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Dr. Mama: Do You Diagnose Your Kids With "Sick Breath?"

C's face has sick breath written all over it.

Night before last, Baby G was up all night long with a fever and general fussiness.  When our family woke up the next morning (Ha! Everyone else in the family “woke up,” but I’d never actually slept all night), I told Jon that I was pretty sure that our 3 year old, C was also sick, likely with whatever had G feeling so rotten. Jon looked puzzled, and asked me why in the world I thought that C was sick.

After all, she didn’t seem feverish – maybe slightly warm, but not anything significant. She hadn’t thrown up, coughed or otherwise demonstrated any obvious symptoms during the overnight hours. She did maybe seem a little crankier than usual  (although C is always pretty damn cranky in the mornings. She is NOT a morning person), but as Jon noted, there was nothing really obvious that would lead him to believe that she was actually sick.

“I have two words for you,” I told him. “Or maybe it’s actually only one word. But however you spell it, it’s sick breath, and it means she is either sick or on the verge of being sick.”

Jon looked at me like I was a complete nutjob, and asked me what in the world I was talking about.  I explained to him that while I may be lacking in many of the iconic mom-skills like cookie-baking, classroom party-planning and the like, I know my sick breath. In the same way that studies have shown that mothers can tell their own babies from other women’s offspring simply by smell, I can tell when my children are sick or getting sick simply by the way their breath smells. When I give one of my children a snuggle, or sleep next to them, and I notice a certain, completely characteristic and completely identifiable, sickly sweet odor wafting out of one of their mouths, particularly when combined with telltale grumpiness, I know what’s up.

After explaining this to Jon, he told me that this was crazytalk. Jon rarely, rarely doubts me on mothering stuff, but in this case, he said that I sounded like the next thing I would tell him was that I could predict the weather with a divining stick. He became even MORE skeptical when I told him that not only could I pre-diagnose oncoming illness – viruses in particular – via sick breath, but that I can also detect nascent fever in one of the kids by kissing the top of their heads, and that using the same noggin-smooching method, I am able to accurately determine what any of my kids’ temperature is within one degree.

These diagnostic methods have definitely become somewhat less reliable as the older kids have grown beyond elementary school, but  I did correctly predict 13 year old E’s oncoming virus as recently as a few months ago. And with the younger two, ages 3 and eight months, my methods are rock solid.

It turns out that C was indeed kind of sick with some sort of little bug. It never went full blown like G’s did, but she has clearly been puny and a bit under the weather for the past two days. However, Jon remains unconvinced. He believes I just had a lucky guess.

So how about you other mamas? Do you know what I’m talking about with the sick breath? How about the mad fever predicting skillz? Do you have those too? Do you think this is some unexplained aspect of maternal biology or something else? Or do you agree with Jon that I am delusional? Tell me in the comments below.

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