Stapleton paints an idyllic picture of children playing in pocket parks, dogs running alongside their owners, and cats soaking up the sun in windowsills. But how do we get to that utopia where a thirtysomething with aging pets can bring home baby and not have to worry about completely disrupting a beloved pet’s life or putting a newborn in harm’s way? If your pet was your first-born baby and now a real baby is entering the picture, it can take some time for everyone to adjust. And, while you might think you are prepared, there are numerous myths regarding children and pets—especially babies—that you need to know before bringing baby home.
- MYTH: You cannot scoop a litter box if you are pregnant because of the risk of toxoplasmosis.
TRUTH: Although toxoplasmosis is a risk for an unborn child, women are more likely to contract this disease by handling raw meat or digging in the garden than from a cat. More than 60 million Americans carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but healthy immune systems prevent illness. Although the risk of acquiring this parasite is low, be sure to wear disposable gloves and wash your hands after dealing with dirty litter boxes, whether you’re pregnant or not. (Don’t worry ladies, we won’t tell your husbands about this!)
- MYTH: Animals can cause children to develop allergies.
TRUTH: During a research project completed in 2016, stool samples from 308 American babies were studied to determine the association between “germs” from pets and the people who live with them. The results confirmed what scientists suspected: Babies with the highest risk of developing allergies and asthma lacked exposure to pets and had a less diverse group of microbes in their gut. Additional studies have shown that children exposed to pets within the first three months of life are at significantly lower risk of developing allergies to animals, dust mites, ragweed, and grass. Although we may hate when Fido tracks mud and weeds into the house, that diverse bacteria exposure from an animal plays an important role in a healthy immune system.
- MYTH: Cats are attracted to the “milky scent” of babies and try to suck the breath out of their lungs.
TRUTH: Even though cats may have devilish quirks at times, they are not trying to suck out your baby’s life. Your cat may be interested in this tiny, squeaky creature, and she may want to snuggle in the warmth of the crib, but she is not at all concerned about smothering your child. Nevertheless, accidents can occur if your cat curls up with your baby, and your child cannot move her head away to avoid suffocation. Be safe: Don’t allow your pet to snuggle your baby while sleeping.
- MYTH: Your baby will be treated as “part of the pack.”
TRUTH: Babies. Are. Terrifying. Not just to new parents, but to pets as well. They are loud and smelly. They flail their limbs about without warning. All this new behavior can be unsettling to your pet. In the months prior to welcoming a new baby home, acclimate your pet to all the unusual things that are part and parcel of having a child. Set up new furniture within the nursery, and allow your dog or cat to explore. In the weeks before baby’s arrival, play baby noises at increasing volume while rewarding your furry friend with lots of treats and attention. She will come to associate those odd noises with good things. Before bringing baby home from the hospital, let your pet smell an item that has your baby’s scent, like a hospital blanket or hat. Once home, reward your pet for every positive interaction she has with your baby to further strengthen a pleasant association. Giving your pet special treats, attention, and toys when you interact with your child will help foster a lifelong bond.
- MYTH: Only aggressive pets bite.
TRUTH: Even the sweetest of pets can bite if accidently startled or injured. About 75 percent of dog bites that occur are from a family or friend’s dog. Children are frequently the victims of dog bites, often because they do not yet understand proper animal interactions and behavior. Never leave your child unsupervised with a pet. Even if your pet seems to tolerate a child bouncing up and down on her back, pulling her ears and tail, or stealing bones from her mouth, never allow this treatment. You never know when a pet may reach her tipping point. Don’t ignore the warning signals your dog is sending to you as her protector and guardian. Keep in mind that any pet can bite at any time, whether she is scared, hurt, or cornered.
Pets bring many benefits, and, with basic training and socialization, they’ll provide years of love for you and your children. If you’re still unsure about introducing your pet and baby, seek out the help of a certified animal trainer to help ease the introduction.