When A Baby Spits Up Blood

BabyWearingDucksWednesday night after our tiny funny-looking baby was born I slept badly. Though she passed a lot of meconium that day, she didn’t pee at all. I was in a haze of postpartum hormones—feeling both euphoric and totally vulnerable, terrified that the baby would stop breathing during the night, nervous about jostling her still-attached cord.

I checked her diaper. Dry. Forty-five minutes later I checked it again. Dry. Ten minutes after that I checked it a third time. Dry.

Oh god, I thought, her kidneys aren’t functioning properly. There’s something wrong with her digestive tract.

She was nursing lustily, latching on like a champ, but was she taking in enough liquid to sustain her or would she get severely dehydrated like my friend Michelle’s firstborn who had to be admitted to the hospital after he started peeing uric acid crystals?

Pee, baby, please pee.

After these silent prayers, I checked her diaper again and again and again. Dry. Dry. Dry.

Nursing her lying on my side, curled around her tiny body, I finally fell into a fitful sleep.

A retching sound woke me a few hours later.

I sat up and looked at the newborn whose life depended on me. She was spluttering and coughing as if something were stuck in her throat. Then she spit up—big gobs flecked with something brown.

“James, wake up,” I cried. “The baby just spat up blood.”

We looked at each other helplessly. This wasn’t our first baby. We weren’t supposed to feel this much fear. We were experienced parents, not the novices who rushed our first daughter to the ER because she was crying (the books said a high-pitched cry could be an indication of something serious) and called the doctor at 2:00 a.m. because she pooped six times in a row and we were sure it was diarrhea.

The baby had already gone back to sleep. She looked healthy: her color was rosy, her breathing regular.

I checked her diaper. Wet! It was wet!

“She peed!!!!”

We decided we’d be able to think better in the morning and we fell asleep for a few more fitful hours.

Weighing the baby on a borrowed scale

Weighing the baby on a borrowed scale

Late the next afternoon our “knowledgeable family friend” (the midwife who agreed to be on call at our birth if we needed her. Read more about that here) dropped a scale at our house so we could weigh the baby.

“She spat up something brown last night,” I said. “It may have been dried blood. Is that normal?”

R. asked me a bunch of questions, looked the baby over, and said it could have been meconium or blood or even something else (“gunk from the birth” may have been the scientific terms she used), and that one bout of perplexing spit-up was nothing to worry about. I exhaled the breath I’d been unconsciously holding since the night before.

The next day she started peeing copiously, wetting a diaper every half an hour. She hasn’t stopped since.

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