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Is my toddler ill, fussy because I’m pregnant?

Obaloluwa had suddenly taken ill. As the days went by, there was no sign of improvement. Rather, there was an alarming rise in his temperature, thus manifesting symptoms of an ailment. From his mother’s observation, it was unlike him to be ill and so fussy.

Obaloluwa’s mother, being pregnant with her second baby, could not manage her son’s deteriorating health condition and decided to head to the hospital. On getting to the hospital, the boy was treated and subsequently regained his strength. It was not long after that the same condition took him back to the hospital. At that point, Obaloluwa’s mother’s friends and neighbours told her not to get  scared as her son was reacting to her pregnancy.

Mrs Titilayo Olalekan, a mother of one who had recently put to bed, said that from her experience, a child reacts when his or her mother gets pregnant with another child.

“Reaction varies from child to child irrespective of age. It is a usual thing that happens to mothers who are pregnant with another baby. Some children react at the early stage of their mother’s pregnancies, some at the middle while others react towards the time the mother is about to put to bed,” she said.

She added that in her own case, her son started having high temperature and also wanted to be around her at all times. She posited that this, in a way, was a sign that the boy knew a child would come who might shift his mother’s attention from him.

While mothers believe that there is a connection between their toddler’s behaviour and a growing pregnancy, one is forced to ask if there a medical explanation to a child’s sensitivity to his or her mother’s pregnancy? A medical practitioner at  Goshen Botakehd  Hospital, Jebba, Kwara State, Mrs  Veronica Ibiniyi,  says, “Whether  it is medically believed or not, whenever a pregnant woman notices her child’s health condition is not okay, she should take him or her to the hospital.

“From my experience, people insinuate a lot of things when a child is reacting to his or her mother’s pregnancy. In spite of being in the medical profession, I have found myself in such situation as you have mentioned. People around me prescribed drugs when I was nursing my twins. I did not object to their suggestions, but simply thanked them. But instead of using the drugs they suggested to me, I took them to the hospital for treatment and also prayed,” Mrs Ibiniyi said.

She, however, advised that when a child falls ill during his or her mother’s pregnancy, the parents should visit the hospital for diagnosis and proper treatment so that their minds will be at rest.

Dr Adejumoke Idowu Ayede of the Pediatrics Department, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, says: “When a woman is pregnant and she has a young child, so many things will change. Some of these changes include the fact that her attention to the child may drastically reduce; she may not breastfeed the baby like before and you know young children in particular like attention. So, if the attention drops, of course, they react. This is a baby the mother has been cuddling, breastfeeding every time or has been giving anything he or she wanted at any time. Now, the mother is pregnant. So many things will change in the mother. The baby is bound to pick it. Once the baby picks it, he or she will definitely and immediately react. He will recognise that his mother has not been doing what she used to do before. Apart from that, the woman’s general character will change. She can become very touchy, more tired and some even stop breastfeeding. Some believe that when they are pregnant, they should stop breastfeeding, particularly if they have not stopped. There’s no way a child will not generally react to that. So, it has psychological and nutritional components.”

But is there something a woman can do to prevent this from happening to a child?

Dr Ayede said: “Let’s start with a child that is still being breastfed. We encourage the mother to continue to breastfeed because if she suddenly stops, so many things can happen. The child can become more ill; he may not be able to tolerate food and the risk of infection will be higher because of sudden reduction in the level of immunity. Then, we have to reassure the mother because she may be ignorant. Some even believe that if they give breast milk to that child, it can affect the child. There are so many wrong beliefs. At that point, we have to counsel the mother to feed well because she is feeding three people. She will continue to breastfeed for some time, nurture the baby in her womb and also nurture herself. We need to counsel her on nutrition. We also need to counsel her on rest. Because she is breastfeeding, she may be working, if she is not resting enough, she will become unnecessarily touchy as if it’s the child that asked her to get pregnant. Of course, we also need to counsel the father particularly if there is short duration between the first pregnancy and the second one. It has to be a family-centered affair. But if it’s an older child that is already off breast milk, maybe like a three or four-year-old child who has already started school, the effect will not be much. The only difference will be in the attention which is a natural phenomenon.”

“There is no woman that will get pregnant that will not reduce attention to an extent to the other child. So, we cannot shy away from that. The degree of the actions also varies depending on the previous detachment from the mother. If it’s a mother that was not very available, who wasn’t breastfeeding before, or a case that it has been the grandmother that has been taking care of him or, the woman being available occasionally, the baby is not attached. So, the degree of attachment will also determine what will happen. If it’s a child that is usually breastfed, of course if there is any gap between that child and the mother, the child will feel it.

“It’s just like an adult who has a much attached friend and suddenly that friend withdraws, you will miss him or her because there is a psychological part of human being and also a social part. Children appreciate the social environment. Right from conception, they appreciate social environment. When they are born, they appreciate same environment. Their appreciation of their social environment is first noticed around the age of six weeks when they start smiling when you smile at them. Not the involuntary smiles that usually occur before six weeks, but the respondent smile (like you smile to baby and it smiles back at you).This will let you know that children appreciate social environment — the interaction of human beings around them; the way they play with them, they appreciate. If a six-week-old child can appreciate a social environment, how much more a one-year-old. Those are the basic factors and they are real.”

Dr Ayede says further that if one talks about the medical aspect of this issue, it’s not sickness alone “It is all-encompassing, including the psychosocial, psychological and the social environment. So, if a child’s reaction is looked at this way, it has a medical explanation. But if the child is properly nurtured, the mother is properly counselled, family centered care is given, a child may not feel much. Particularly if the child is little, for instance at six months, and the mother is pregnant, once the environment is properly managed, the child will not feel much.”