By Magdalena Nicholson and Suzanna Miller
Let’s talk about pets and babies. We all love our fur babies and it's hard to know how an animal will react when bringing a baby home. We can practice by preparing ourselves and our pet(s) for the baby's arrival.
The best idea is to work with your pet at the beginning of the pregnancy. Letting them sniff baby items like lotion, shampoo and wipes and playing sounds of a baby crying to test reactions is a good start. As you prepare your home leave baby toys and items around and teaching obedience to not play or sleep in these items.
If you have a cat, aluminum foil can often deter them from a bassinet object or crib. If you have a dog, teaching them to walk next to the stroller or not paying attention to the car seat prior to the birth of the baby is a good idea. These simple obedience exercises will provide the pet with the comfort of knowing what to do and what they expect of them.
You probably ask yourself: but how can I introduce my baby to the pet when it is time to go back home? Slowly and without pushing your pet to do something they aren’t comfortable with.
The first thing you can do is to bring baby smell from the hospital or birth center prior to bringing your baby home. This will help pets get familiar with the unique smell of the baby and with the hospital or birth center smell.
A lot of animals don’t like stuff that smells unfamiliar, so giving them the option to explore will make them more comfortable. Some people even board their animals or let their friends watch them, so they have time to adjust to being back home and then help support their pet in the calmer environment.
Second thing is to greet your animal without holding a baby. Your pet may be concerned with where you were and why you are smelling different. They will also want to show you how much they missed you. So, greeting your pet without a baby will give them your full attention and then introduce the baby at their level. We want to protect the baby from any harm and protect the pet from doing any harm unintentionally. Make sure the baby is never on the ground near where pets will be and if they are always supervised.
The last important thing is to find creative ways to include your pet while the baby is awake. You want your pet to connect babies to fun things, happy times. We do not want the pet to associate good without a baby around. Paying less attention to the pet when your baby around also helps the positive association. Providing positive experiences is important in this situation.
Several activities may include: brush your pet, practice simple obedience exercises, for example, keep frozen food dispensing toys handy, playing catch from the bed or couch, asking pet “where is baby” when baby is crying or in another room, and for dogs; retrieving items such as bibs, diapers etc. It can be fun and helpful for some.
These tips will help welcome a baby home when including a pet allowing for a smoother transition. Keep in mind that some things may make your pet uncomfortable (crying baby, nighttime interruptions, etc.). So it is best to expect a reaction and handle it calmly. Giving your pet something to do in a pet zone to take the pet’s mind off the human activity is doing the pet a favor and allows you to focus on the baby.
We need to remember to be intentional, always supervise and have baby, pet, and the whole family safety in mind. If you need to reach out to a friend to take your pet, walk your pet or help care for them, then try to arrange this prior to having the baby. It will help ease your load of responsibilities while keeping the pet’s health and happiness in mind, too. Pets are a magnificent addition to families and will need time to adjust just like everyone else.
Over time, your little one will grow to befriend your household pet and take part in caring and playing for them. Pets are great teachers for children, bringing a whole new perspective to life with animals in the home while providing extra comfort and even an immune boost. Best of luck and congratulations on growing your family!