Trusting a Mother’s Instincts
Oct 20, 2009

By Dr. Ari Brown
A few years back, a mother that I knew well brought her four week old son into my office. She brought him in because she trusted her mommy instincts. She had three older children and she told me,   “I don’t know, but something’s wrong with this one!”He was having difficulty breathing. Some newborns have periodic breathing, where they pant for several breaths, pause, and then breath again. But this mom was describing something different. The baby would stop breathing and seemed like he couldn’t catch his breath.  And, he looked dusky when these events occurred. He was having these episodes a few times a day, and it scared even this seasoned mom.
When I examined him, he appeared perfectly normal until he started choking.  I turned to her and asked, “Are you afraid to sleep at night?” Her response—“YES!” I’ve learned over the years to always trust a mom’s judgment, so I picked up the phone.
The baby was admitted to our local children’s hospital.  During his stay, it was quite clear why his mom was so worried. He had numerous spells where he stopped breathing, and had so much trouble that he needed supplemental oxygen. He also had horrible coughing spells where he would turn red, choke, and gasp for breath. He had whooping cough.
It turns out that his mom had a hacking cough towards the end of her pregnancy that she just couldn’t shake. It continued in the weeks after she delivered, but she was too busy taking care of her newborn to worry about herself. She had whooping cough and had given it to her son.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. After several scary days in the hospital, receiving supplemental oxygen and constant monitoring, my little patient went home. He is a healthy, thriving kid today. But, not everyone who goes through this experience has this same rosy outcome.
Whooping cough often spreads from adults to those who are the most vulnerable—our babies, who, like my patient, are too young to be vaccinated.  Since 2005, teens and adults can receive a whooping cough booster vaccine that’s given in combination with their tetanus shot (called the TdaP vaccine).  Many hospitals now routinely give moms a TdaP booster shot right after delivery, which is a great first step. But, it’s important for all caretakers to roll up their sleeves for their precious baby. Dads, grandparents, or any other adult who spends time with a baby should get this shot. It’s called cocooning. By vaccinating those around the baby, you are protecting him from the disease.
If you can’t remember the last time you got your tetanus shot, or you got your last one when you were still seeing your pediatrician, it’s time to do it!
Ari Brown, MD, FAAP is a pediatrician in practice in Austin, TX and the author of Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for your Baby’s First Year.
Editor’s Note: The whooping cough vaccine for children is combined with the tetanus and diphtheria vaccines (DTaP). To read more about whooping cough and how important it is for every child to receive each dose of their DTaP on time, please see The New York Times article “Risks: Pertussis Protection? Not From the Herd” at

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