting your child from respiratory virus (RSV) and what to do if they develop bronchiolitis. And if you have a child aged 5 and under, please join our new baby and toddler email group to get our latest advice to help you and your child stay well this winter.

“5am one snowy Devon morning in 2010, Ava was born. It was at home after an unremarkable labour that began 2 days previously on my birthday. Around the same time, her 3-year-old sibling had caught a cold. I realised with a touch of tired irritation that I was coming down with it too when she was around 24 hours old. Apart from feeling annoyed that this was hardly the perfect start to life, I thought nothing of it. I still thought nothing of it when, at 3 days old, Ava clearly began to be bunged up.

“In the early hours of her 5th day, I was getting worried. She didn’t ask for a feed and she slept through the night. I really became anxious when, in the end, I woke her for a feed but she wouldn’t latch on.

“As soon as they opened, I called the GP. We got an emergency appointment but not until noon. By this time she was grunting instead of normal breathing, was very hard to wake and hadn’t fed in about 15 hours. The GP called ahead to A&E and told us to get there as soon as we could. What followed was a whirl of doctors, nurses, oxygen, tubes, blood tests, lumber puncture and straight-up fear. We were lucky and got a room to ourselves on the ward, me and my rasping tiny baby surrounded by beeping machines. I’d packed an overnight bag thinking I’d been clever. We were there for 15 days.

“After a couple of days she’d deteriorated so they put her in a head box. She needed an NG (nasogastric) tube as she couldn’t feed and had to be swaddled or else she’d pull it out. I didn’t even get to hold her hand. She screamed silently and the only thing I could do to comfort her was to slide my hand through the hole in the box and encourage her to use a comforter. Bronchiolitis (RSV) was diagnosed. All we could do was try to keep her comfortable and monitor her temperature. A few days later and she nosedived again.

‘I’m so relieved I trusted my instincts when she didn’t feed’

“She was rushed for more tests (but oh my heart, I got to hold her for 15 seconds) and pneumonia was found. That was the day I lost my composure and broke down in tears at the nurses’ station. They gathered around me, so caring (later I found a chocolate on my pillow). But from that point, recovery was fairly swift. I’ll never forget the first time she latched on again. A wonderful nurse named Sarah had popped by to check on us, saw her feeding, and both of us burst into happy tears. We went home through thick snow the next day – the day before Christmas Eve.

“I had literally no idea how dangerous a common cold could be for my newborn. I wish I’d know about RSV. If I could go back in time, I would have tried to reduce her exposure to it in that first week. I would have been more on alert when she showed signs of a cold. I’m so relieved I trusted my instincts when she didn’t feed. It was vital that the GP responded the way he did but if he hadn’t, I just hope we would have gone to A&E anyway.

“We didn’t know then, but Ava has an unknown genetic condition. She has complex and varied needs. One of those is that she has a poor cough reflex and weak muscles in her throat and mouth. I’m so grateful to our old GP and all at the children’s ward at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital for saving the life of our gorgeous vulnerable daughter.”