Most new mums find themselves changing dirty nappies non stop in the first few days, weeks and months of their newborn’s life.
But Penny Angela, who is a member of our Healthy Mummy community, says her son Hunter struggled to ‘move his bowels’ for days after he was born – but she never imagined her bub’s tummy troubles could be as a result of a rare disease.
One that resulted in him being taken into intensive care.
‘I thought he just dad wind’
Penny, who is a mum-of-five, reveals she didn’t realise anything was wrong with Hunter at first.
“When Hunter was born he seemed healthy and weighed 3.9kg,” she tells us. “He had trouble breastfeeding and was very unsettled after the first day, so I had to express and feed him with a syringe.
“The midwife and I thought he just had wind and a bit of a lazy latch, but as time went on he still hadn’t had that all important first poo babies are supposed to have.”
Hunter did not move his bowels for two full days.
Health Direct advises that medical help should be sought for babies aged less than eight weeks old who have not passed a stool for two to three days and are gaining weight slowly.
But it wasn’t just Hunter’s constipation that was alarming. When he was 48 hours old he developed a fever and began vomiting a green bilious mucus.
“Hunter was rushed straight to NICU. I was beside myself,” says Penny. “I couldn’t understand what was going on.”
Hunter was flown from Wollongong, where the family lived, straight to the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney because of a blockage in his bowel.
“Nothing was to prepare me for what I was about to experience,” says Penny. “Hunter was sick for days and on antibiotics. He wasn’t allowed any breast milk or formula, so I had to pump and freeze. He was put on a TPN drip to give him the vitamins and nutrients he needed.”
Penny recalls how horrifying it was to see little Hunter hooked up to so many tubes. “I couldn’t believe how fast everything was happening. How had he gone from constipation to this so quickly?”
After a few days in hospital, Hunter was given a rectal biopsy. That’s when doctors confirmed he had Hirschsprung’s disease.
Hirschsprung’s disease is a blockage of the large intestine. It occurs due to poor muscle movement and it is a congenital condition, which means it is present from birth. Only one in 5,000 babies are born with this disease and if affects more boys than girls. Hirschsprung disease causes about 25 per cent of all newborn intestinal blockages.
Penny says she was told Hunter’s nerve cells had not formed all the way down the entire length of his bowel. These nerve cells are responsible for contracting and relaxing the part of the bowel that helps move waste through the body.
As a result, baby Hunter was unable to rid his body of waste without help. Nurses had to ‘wash’ Hunter’s bowels out three times a day to prevent further blockages. “Think of it like a baby colonic,” says Penny.
When Hunter was 12 days old, he underwent a six hour surgery. This was to allow surgeons to remove the affected part of his bowel.
“It was extremely difficult and emotional to watch him go into theatre,” reveals Penny.
Thankfully, the surgery was a success. Surgeons were able to remove the affected part of his bowel.
After another three days in hospital, Hunter was able to go home. Shortly after, he was breastfeeding and pooping like a typical newborn.
However, five weeks later Hunter was rushed back to hospital as he was suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.
“I thought we were over the worst of it,” say Penny. “But doctors explained that he had developed enterocolitis or an inflammation in his bowels.”
Enterocolitis is an inflammation of the digestive tract. After four days in hospital and with treatment, Hunter was finally well enough to go home.
However, Penny was advised to wash out Hunter’s bowels every day (two to three times a day), to prevent him from developing enterocolitis again. If Hunter contracts gastro or any other tummy bugs, he could could end up back in the hospital.
“We’ve been flying through my frozen stash of breast milk and I struggle to keep up with pumping enough for him, as my supply has dropped drastically since his feeding slowed down,” says Penny.
And while doctors don’t think Hunter needs any more surgery, they’re hoping to insert a steel rod in his bowels in the future to help it open up and get him to going on his own.
“Hunter still breastfeeds two to three times a day but the rest are bottles of expressed milk or formula,” says Penny.
“For the foreseeable future we will have to continue flushing out his bowels for him. He will have trouble going to the toilet on his own when the time comes to. But we’ll reach those hurdles when we come to them.
“I’m just very thankful that my baby is otherwise healthy and strong.”
We’re so glad to hear Hunter is on the mend. It sounds like it has been an extremely scary time for him and his family. We’ll endeavour to keep you updated on his progress.
Constipation in babies
Although Hunter’s tummy troubles were as a result of a rare disease, we felt it was best to inform mums a little more about constipation in babies.
“Sometimes a baby can have infrequent loose stools that also can mean constipation. The consistency (hardness or softness) of your baby’s poo depends on what he or she is being fed. It also varies over time as solids are introduced to the diet, and as your baby’s digestive system becomes more mature”, says Pregnancy Birth & Baby.
What you need to know about baby poo
- Bubs that are fed breast milk generally have loose (and runny) stools to begin with. But don’t worry, their stools begin to get firmer and less frequent over time.
- Babies fed formula tend to have firmer stools and fewer bowel movements.
- Once solids are introduced, your baby’s poo may become slightly firmer.
Symptoms that your baby is constipated
- Your baby cries and looks uncomfortable before he or she tries to move their bowels.
- Are your bub’s poos and farts a little smelly? This may also be a sign of constipation.
- Your baby isn’t eating all that much.
- Your baby’s belly feels hard.
What you can do to help them
If you formula feed your baby, you may need to check your formula contains enough water. Check the measurements on the label and make sure you shake the bottle rigorously before feeding them.
You can also try gently massaging your infant’s stomach to help with their movement.
When to take your baby to see a medical professional
- If your baby is less than eight weeks old and has not passed a stool for 2-3 days, and they are gaining weight very slowly.
- If your baby has been constipated for a while and is very distressed, or they have blood in their poo or another sign of illness.
“Frequency of stooling varies significantly, from every feed through to once every 7-10 days. Anything in that period of time can be completely normal, provided the stool quality is also normal i.e. a large, wet stool once a week is fine; however passing pebbles once every day or so is not,” Dr. Scott Dunlop, Director of Sydney Paediatrics, and Founder of Paed Preferred tells The Healthy Mummy.
“If your baby is constipated, there are very simple measures that can be used to soften the stool. Small amounts of cooled boiled water can be very effective, either straight or used to dilute formula slightly.
“Symptoms you should look for are hard, pebble-like, infrequent stools with straining, unsettledness, feed disruption, and vomiting are all signs you baby may be constipated. Many parents worry about stool straining – if the stool is normal in appearance and consistency i.e. wet and loose or seedy, then the straining is usually not a concern.”
If you have any other concerns about your baby’s constipation, we advice you to take your baby to a doctor or medical professional as soon as possible.
For more articles relating to children’s health, visit our Healthy Mummy Health Archives.
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