Intussusception: My Scariest Experience as a New Mom
My husband and I had walked what felt like a dozen laps around the pediatric wing at Stanford, waiting for the doctors to check up on our baby.
We had little else to do except walk, and each lap seemed to keep the weariness and panic behind us, if only for a few moments. How did we end up here? Less than 24 hours earlier, we’d celebrated our sweet baby’s 1st birthday. I’d never even heard the word “intussusception” before.
“You need to blog about this,” my husband said suddenly as we rounded yet another corner. I looked up, surprised. A medical emergency didn’t seem a good fit for my upbeat DIY, home décor and organization blog. “You need to blog about this,” he repeated. “We’d never even heard about this until yesterday.”
If you landed here, you probably Googled “can my baby sleep with intussusception?” The answer is “yes.” Ours did, although our story didn’t stop there. Read on to learn about the scariest night I’ve had as a mom.
A Few Days Before Our Son’s Intussusception
We’d flown cross country to California to spend Thanksgiving and Tristan’s first birthday (the next day) with grandma and grandpa. I’d been so excited.
My mother-in-law loves to cook, and I knew I’d spend several days enjoying home-cooked meals (that I didn’t cook!) and relishing having extra hands help with the baby. Sure, we were concerned about how Tristan would respond to the time difference, but a little broken sleep seemed a small price to pay for a long weekend with family.
Thanksgiving passed happily. We all ate too much. Tristan tried some new foods (and loved cranberry sauce!). My husband and I laughed about how only 1 year earlier, we’d still been in the labor and delivery unit, unprepared for how our lives would change.
The next day, we spent the morning prepping for Tristan’s big party. We’d invited 20 people or so, feeling less than confident that the baby would be awake when guests arrived. The time difference threw a major wrench in his napping schedule. About an hour before the party, Tristan melted down. He screamed, finding a volume level he’d never found before.
“That time difference is so hard on him!” I thought, putting him down for another nap.
The Day Before Our Son’s Hospital Visit
An hour into the party, I woke him up and took him into the living room, excited for him to meet the family he’d never met before. While Tristan warms up to people slowly, he isn’t shy. He’s curious and loves to watch people until he’s comfortable.
When we walked into the living room, he clung to me, burying his head in my chest like he’s never done. “Oh, he’s so shy!” the guest laughed, delighted at meeting him. A little voice in my head thought, “He’s not, though.”
A larger voice wondered if he’d gotten intimidated by everyone staring at him. Moments later, he melted down, completely and totally, wriggling in my arms to where it was almost impossible to hold him and practically screaming.
“Poor baby!” I heard around the room as I looked up to find my husband. “He never cries like this!” I floundered with an awkward laugh. I took him to the back bedroom again. I gave him some milk until he seemed content, then we went back out to the party.
For the next little while, he seemed happy, smashing his cake in delight and stumbling his way happily around the partygoers’ legs.
Can a Baby Sleep with Intussusception? What It Looked Like for Our Infant
That night, he slept fitfully, waking every hour and crying. He slept in our bed and only fell back asleep with his butt in the air and daddy’s hand rubbing his back. Our son broke into a sweat each time he cried, then fell asleep fast afterward.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that he was in an enormous amount of pain with a condition we’d never known, but at the time, we groggily wondered if Tristan’s tummy hurt from really bad gas pains. Tristan had gone to town on his cupcake earlier, a treat that he never really ate much before.
A Blessing in Disguise: One of the Tell-Tale Symptoms of Intussusception
Around 5 am, we changed his diaper, and I saw something that made me stop cold. Was that blood?
My husband investigated, and we couldn’t tell. It didn’t look like normal blood, and there wasn’t much of it. We didn’t know that we saw “red currant jelly stool,” a telltale symptom of intussusception caused when stool mixes with blood and mucus.
I sheepishly knocked on my mother-in-law’s door and woke her up. “Can you come to take a look at this?” I asked.
She agreed it might be blood, and we decided to call our pediatrician back in Maryland.
The Urgent Recommendation from Our Pediatrician
We called our pediatrician. I quickly explained the last 24 hours.
Our doctor told us to get to a pediatric emergency room as soon as possible.
Her urgency caught me off guard. As a new mom, I spend 80% of my time telling myself to relax, calm down, and worry less. I asked the doctor to repeat herself several times. Intus.. Inta… Intussusception? What?
We piled in the car and headed quickly to the closest hospital.
Other Common Symptoms of Intussusception in Children
I googled intussusception on the way to the hospital and gasped. This sounded exactly like our son. Typical symptoms include:
- Crying intermittently in pain
- Pulling knees up to the chest and “guarding” their tummy
- Red currant jelly stool
- Vomiting (this didn’t happen with our baby)
What Is Intussusception in a Child?
Luckily, my mother and father-in-law live close to Stanford Medical Center and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which are world-class facilities.
