Introducing cats and babies uses some of the same techniques as cat-to-cat or cat-to-dog introductions. So if you are having a baby, congratulations! Or perhaps a grandchild will visit soon, what fun! In either event, paying attention to your resident cats and providing proper introductions will prepare you, the child, and the cat for a peaceful and even joyful time together.
There is no truth to the old wive's tale regarding cats "sucking the breath" of infants. However, kitties are heat-seeking furry missiles that may enjoy being close to a warm body. That's why they sleep on your lap (or your head!), and may be drawn to sleep near or even on top of an infant. A baby's breath that smells like milk may also prompt a curious cat to take a sniff, which may have given rise in part to the old myth. Certainly cats and babies can and do get along very well, but they should never be left unsupervised since they could unintentionally hurt each other. Supervised interaction is important.
Why Cat Introductions Matter
Remember that your cat was there first. If he has never been exposed to infants, toddlers, or young children and has only been around adults, put yourself in your cat's paws. Compared to an adult owner, these small humans might as well be creatures from mars! Children smell different, sound odd with higher pitched voices, and look weird because they're closer to the cat's level and move differently and erratically. As such, the cat may switch into stranger-danger mode and either become frightened and hide, or defensive and try to drive away the scary creature. Neither option is good.
Before Baby Comes Home
When you are expecting a baby, start preparing the cat before the infant comes home. You have nine months to prepare. Cats love the status quo so when you begin redecorating a room for the nursery, be sensitive to him especially if he's had access to the area before. Make changes gradually. Allow him to investigate the new things so he doesn't feel left out. But be aware that he'll probably LOVE to sleep in the bassinet, or batting the baby's mobile around, so invest in a baby gate to keep him out when you can't supervise. Placing a plastic carpet protector, nub side up, on the mattress will shoo most cats away.
Tape the sound of an infant crying so that your kitty gets an advance warning of what to expect. Cats use sounds to communicate, and infant cries sound similar to kitten distress cries, so it can be upsetting for cats to hear this. Be matter of fact, and if the cat investigates the sound or acts calm, reward with calm praise. Should he become upset, try playing a favorite game with Kitty before you turn on the recording so he's having a fun time and associates the infant cries with a benefit for him.
Begin wearing baby powder or lotion weeks in advance. That way, your cat associates these smells with someone he already knows and loves. You'll need to change your routine once the baby arrives, so try to do some of this in advance so the kitty won't become upset that suddenly he gets no attention and that STRANGER that smells WEIRD and sounds SCARY takes all your time. Excluding your cat from this wonderful, happy time will confuse your cat and leave him sad, stressed, and potentially poised to act out in unacceptable ways, like missing the litter box.
When Baby Arrives
Once the baby is born, bring home something scented with the infant so that your cat has an advance introduction. Remember that cats communicate with scent, and identify friends as smelling similar to them. That's one reason they cheek-rub against you. So it will be helpful that the cat first has a chance to smell the baby on a tee shirt or blanket before he actually sees the infant.
Another trick that may help the cat more quickly accept the baby is to pet your kitty with the baby's socks and then have the infant wear them (fur-side out, of course!). That way, the baby actually smells like the cat, so kitty identifies the infant as part of his family from the get-go.
Cats typically are very good with babies. When you bring home the baby, treat the event in a matter-of-fact manner, and don't make a big deal of the introduction (even though it's momentous, of course!). You want the kitty to understand this is a normal, expected part of his life. Don't force the introduction. But if the cat acts interested, allow him to sniff the baby's foot, perhaps (with that scented sock). By allowing your cat to actually look at, smell, and touch that creature that's so very different, he'll understand there's nothing to fear.
Praise the cat when he behaves in a confident, calm manner. Once the kitty understands that treating the baby like one of the family and in a respectful way is to his advantage, there should be no problem. Perhaps make a special baby-cat time when you're feeding your new baby, and have treats to toss to the cat or a laser-beam toy at the same time. That way, the cat associates great things with the baby's presence.
As the baby grows, you'll of course teach the child to respect the cat, too. Be sure the kitty has a private retreat to escape from reaching toddler hands. Mutual respect and careful introductions grow into a loving bond as your infant grows up alongside your special cat. And that's a purr-fect relationship that will last a lifetime for them both.