Could there be a rush to adopt pets for newborn parents? It may sound counterintuitive to add a pet to your young family when expecting a baby, but the latest research shows a correlation between fewer respiratory illnesses and ear infections in infants in households with pets, particularly dogs.
A study released in Pediatrics followed 397 children in Finland from 2002-2005. Infants who had pets in the home had 44% fewer ear infections and were 29% less likely to receive antibiotics during their first year. Overall, babies with pets in the home were 31% more likely to be healthy in their first year than infants without a dog. Cats in the home were less protective with 6% of infants more likely to be healthy than babies from cat-free homes.
Sterile Isn't Always Better
The reason for this correlation is not entirely clear, but the evidence does point to the idea that it isn't good to keep babies in overly sterile environments. The first year provides a training ground for developing immune systems to discern between friendly bacteria and dangerous pathogens. The theory is that pets introduce small, manageable exposures to microbes that strengthen the immune system. Additionally, infants in overly clean environments may have immune systems that begin attacking benign substances, hence the uptick in allergies.
This theory may explain why infants exposed to dogs that spent considerable time outdoors fared the best of all the babies in the study as these dogs may be bringing in microbes from the soil on their fur and paws. This may also hint as to why cats were less protective in providing helpful microbes as they tend to be fastidious self groomers. I have not seen if there was any data on whether the cats in the study were indoor or outdoor cats.
As if moms don't have enough to do already...
Does this mean you should rush to adopt a pet for your baby? As a mother who questioned my own sanity in considering that same question with several youngsters underfoot, I would say, definitely yes! My reasoning was more pragmatic. I was already in the trenches dealing with various body fluids and sleepless nights, so why not get it all over with together? Plus, I'm a firm believer in pets and children teaching each other how to be good citizens with increased empathy and behavioral skills.
While this is a personal choice for each family, we can all rest assured that it is not necessary to give up a pet because of a baby joining the family. I know my grandmother worried about my cat introducing germs to my baby back in the old days (that baby is now 17!) and this information would have been helpful to allay her fears. And I wouldn't have waited as long as I did to adopt a dog had I known how important that first year window is for developing a healthy immune system. And now that I think about it, the boys who were raised alongside the dogs had healthier first years than their dog-free sisters. I don't think I ever had to go digging for that nasty bulb syringe once with the boys. Ahhh... those were the days!
Did you raise kids along with pets? Would you have any advice for a new mom-to-be? Monica would appreciate any insights. :)
"I Love You Too Buddy" photo courtesy of Fernando Garcia.