(I say “luckily” because the few other mamas who’ve experienced this mention on the occasion that their babies were misdiagnosed and sent home, which is terrifying.) When we arrived, a series of nurses and doctors explained that my son’s symptoms did sound like intussusception. The doctors explained that his intestines had folded in, almost like a telescope collapsing.
What’s so bad about this? This causes an intestinal blockage on one side. Also, the fold in the intestines cuts blood flow to the rest of his intestines. That loss of blood flow is incredibly dangerous and, if left untreated, is fatal in 2 to 5 days.
What causes intussusception? The doctors suspected the lymph nodes in his tummy had been inflamed due to a month-long ear infection.
How Was His Intussusception Diagnosed?
After the nurses and doctors examined Tristan and looked at the photo of the red currant jelly stool we’d taken, they sent him for an ultrasound of his little belly.
The ultrasound confirmed the diagnosis. The doctors saw a “target sign” on the ultrasound, a sign of his intestines folded into themselves.
What Were His Options for Treating Intussusception?
They numbed his arms, then put in an I.V., which he hated, before sending us to radiology.
There are a few treatments for intussusception, including surgery. Thankfully, my son responded well to the least invasive option: an air enema. The doctors pushed air into his body to force his intestines back into place, watching on a radiology monitor as they did the procedure.
Not going to lie. As a mama, this was horrible to experience. The doctor assured me that the discomfort felt no greater than gas pains, but my heart broke watching six adults in lead protective gear hold down my screaming baby. I will never, never forget how horrible that was.
What Did Recovery Look Like for Us?
Once the procedure ended, we stayed the night at the hospital. The doctors monitored him to ensure that the intussusception wouldn’t return. The 24 hours felt long and bleary. The hospital nurses gave Tristan a red wagon, and we rode laps around the pediatric ward to spend time.
Once discharged, I took three days of personal leave from work to stay with him. The doctors advised us that if the condition were to return, it would most likely return in 1 week. I wanted to make sure he was closely watched.
My son returned to his happy, curious self, laughing as he wobbled around the house and giggling as we played at the San Jose Children’s Museum. A week later, he hadn’t shown any of the symptoms he displayed, and I’m hopeful that this experience moved behind us.
So How Am I Doing?
Honestly? Not great.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m so grateful for many things. I’m grateful to our pediatrician, who told us to get to the hospital immediately. I’m grateful for the Stanford doctors and nurses who cared for my baby.
Also, I’m so, so, so thankful for that awful red currant jelly stool, without which we probably would have continued rationalizing his cries as gas pains or fussiness. But beyond that? I’m terrified that something else may happen to him, and I’m scared and sad. Plus, I’m having a hard time getting back into the swing of things.
Sending him to daycare feels like heartbreak. Every cry he makes now sends off a little alarm in my head — is this cry THAT cry?
What Did I Learn from my Experience with Intussusception in Infants?
First, this experience reinforced for me the need to trust my instincts. The little voice in my head that said, “but he’s not shy” or “he never cries like this,” knew better. As his mama, I know him better than any other person (except maybe my husband), and I must listen to myself through these experiences.
Second, I know how precious my time with him is. In the recovery room, when my husband stepped away and the baby slept, I fell apart. Why/? I read that intussusception is absolutely fatal in 2 to 5 days if untreated. We could have so easily overlooked the symptoms and gotten on a plane home. It hurts even to think about this.
Third, and lastly, I recognize the importance of telling this story. Why? Because I’d never even heard the word intussusception before this experience. Since this has happened, only one other mama I know has shared her baby experienced this, too. If this helps anyone else understand that this may happen, then I find value in telling my experience.
Now that we’ve talked through my story let’s jump into some common questions parents ask when looking into intussusception.
What are the complications of intussusception?
Intussusception is a life-threatening condition, especially for children. It occurs when one part of the intestine slides into another part of the intestine, like a telescope collapsing in on itself.
The complications of intussusception can be severe and range from mild to life-threatening. Some more serious complications include intestinal obstruction and tissue damage due to a lack of blood supply.
In some cases, an incarcerated or strangulated bowel can occur, which requires emergency surgery to repair.
In rare cases, untreated intussusception can lead to gangrene or bowel perforation, which can be fatal if not treated immediately. It is important that parents are aware of the signs and symptoms associated with this condition. You need to get their child medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect they may have it.
Will a baby sleep if they have intussusception?
A baby with intussusception will not be able to sleep comfortably due to the abdominal pain caused by the condition. Intussusception is a type of bowel obstruction that occurs when one part of the intestine folds into another.
This folding causes a blockage in the intestinal tract, resulting in severe abdominal pain and discomfort. In some cases, it can even lead to vomiting and bloody stools.
