Recently, a pregnant woman in one of my online groups was seeking reassurance about how her cats would react to the baby. It took me back to the time before my son Zeke was born.
People asked us if we were going to get rid of our cats. Nobody actually said, “They’re going to suck the baby’s breath,” but they did come up with other scenarios.
Fortunately, my husband was as much of a cat person as I am. Contrary to what other folks might think, our cats were not expendable.
Baby Love vs. Cat Love?
This is not really an issue. “Pregnancy when you have a cat presents some challenges, but don’t worry, none of them are even remotely insurmountable,” observes writer Gary Loewenthal. “You just need a little planning and know-how. Cats and babies have coexisted peacefully for thousands of years.”
So, why do some couples ship their cats off to shelter as soon as they find out they’re expecting? A lot of it is pure ignorance, really. There are still people who believe that somehow the cat has it out for the baby.
It isn’t so. “A timid cat that is over-dependent on you, but hides from other people may become jealous and spray to cover up the scent of the baby,” remarks Messy Beast blogger Sarah Hartwell. “You need to help it become more confident and less dependent upon you well before the birth.”
A devoted cat who joins in human activities will probably have hurt feelings, but is likely to join in caring for baby if you let him. And Ms. Cat-Who-Walks-by-Herself will just go about her business as usual.
You can ease your feline into the new routine before the baby arrives. Let her scope out the crib and other baby paraphernalia.
You can also, according to Loewenthal, bring one of the newborn’s blankets back from the hospital and let the cat get used to the new scent…assuming, of course, that mother and child are in the hospital more than 24 hours. Maternity stays aren’t what they used to be.
This video shows adorable baby and pet introductions, but remember to always supervise the interactions:
Bringing Baby Home
Still, it’s possible that your cat might be a little put out at first. So, if you’re feeling any concern, arrange to have a family member or friend carry the baby into the house. This way, your cat does not perceive you as the Awful Human Who Brought the Intruder in.
The day we brought Zeke home, my sister-in-law met us in the driveway and carried him in. It worked.
Don’t shoo the cat away. The majority of felines aren’t all that interested in babies — although some, in Hartwell’s words, “become self-appointed guardians to the new arrival and will want to watch you as you care for the baby.”
And that is precisely what happened with Zeke and the gang. When he cried that first night, our 3 female cats all hovered around the changing table. Clearly, his cries activated some maternal instinct in them.
Within a short time, Cricket was supervising Zeke’s baths. And Tikvah, the only one of the cats who had ever had kittens, would fetch me whenever she heard him cry. We barely needed the baby monitor.
Life After Baby
Cats will adapt beautifully as long as they know they still matter to you.
Set aside some time for them while the baby’s sleeping. And when people come to see the new arrival, make sure they “pay attention to the cat as well as the baby,” says Hartwell.
“Don’t make Puss feel rejected. The baby is part of his life too, and if he is made to feel part of the baby-raising activities he will be more accepting of the noisy intruder.”
There still seems to be some concern about letting cats sleep in the baby’s room. This was never an issue for us. My husband went so far as to cut a little cat door in the baby gate he built. The cats slept on the braided rug, on the lower changing table shelf and on the old rocket but never went into the crib.
After all, what cat can get his 18-plus hours of sleep lying next to a squirming and sometimes screaming infant?