Will My Cat Smother My Baby?
Photo by jeniphur99
Hello, wise and very smart Amy!
I am seven weeks pregnant with my very first baby and my husband and I are so so excited. And, obviously, being only seven weeks along means I have TONS of time to get things ready. But I’m kind of a planner, and I’m afraid that being pregnant is turning me into a worrier as well. So here’s what I’m worried about (aside from starting every sentence with a conjunction, that is).
I’m already thinking about how we’re going to deal with having a baby in the house and having two cats. More specifically, how we will prevent the cats from smooshing and smothering the baby while s/he’s sleeping. (At this point in time, we’re planning to have the baby sleep in a crib in a room across the hall from our bedroom. I’m not necessarily against keeping the baby in our room at night, so if that seems to be a good option later on, maybe we’ll go with that.) Our cats are not so good with being trained. We’ve tried different training methods with them before–to prevent furniture scratching, jumping on the countertops, things like that–like squirting with water and sudden loud noises. But nothing seems to work. These cats are too smart and crafty, and they know that it’s just us squirting the water and making the noises. I don’t even want to know what kind of trouble they get into when we’re not home.
My thought is that before we buy a crib, we need a plan, so hopefully the cats will associate the deterrent with the crib, not with us. I’ve heard about some kind of crib cover that is like a mosquito cover for picnic food. A friend told me about some kind of mats that give a small electric shock when pets step on them–possibly those could go in the crib to keep the cats away (pre-baby, of course)?? I adore my cats, but I would give them up in a heartbeat if I thought my baby wasn’t going to be safe around them.
Amy, you have pets, and one of them is even a cat! So on to my question: Did you take any steps of precaution to keep Max off Noah’s and Ezra’s faces while they were sleeping? Do you have any suggestions on how to keep pets and babies apart without constant round-the-clock supervision? I hear sleep is hard enough to come by during the first few weeks of a baby’s life, and I don’t want to be on pet patrol!
Thank you so much!
Oh, goodness. You poor thing. I don’t want this to sound condescending or anything but WHO IS TELLING YOU THIS NONSENSE?
This. The cat smothering the baby thing? Is an old wives’ tale. Been pretty much thoroughly, soundly debunked. Like it says here. And here. The one “famous case” of a cat smothering a six-week-old in London turned out to be SIDS, though the original story has stuck around since people love having their old urban legends “proven” and tend to turn a blind eye to the follow-up stories.
The legend has been traced back to the days of the witch-hunts and related hysteria, when cats were somehow linked to witches. So you had evil, murdering cats sucking the breath out of good Christian babies on purpose. When civilization outgrew its collective fear of witches, we still kept the legend around, morphing it to suit the day. Soon it was jealousy that prompted the killing, then the smell of milk on the baby’s breath, and then at some point it switched from breath-sucking to smothering. It’s still just as silly, when you think about it. Do your cats regularly plant themselves across your face? (I mean, mine’s a huge nighttime cuddler, but I’ve never woken up choking on cat hairs.) Do they go bonkers over the smell of milk and try to curl up in your cereal bowl or coffee mug? Probably not, considering that most adult cats don’t actually drink milk, at least not outside of cartoons.
OF COURSE, all this is not to say that pets and babies automatically go together like peas and carrots. OF COURSE, you want to supervise any interaction, and keep cats out of the crib, but honestly? It is so very unlikely that your cats will even WANT to be in the crib WITH the baby. Cats, in general, don’t choose noisy, squalling, weird-smelling things as their pillows or bedmates. When your baby is in the crib and you are not in the room, shoo the cats out, close the door, crisis averted. There is no need for worry or electro-mats or special crib-cages (those are really intended for older children who can climb out of their cribs and for parents who aren’t ready for the TERRIBLE FREEDOM of a toddler bed. Update: crib tents have since been recalled and are no longer for sale in the US.). If you really can’t let go of the worry, go for a crib with high, narrow slats and bars and place it where it’s not near any other furniture (changing table, etc.) that the cats can use as a launching pad.
But really, this IS a worry you can let go of. My cat has never once attempted to jump in a crib or bassinet, either empty or chock full of milk-breath baby. He does enjoy naps on the changing pad, but that’s about it. When we brought Noah home, he took one disdainful sniff and walked away in complete disinterest. I don’t think he even realized Ezra existed until five months ago, even though Max was right there in our bed, sleeping across my feet throughout all our early months of co-sleeping.
(We tried so hard to keep off the bed altogether, I swear. We bought him a new bed [haaa!], we tried getting him to sleep with my in-laws, repeated firm nudges off the edge, locking him in the hall [not so great with a yowwwwwwwwwwwly Siamese], and nothing worked. Luckily he never came within four square feet of the baby — all he wanted was his regular corner near the foot of our bed, and eventually we caved and let the poor thing have it.)
The real “danger” of cats + baby is really later on, once your baby gets older and grabby and mobile. Again, most cats will be faster and figure out where they can hide, but they may also give the baby a sharp swat before they flee. Again, supervision is key, particularly if you know your cat has a grouchy or skittish temperament. It’s also never too early to model proper pet handling with your baby — take his or her hand and pet the cats the right way. “Gentle, gennnnntle.” My cat is kind of nuts, because not only does he tolerate Ezra’s twisty excited fur-grabbing (the sight of the cat sends him in an almost psychotic state of glee), he actually seeks it out. I’m not about to leave him in charge of babysitting, Good Dog Carl style, but I’m happy to say that I’ve never, ever once felt that my pets pose any danger to my children, or vice versa.
As for preparing your pets in a general sense, read this. When it comes to introducing them to the baby, read this. That’s about it, plus telling whoever is feeding you urban legends as parenting advice to go suck breath elsewhere.
Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s weekly Pregnancy Calendar. You won’t regret it.