I remember my first prenatal yoga class like it was yesterday. At the start of every class we would introduce ourselves and have a topic of the week to talk about openly. The topic at the first class I attended was “fear”. “Do you have any fears about pregnancy or birth? Maybe you have fears about what life will be like after baby is born? What comes to mind for you?” my yoga instructor asked. All I could think about at the time were my pets. What if I was going to have to get rid of them because they didn’t like the baby? Would jealousy cause them to harm my precious newborn baby? Would their health decline because I wouldn’t have as much time for them? Would there be days that I was so sleep deprived that I would forget to feed them? We went around the room, and before I was done processing all these thoughts, it was my turn to speak. I barely got the words out, as I was holding back tears. “How my pets will do with baby” I stuttered. Up til this point, my pets (and my husband of course 🙂 ) have been my entire world. Add in all those lovely pregnancy hormones, and you have a big bellied woman in some yoga pants sobbing over how her pets will react to the new addition.
This may seem silly to some, but for me, it was huge. You see, I am probably one of the biggest animal lovers you will ever meet. My whole life up until this point has been raising and caring for animals of all kinds. Now I was about to have a human baby of my very own, and there were heaps of fears, nerves, and excitement that came with. My pets were just one of my main fears with bringing baby home. I knew I couldn’t just put this fear in the back of my mind. My husband and I needed to do everything we could to prepare our pets for baby, and here is how we did it.
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First, I must mention that if you have a dog, I highly recommend the book “Good Dog, Happy Baby,” written by dog trainer, Michael Wombacher. My mother in-law bought us this book, and it proved to be especially helpful. This book is filled with excellent advice and detailed training exercises to prepare dog for baby. If your dog is not responding to the exercises in this book or will not follow commands, I highly suggest consulting a licensed dog trainer.
Our dogs hadn’t been around young children or babies that often. Barely ever, actually. They had been around my little nephew a few times, but that was about the extent. So, even though we couldn’t get them around babies all that often, we made sure they were familiar will all the sounds and objects that came with a baby. We would play baby noises on our phones at least once a day while I was pregnant. Baby was getting to hear all the dogs’ lovely loud noises in the womb, why not let the dogs hear what baby will sound like? We played baby cries, laughing, screaming. All the good stuff. It is a good thing we did this too, because one of our dogs wasn’t very fond of it at first. Or maybe it was just because the noise was coming out of our phones…hard to tell. We let our dogs check out all the diapers, toys, books, and baby clothes. Our corgi had plenty of time to learn the difference between his toys and baby’s toys. Now we are having a good time trying to teach baby the difference.
We also took each of our dogs on walks with the stroller to get them used to walking next to it. We sure looked silly walking with an empty stroller, but I think people figured out what we were doing based on my enormous stomach. 😉 It took a few times for our dogs to get used to it, but now we go on plenty of walks with baby in stroller, and the dogs do great. Plus, baby thinks it’s absolutely hilarious watching the dogs walk next to her. The dogs and hubby & I get exercise, and baby gets entertained. Win win for everyone. This brings up my next point on how important exercise is.
With a newborn, it can be difficult to find the time to exercise your pets (and yourself), as your time is basically absorbed by feedings, poopy diapers, laundry, and caring for everyone in the house. But even just 10 minutes a day will make a big difference. Be sure to keep it low key at first for yourself though. Allow your body time to recover. I mean, you did just bring another human being into the world. When our baby got a little older, and I was getting back to normal, sometimes it was nice to go on a walk alone with the dogs while hubby watched the baby. My dogs are “mommy dogs,” and I think that alone time was important for them and for myself. If you and your significant other absolutely cannot find the time, hire a dog walker, look into doggie daycare, or if you have local family and friends, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. When dogs don’t get enough exercise, they tend to release all that pent up energy out in destructive and sometimes even harmful ways. This is even more true with high-energy breeds, such as Huskies or Jack Russells. Your home will be a much safer and happier environment if everyone is getting the exercise they need.
Another key to creating a safe environment is to make sure that everyone has their own separate space to call their own. This is important for dogs and cats. All of our animals each have their own bed. One of my dogs enjoys his kennel, so he always has access to it. Our other dog enjoys hanging out on the porch. We keep the cat beds up on a window sill. The dogs can’t get to them, and neither can small children. The cats also have access to the basement, so they can escape whenever they need to.
Along with having separate spaces for your pets, it is also important to determine ahead of time if there are going to be designated no-pet areas. If you aren’t going to allow the pets into the nursery or allow pets to sleep in your room when baby is sleeping in there, then be sure to set up some baby gates a few months before you are due, and start the new rule. This way it’s not a huge shock to them when baby comes home with you, and they are less likely to associate the change with baby. If you have cats (or maybe even a small dog), have the crib, Pack N Play, or whatever you plan on using for baby when shes sleeping, set up by the third trimester, and start making sure the cats know that they are off-limits. This took quite awhile to get through to our cats. They were under the impression that we went out and purchased them some nice big beds just for them. Coolest cat parents ever. Or at least so they thought.
We were cool enough to make care arrangements for them during the birth. If you are having a hospital birth (or maybe even a home birth), be sure to line up someone reliable to care for your pets during the time that you are away. If it’s possible, have dad take home a hat or onesie that baby had been wearing, and bring it home the day before your discharged to allow your pets to get familiar with babies scent. When coming home, it may be good for mom to come in first without baby to say hi to the pets. I’m sure they’ll be overly excited that mom is back home. Then have dad come in a minute or two after with baby. And remember, don’t be nervous. Animals can sense that and will feed off it.
Under close supervision, allow your pets to see and smell baby. It’s important to respect your pets. If they don’t want to be close to baby, don’t force it. Most cats tend not to want anything to do with baby, at least for a little while. As baby gets older, respect of the pets will become of bigger importance, as baby may pull their hair or tail or scream in their face. Start from the very beginning, teaching “nice touch,” and pull baby away if they are not being gentle, if they are being too loud, or if your pet seems annoyed in any way.
Lastly, and most importantly, never EVER leave a baby or small child alone or unsupervised with an animal. No matter how big of a part of our family they are, they are and will always be animals. They have natural instincts, and even though there is always a reason for a bite, we cannot predict what will create a valid reason in the dog’s (or cat’s) mind. In reality, we cannot supervise our children every single second, so use baby gates and play pens to your advantage. Your house may look like it’s straight out of a Rugrats episode, but at least baby will be safe. Follow these tips, prepare your pets for baby’s arrival, and create a safe and happy environment for baby, your pets, and yourself.
What About You?
How are you preparing your pets for baby? Did you enjoy this post? I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment or share this post with your expectant mama friends.
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