The symptoms of intussusception can be quite severe, making it difficult for babies to rest and sleep. To achieve adequate rest and relieve the symptoms, babies need to receive prompt medical attention from their doctor.
With proper treatment, babies should be able to get back on track with healthy sleeping patterns soon enough.
Can babies still poop with intussusception?
Intussusception is a serious condition that should be treated as soon as possible.
As it can cause blockages and other issues, it is important to know if your baby is still pooping when they have intussusception. The answer is yes, but it may not happen very often. The small intestine becomes compressed in intussusception, making it difficult for food to pass through and waste to be expelled.
Therefore, babies with intussusception may not poop as much as they normally would. Or the stool may be smaller than usual. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice these changes in your baby’s bowel movements.
How long can a baby live with intussusception?
Intussusception can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, or dehydration. Your child may also be lethargic.
If not treated promptly, it can lead to a blockage of the intestine or even death. In general, with intussusception, a baby or child will need medical intervention right away to survive.
Depending on the severity of the case, surgery may be required to remove the affected section of the intestines. However, if recognized early and treated properly, most babies can recover quickly and live healthy lives afterward.
Therefore, it is important that parents pay attention to their children’s symptoms to catch any signs of intussusception as soon as possible.
How long can a baby have intussusception?
Intussusception is usually intermittent, meaning it can come and go.
But if left untreated, it can become serious. How long a baby has intussusception depends on the severity of their condition and the treatment they receive.
In some cases, intussusception may resolve without any treatment at all. In other cases, surgery or another intervention may be necessary to resolve it. The sooner a baby receives treatment for intussusception, the better their chances of full recovery.
How do I know if my baby has intussusception?
If you are concerned that your baby may have intussusception, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your baby’s history and symptoms. Diagnostic tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis, such as imaging tools like an x-ray or ultrasound.
An x-ray can show whether the intestines are blocked or twisted and if there is any swelling of the walls.
Ultrasound can also help identify intussusception by showing changes in the shape of the intestines.
What happens if intussusception is left untreated?
If intussusception is left untreated, it can cause a common abdominal emergency condition known as bowel obstruction.
This occurs when the rectum is blocked by the telescoping of one part of the intestine into another. The blockage can lead to serious complications such as perforation of the intestine, infection, and death if not treated promptly.
In some cases, untreated intussusception can cause long-term damage to the intestine or other organs in the body due to a lack of blood supply. Additionally, it increases the risk for developing an intestinal stricture or narrowing of the intestine, which can lead to further complications.
Therefore, it is important that intussusception be diagnosed and treated quickly to avoid any long-term health problems and severe health consequences.
Is intussusception in babies serious?
Intussusception occurs when one part of the small bowel slides into another part and causes a blockage, known as a small bowel obstruction.
Symptoms of intussusception include abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody stools, and dehydration. Left untreated, it can cause serious complications such as shock or death. Therefore, seeking medical care is important if your baby experiences any of these signs or symptoms.
Treatment options for intussusception vary depending on how severe it is. They may involve surgery or other procedures, like an air enema or barium enema, to remove the obstruction and return the small intestine to its normal position.
Can intussusception fix itself in babies?
Regarding intussusception in babies, it is important to note that the condition can rarely fix itself.
Intussusception occurs when one part of the intestine slides into another and can cause severe pain, vomiting, and bloody stools. Although some cases of intussusception may resolve independently, there is still a risk of intussusception complications. These might include obstruction or perforation of the intestine if left untreated.
Therefore, doctors usually recommend treatment for intussusception in babies, including intravenous fluids and medications to reduce cramping and pain.
In addition, surgery may be necessary to treat the intussusception if other treatments are unsuccessful.
Can intussusception symptoms only occur at night?
No, intussusception symptoms do not exclusively occur at night.
Symptoms can vary in intensity but typically include abdominal pain that may come and go, vomiting, diarrhea that may contain blood or mucus, and fever.
In some cases, patients may experience chills as well. While symptoms can potentially occur at any time of day or night, they are more likely to flare up after meals and during physical activity.
What’s an intussusception lead point?
How do you know what causes intussusception? An intussusception lead point is a specific anatomical location where the intussusception begins or originates.
It is usually found at the junction of two segments in the part of the intestine that’s telescoped into each other. It typically occurs in the small bowel. Various factors, such as an abnormality in the shape of the intestines, masses or tumors, or foreign objects, can cause intussusception.
It can also be caused by an infection, inflammation, or trauma that has resulted in irritation and swelling of the intestinal walls. In some cases, no cause can be identified.
Let’s Wrap Up
Having our son deal with this life-threatening condition was perhaps the scariest moment of my life. Please call your doctor if you’re landing on this page because you suspect your child might have this condition. My son is alive today because of the emergency care he received.
Please know, too, as a parent, you are not alone, and I pray that your child feels better and recovers soon.