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My Healthy Baby Was Kissed During RSV Season and It Almost Killed Her

Photograph by Caitlin Henderson

As told to Lauren Levy by Caitlin Henderson

At a month early and after a dramatic car delivery, our daughter made her way into the world. She spent her first six weeks healthy and feisty, and fit right in with our family of five.

I’ve always been careful with our babies, especially in the winter, but wasn’t too surprised when I was awakened by her cough early one morning. With two older brothers, colds are to be expected. But this cough sounded different. My tiny baby struggled for each breath. We rushed her to our local ER, where we were horrified to learn that her oxygen was only at 82 percent.

We were taken by ambulance to our local children’s hospital to be admitted. What I had thought was just a cold was actually confirmed to be RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. This nasty virus has no cure and normally doesn’t even peak at its worst until around day five. A mother can do nothing but helplessly watch as her child has to receive help breathing and repeated lung suctions.

A short 24 hours after my daughter developed a cough, we were being rushed down the halls of the children’s hospital, to be taken to the pediatric intensive care unit. I sat on the cold plastic couch as my husband held my shuddering body tightly in his arms.

Our 6-week-old daughter didn’t even fight the doctors who were trying to get her quickly settled into the PICU. The IVs, the feeding tube, the CPAP and every other medical tool being strapped to her body elicited no response from her. Even with the oxygen and suction, our daughter’s body was trying to give up the fight. With every breath she fought to take in, her chest would retract around her ribs, a sign that we later learned is a very significant and scary.

We know that babies are so precious and kissable, but after learning how deadly a simple kiss can be for these babies, I would urge you to reconsider.

The next week was spent in the PICU watching our daughter fight as we prayed she would just pull through. With all of the IV lines, feeding tube and intubation she was hooked to, merely holding her was a feat. We watched as she lay, gray, and wondered how she had contracted the virus.

We will never know for sure how our daughter got RSV, but it very well could have been a kiss from one of us or one of her brothers. We know that babies are so precious and kissable, but after learning how deadly a simple kiss can be for these babies, I would urge you to reconsider.

What appears as a common cold in adults and even older children can be deadly for infants. It’s a ruthless virus that doesn’t even peak in its severity until around day five. What is even scarier is that adults are normally contagious before they ever show symptoms.

So, while it might be incredibly hard to resist a smooch on that adorable little baby, I beg you to reconsider. If you just can’t resist, the back of the head is the safest spot to minimize their chances of catching the virus.

Maybe you’ve seen memes floating around social media, telling you not to kiss the babies this winter, as RSV runs rampant.

Photograph by Caitlin Henderson

It’s not because we don’t want you to love our babies—it’s because we want nothing more than to keep them safe. Walk into any PICU in the winter months, and you are sure to find cribs full of coughing infants fighting just to breathe.

Thankfully, our daughter made a full recovery over the next month, but many children don’t. Many children will have respiratory problems for years to come. Our hopes in sharing this story is to raise awareness for this horrible virus and the lasting consequences it can have on families.

I will never forget the words from our nurse as we were preparing to be released from the hospital: “I’m so glad to see you going home. You don’t know how close her body was to shutting down.”

There are many parents who aren't as lucky as we were and have to walk out those doors without their babies. There are too many babies lost every winter from one deadly kiss. If sharing our story can save even one child from having to fight this virus, then it was worth it. So, please, this winter, be mindful of the harm that can come from a well-meaning kiss of that sweet baby. Let’s do our best to keep them safe.

This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.