As you bring your baby home from the hospital for the first time, you want to keep her safe and healthy around your pet. You may feel anxious about how your pet will respond to your family’s newest addition.
Here are some tips to think about before bringing your baby home.
Before your baby comes home
- If you are still pregnant, it may be helpful to teach your dog some basic obedience skills, which will help his behavior when your baby comes home. Introduce new rules as needed. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture, or to jump on you when you walk in the door as you hold your baby, introduce that rule now.
- Your schedule will drastically change once your baby is home and you may not be able to feed or walk your pet when he expects. Try changing your pet’s feeding or walking schedule beforehand. For example, if you regularly feed your pet at 7am sharp, try feeding him at a different time in the morning. Or it may be easier to purchase an automatic feeder which will dispense food at a certain time every day.
- Take a piece of clothing or a blanket with your baby’s scent on it and put it in your pet’s bed so he can get used to the smell.
Once you and your baby are discharged
- Have everyone else go in the door first so your pet can express his excitement at seeing people. Then put a leash on him just in case he does not have a good first reaction to your baby.
- Slowly introduce your pet to your baby. Try holding your baby and allowing your pet to sniff her feet to get her scent.
- Never leave your pet unsupervised near your baby.
- Keep your pet out of your baby’s sleeping area to reduce the risk of hair or pet allergens irritating your baby’s airway.
- Once your baby is old enough to lie outside of her crib, place her on a blanket or mat to keep pet fur and dust from irritating your baby during playtime. Keep your pet away from your baby during floor time.
- Watch for aggressive behavior from your pet. Get help from an animal behavior expert if you see your pet acting out toward your baby.
Besides your pet being a loving companion, some research suggests that a baby living in a home with a dog has fewer colds, ear infections and the need for antibiotics in their first year of life than babies raised in pet-free homes. The research suggests that homes with cats may have health benefits for babies too. However, researchers think that dogs provide more exposure to dirt and allergens, which strengthen a baby’s immune system.
Although there may be health benefits, you need to keep the negative health effects in mind, too. Furry pets and even short-haired animals are the most common and powerful causes of allergy symptoms. And cats tend to be more allergenic than dogs. My brother was mildly allergic to our dog, but he loved him so much that my parents did not want to give away our dog. We made sure to brush our dog’s fur often and vacuum frequently to decrease my brother’s exposure to the allergens.
If your child has an allergy to your pet, keep the animal out of her bedroom, sweep, dust and vacuum frequently. You can also fit your forced-air heating or air-conditioning system with a central air cleaner, which will remove a lot of the pet allergens from your home. If you are not sure whether your pet is the cause of your child’s allergy, ask your child’s pediatrician about allergy testing.
Do you have any tips to share? How did it go when you brought your baby home?
Have questions? Text or email us at Askus@marchofdimes.org. A Health Education Specialist is available to answer your questions.