Introducing Your Baby to Your Pets
Introducing your newborn to your fur babies is an exciting moment, but it is also one that should be well-planned. Some pets respond better than others to new arrivals, especially if your dog or cat considers you to be “their primary person,” and feelings of jealousy get in the way.
Most Pets Need Time to Adjust to a Newborn
Most pets (like people) need time to adjust to a newborn. Even pets that have a history of being great with other babies, or children in your life, may respond surprisingly differently when the baby is part of your household. Be patient with your pets and remember that adjustment periods may happen over and over again as your baby grows. Different stages of your child’s life bring different movements, noises, and behaviors that can start the pet-assimilation process all over again.
Start the introductions long before there is a baby
Keep your pets connected to the process of setting up the nursery, the new toys in the space, and the new items that might be on the floor. Teaching your cat and dog to stay off a blanket on the floor or to differentiate between their toys and the baby’s toys is essential. That way, they have the chance to get used to the new rules and adjustments without associating it entirely with your baby (aka – the invader).
Never let your cat or dog jump up on, sleep in, or inhabit a baby carrier, seat, or crib. These areas should be off limits from the beginning to prevent a potential injury in the future.
Enlist the help of a dog/pet trainer
Who’s the boss in your household? If your dog considers himself/herself the leader of the pack, you don’t have a safe environment for your baby. You need to be confident that your dog will respect your sit/stay/come commands at first voicing. If that isn’t the case, your baby is at risk.
Use your pregnancy as a time to focus on any lapsed dog training and enlist the help of a dog trainer – or take a class with your dog – so you can have faith your pet will heed your commands.
Never leave a baby unattended with a pet
All interactions between your baby and your pets should be carefully monitored. Even if it seems like all is well, new baby skills (reaching, grabbing, pulling, crawling, falling, etc.) can trigger a defensive, and potentially aggressive, response from cats or dogs.
An adult must always be there to intervene so your sweet baby – and your beloved pets – don’t wind up in a compromising, or potentially dangerous situation.
Introduce pet helpers in the weeks prior to birth
The idea that you’ll be able to get out and walk the dog with the baby is great, and it may happen. However, you may find that you are too tired, or that a longer healing time makes that impossible. Maybe your baby is exceptionally sensitive to the elements or to outside sounds, or you may feel that it’s hard to safely walk the dog and the baby together.
Instead, enlist the help of a dog walker or some willing friends, and have them come to take your dog on walks weeks before the baby arrives. If you are able to walk the dog during the postpartum period as originally planned – that’s great. If, however, you find you can’t uphold his/her normal schedule, it will be easy to make the transition to other walkers.
Have a cat that loves to live on your lap? Get a pet bed and set it up next to you on the couch or bed and re-train the cat to get pets from the cozy bed so that practice is in place when the baby is the one on your lap.
Walk the dog with the stroller but not the baby
Along those same lines, take your dog on walks with the stroller before the baby’s arrival. That way, you can get used to leashes, stroller breaks, curbs, corners, and any new rules that need to be established before they compromise anybody’s safety.
Bring a baby item home before baby
Bring a well-washed extra baby blanket or onesie and wrap your baby up in it – or dress him/her in it – for a significant amount of time. Then send someone home with it and put it around your pet(s) so s/he can smell it. We say, “well-washed” because the idea is to have the garment/blanket smell like your home and laundry (rather than the “new smell) with the addition of your new baby’s smell. That way, the baby’s smell will be recognized when the baby is brought home.
Enlist the help of the family
Giving the pet(s) extra love and support is a great role for other members of the family. Husbands and siblings can all feel left out when a new baby arrives. That said, the reality is that Mama’s time is going to be consumed with feeding and holding the newborn for quite some time. Bringing everyone together and creating a schedule so that pet routines are honored, and everyone is feeling lots of love, will help de-escalate feelings of jealousy that can arise.
The key is to keep everyone feeling safe, loved, and protected. By preparing ahead of time, setting clear boundaries, and exposing your pets to all things baby as much as you can ahead of time, you’ll be able to smooth the introduction between your newborn and your pets. Soon, they’ll all learn there is enough love to go around.