A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a short workshop with a local animal trainer, specifically for doulas. The goal of the workshop was to teach us a few things to look for while visiting clients homes, and helping them to prepare for a new baby. Here are 5 things I know about introducing your new baby to your pets:
1. It was your pet’s home first
Animals have feelings just like we do. They can feel stress, anxiety, love, anger, and peace. They are your first babies and sudden changes in their way of life can cause unneeded issues. Putting in the extra attention to make the transition easier for them now will make it easier on everyone in the long run. They are your new baby’s older sibling, and just as much care should be taken with them, as you would with a toddler. Many animals are re-homed, or end up in shelters after a new baby arrives, because parents are not prepared for the transition. Most issues can be fixed with a little planning and thought, and everyone can keep their homes.
2. Bringing home baby is NOT exciting
A common mistake made by pet parents is to make baby’s arrival an exciting event. By talking in high pitched voices when introducing baby, and making a big deal of their arrival, your pet can associate baby with play, and that can be a disastrous combination. The first time baby comes home, walk in as normal, with baby in arms, or in the car seat. This is no big deal, just another day. The more calm and casual you are, the more likely your pet will react the same way, and accept baby as just another family member.
3. Smelling the baby blanket is a myth
If your mom is coming to live with you, or you have house guests staying for a week, you don’t get their clothes and bring them to your dog or cat to smell. It’s an unnecessary and confusing step for a pet. When baby comes home, they will recognize baby as another member of the family because baby will already smell like you. Pets are smart. They know what’s up.
4. Behavior issues do not improve after baby
If your pets are over protective, this will only increase once baby arrives. A pet who reacts to visitors by messing in the house or destroying household items will continue to do these things in reaction to a new baby. If your dog is a jumper, think about how that behavior will affect you now that you have a baby in your arms.
5. Hire a professional
Find a local trainer who specializes in family transitions. Have someone come to your home and observe your pets in their normal habitat, when someone new is introduced. A good trainer can help you find ways to calm an anxious pet, curb aggression issues, and even troubleshoot new routines to make bringing home baby a safe, enjoyable time for everyone.
Jenn Leonard is a childbirth educator, labor, sibling and postpartum doula, and owner of Colorado Mountain Doulas Agency.