Most couples become parents to a "furbaby" before adding a newborn to the mix. While technically a pet, this furbaby is loved and treated like first-born child. It's almost like your dog or cat becomes a big sibling when you and your spouse bring home your actual baby.
Other families decide to add a pet to the family soon after having a baby, and still more add a fur-child later down the road. However, many believe there's danger in having a pet and an infant at the same time. But what are these fears based on? A well-trained, sweet-tempered animal not only makes for a wonderful first best friend, but also provides a slew of other benefits for a baby.
Research shows that bringing an infant home into a house that includes a cat or dog positively increases the baby's immune system's ability to fight illness. A study published in 2014 looked at the correlation between infants exposed daily to a pet (cat or dog) and the gut microbiome, most specifically in relation to allergic responses such as asthma. The results? "Microbiome richness and diversity tended to be increased in infants living with pets."
Simply put, babies who grow up around a cat or dog have a healthier gut than infants without pets. A healthier gut means the body can fight off illness easier and is less susceptible to suffering from chronic allergies such as asthma.
Between the ages of birth and three years old, the gut develops the foundation of microbiome that will direct the entire lifespan of gut health. Of course, there will be additional damages and healings done throughout that lifespan, but the foundation is laid by age three. If science points all signs to a positive health effect on gut health, then that should be reason enough to bring home that new puppy.
Pets have also been shown to positively impact human development and influence a child's bonds and social competence. Research has assessed children who lived in a home with a cat or dog from infancy, and found that these children scored highest in the category of empathy. Empathy is not something that can be taught easily, but children naturally grew up more empathetic if a pet was present throughout their infancy and young childhood.
This same research emphasized the importance of a child's relationship and bond with their animal being the key to this empathy. While the presence of a pet may benefit the immune system, it's the actual bond between child and pet that impacts a child's emotions.
If a family is on the fence about having both a pet and human baby, evidence strongly favors raising and supporting both in a loving home. Another study revealed that children who grew up with a pet from infancy ranked their relationship with their pet "higher than certain kinds of human relationship, and the animals featured prominently as providers of comfort, esteem support and confidantes for a secret." What better way to raise a baby than with a true best friend? A supportive, loving dog or cat will love a baby unconditionally.
If further persuasion is needed, parents should know that having a pet instills responsibility in young children, as well as encouraging more physical activity and outside time. This is especially true in homes where the pet is a dog. While having an animal increases the workload and demand on the family, it has been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress levels in children (and adults) who have a strong bond with the animal.
Parents can begin this bond while a baby is still in utero by introducing the pet to baby items and allowing him to hear the baby's heartbeat. Once a baby joins the family, a pet's heartbeat can be recorded and carried inside of a loved stuffed animal as a comfort item. The bond between a child and their pet is undeniably special, and the benefits of beginning this bond from infancy should be proof enough to convince any parent toying with the idea of adding another level of craziness into their home.