A baby is on the way. It’s an exciting time with a to-do list that’s likely a mile long. An important task you’ll want on that list is to prepare siblings and pets so that introducing a new baby to them goes as smoothly as possible.
When preparing for a baby, it’s best to start early
Jennifer Paul, PhD, recommends starting subtle changes in routine for siblings and pets a few months before the baby arrives.
“Getting everyone used to certain things ahead of time allows for gradual change, rather than an unexpected upset of their entire world,” says Dr. Paul, a licensed clinical psychologist and Clinical Director of Healthy Expectations Perinatal Mental Health Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “For example, let’s say there’s a sibling who likes to be carried all the time. That’s something that probably won’t be able to happen as much anymore once the new baby arrives.”
For pets, things are going to look and smell different. You may need to decrease their access to areas around the house, and certain toys will be off limits. Setting boundaries in advance, and consistently monitoring those boundaries, can help.
Introducing baby to sibling
When thinking about how you’re going to go about introducing baby to sibling, books are a great place to start. They give kids an age-appropriate understanding of what’s going on with mom and what it means to be a big sibling. A general search for “sibling books” provides several options.
Additionally, try including siblings in preparation activities. Picking out toys and clothes for the baby or helping with nursery decoration can keep them engaged and excited.
“It can be helpful to relate these activities back to siblings’ own experiences,” says Dr. Paul. “For instance, you might say something like, ‘These are the things we did to prepare for you when you were born, and now we’re going to do them together for the new baby.’”
When the baby finally arrives, Dr. Paul says, it often does become all about the baby. Preparing a “from the baby” gift for siblings can help make that adjustment easier. And parents should make it a point to spend special, one-on-one time with their older children. Even 5 or 10 minutes can have a positive impact on siblings’ acceptance of the new baby.
Introducing baby to dog and cat
Pets, like kids, can benefit from a few months of baby preparation. Think ahead to when you’ll be introducing baby to dog. Can the dog obey general commands like “sit,” “stay” and “go to place”? Similarly, think ahead to when you’ll be introducing baby to cat. Can the cat tolerate having its paws or tail touched? Use positive reinforcement, such as a treat or praise for a job well done, to gradually correct any behaviors you think are problematic.
“It’s also helpful to allow your pets to adjust in advance to the sights, sounds and smell of a baby,” says Dr. Paul. “Use your phone to play clips of babies crying. If you take your dog on walks, think about taking the empty stroller with you so the dog gets used to it. And if you’re going to use a baby lotion, have that scent around with a baby blanket and some clothing items for cats and dogs to sniff.”
When it’s time for pet to meet baby, create a calm and relaxed space. Start from a distance to allow for some adjustment to the actual sights, sounds and smells of the baby. Then gradually work toward more direct interaction.
For dogs, try sitting on the couch and holding the baby in your arms, while your partner — or someone else your dog is familiar with — has the dog on a leash and brings them in from the next room. Speak in a warm and loving tone, as you would any other time, and allow the dog to sniff the baby’s feet. Give praise for good behavior.
This exercise can work the same way for cats, but it might be easier to allow the cat to approach on its own.
Continuing these short interactions over an extended period will allow the pet time to become comfortable with the new baby.