Brittny Drye spent hours playing YouTube videos of a baby crying while she was pregnant, but it wasn’t to prep her body for baby. Drye’s 11-year-old cat, Scout, was about to become a big brother, and the founder of Love, Inc. wanted to make sure her fur baby and her “real” baby would get along when she introduced the two.
Raising kids in a house full of pets has gotten a giant thumbs up from the scientific community. Dogs and cats can do everything from helping babies develop healthy immune systems and reducing the chance that they’ll develop allergies to helping kids develop empathy.
But first they have to meet, right?
Here are some ways to facilitate a smooth first interaction between your beloved pet and your newborn baby.
Don’t stop at babyproofing.
You don’t want your pet learning to navigate a home that looks totally new at the same time they’re adjusting to a new arrival. That means some animal-proofing action should begin as soon as you’ve got a sense of where baby is going to be spending most of their sleeping hours.
If you plan to let your pets roam free throughout your home, set up the bassinet, changing table, and the like as soon as possible. Let Fluffy explore, sniffing the furniture so she can get used to the new layout while it’s still baby-free.
If you plan to set down some firm boundaries, put up baby gates or start closing doors weeks before baby’s arrival to help your pet transition. In addition to barriers, you’ll want to work on commands at the door to the baby’s nursery or your bedroom so they’ll become accustomed to you warning them away from the threshold.
Planning to move your pet out of your bed? Invest in a brand new dog or cat bed and start getting them used to their new sleeping arrangements ahead of time.
Piling on the Stuff
Babies come with a whole lot of gear, and the best time to figure out how to use it all is before they actually arrive. Side benefit to trying things out before they show up? You’ll be getting your four-legged friend familiar with it all, too.
If you have a dog (or even a cat) who joins on you regular walks, you can add the stroller to the mix on your next few trips around the neighborhood. They’ll get used to sharing your attention, and by the time you’re ready to nestle baby inside, you’ll be a total boss at opening and closing your stroller.
Next, grab a baby doll and some of the blankets from your baby shower to practice your swaddling technique. Walking around the house and perching on the couch with a “baby” in your arms will get your Fluffy used to your arms being full. This is another chance to practice commands that you can use if you need your jumping dog to stay down when you’re sitting with a real baby in your arms or your curious cat to stop pawing during nursing or snuggles.
Make some noise.
Babies make a lot of noise. It’s nature’s way of ensuring they can alert their parents that they need diaper changes, food, and someone to hold them close. But cats and dogs are both sensitive to sounds—more sensitive than most humans. Animals who are used to a home without that type of noise can be particularly stressed by the sudden introduction of a crying child in what up to this point felt like their environment.
This is where a little old-fashioned exposure therapy can make all the difference. Take a page out of Drye’s book and get your buddy used to baby noises in the house. YouTube videos, visits from friends’ babies, and even movies with noisy babies can do the trick.
The nose knows.
While you’re homing in on your pet’s senses, don’t forget to consider their nose. Dogs in particular relate pleasure with the scent of their owners, so take advantage of that by adding baby scents to your body pre-baby. You can borrow baby’s lotion for your after-shower routine or try out baby shampoo (hey, you need to get used to it yourself!)
Start washing your clothes in the soon-to-be baby’s detergent, and do the same for any animal bedding or toys that you send through the laundry.
Once baby’s born, ask a friend or partner to take one of the blankets your newborn has been snuggling in at the hospital home to your pet so they can sniff it and begin to get used to the scent of their new sibling before you make the actual face-to-face introduction.
Keep calm and carry on.
Putting in the work ahead of time will make your pet feel less like they’re being replaced and more like they’re a part of your changing life. And when it’s finally time for that first face-to-face, your calming presence can make all the difference.
Just remember: Don’t put too much pressure on anyone—your pet or yourself. Sparky may or may not be interested, and that’s okay. Showing them plenty of love and attention, at least the sort of love you showed pre-baby and as much attention as you can give for the time being, is key to making sure your pets don’t feel abandoned in favor of the new baby.
Soon, baby will be big enough to learn all the fun that comes with having an animal companion around their home and in their heart.