Introducing a new baby to the family pets

Bringing a new baby home is one of the most special and exciting experiences in a parent’s life. But if you’ve got a family pet at home (a.k.a. your “first baby”), you probably have some questions about how to introduce the smallest members of your family to each other. So we asked Brookwood Baptist’s own Dr. Martha McLaughlin, as an OB/GYN, pet lover, and mother, what she recommends when bringing a new baby home to meet the family pets.

“The first thing to know is that the process starts long before you bring the baby home.” Pets generally don’t respond well to sudden, significant changes. And just like in medicine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Start preparing your pets well ahead of time for the best results.

“Exposing your pets to children of all ages is important—both inside and outside your home.” You need to make sure your pets are used to the many stimuli that come with young children: the noise, the smells, the running around like crazy. If you have friends with kids, take your dog to meet them in the park. Or invite them over so your cat can interact with them. The more exposure your pets have beforehand, the less likely they are to feel threatened once you bring baby home.

“Help your pets get used to the idea of not being the center of your attention all the time.” If your pet lives in your lap at home, it could be a difficult transition when that lap is suddenly occupied by an infant at all times. One way to ease them into the transition is by buying a baby doll and holding it in your lap with increasing regularity, so that your pet can get used to you paying attention to something other than them.

“Once you’ve had the baby, but before you bring him or her home, bring home something with the baby’s scent on it.” Pets identify many things by smell, so bringing home the baby’s unique scent will help familiarize them. Grab a blanket or a piece of clothing and bring it home for your pets to sniff, rub on and get used to. Do it in a friendly, playful way so that positive associations are created with the scent.

“Don’t force the pets to interact with the baby.” When Dr. McLaughlin and her husband brought their new baby home, they set the carseat down and proceeded to do their normal routine with the dogs. Once the dogs came back in from going out, they let the dogs sniff and investigate the baby, and “sort of introduce themselves” (under careful supervision, of course). As soon as they got a noseful and decided the baby wasn’t a threat, they left the carseat alone and went about their business. Letting the pets meet the baby on their own terms, in their own time, greatly reduced the stress of this important first introduction.

When it comes to introducing a new baby to the family pet, there’s no magic formula. And there is a lot of information out there on the subject (a whole lot). Do you have any tips for bringing baby home to meet the family pet? Let us know!

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