Whooping cough scary start for new mum

29 December 2017

Worried mum Rose Rangiwai and her baby Trina-Lee


The best celebration for Rose Rangiwai this New Year will be enjoying the good health of her baby daughter Trina Lee. Trina-Lee has spent three of her eight weeks of life battling whooping cough. Before Christmas, she was admitted to Planet Sunshine at Gisborne Hospital where the scary coughing fits finally started to subside.

This is my first child says Rose. “Watching my baby struggling to breathe, her lips blue and her face turning pink then purple is terrifying. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. When she coughed she would choke. The nurses showed me how to sit her up and rub her back. If that didn’t work I would blow on her face. I couldn’t leave her side and I was worried when I fell asleep.”

Rose and Trina-Lee are not alone. New Zealand is in the early stages of a whooping cough epidemic and other areas have also seen a rise in cases. In the past two weeks, two young babies have been admitted to Gisborne Hospital with whooping cough.

Whooping cough causes prolonged bouts of coughing which can end in vomiting or breathlessness. It can be very serious for babies and children – especially those under 1 year old.

The best prevention is immunisation, says Medical Officer of Health Dr Margot McLean. “Pregnant mums should get their free immunisation between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. Babies receive their first free immunisation at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months old. Don’t delay with vaccinations as young babies are the most at risk and need to get their protection as soon as possible.”

Rose had done the right thing. She had been immunised while pregnant giving Trina-Lee some protection through the shared bloodstream. This may have prevented Trina-Lee becoming more unwell when she contracted whooping cough at 5 weeks of age; just before her first vaccination.

Whooping cough spreads via coughing and sneezing. People with whooping cough are infectious from 6 days after exposure to the bacteria, when symptoms are like a normal cold, to 3 weeks after the ‘whooping’ cough begins – unless they are treated with antibiotics. Many babies catch whooping cough from their older siblings or parents – often before they’re old enough to be vaccinated. That’s is why staff from Maternity, Neonatal and Planet Sunshine teams at Gisborne Hospital are all immunised.

If babies catch whooping cough, they:

• may not be able to feed or breathe properly

• may become so ill they need to go to hospital

• could end up with serious complications such as pneumonia and brain damage. 

Anyone with a cough which does not go away, should avoid contact with babies and young children, and get advice from a health professional or from Healthline 0800 611 116.