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Threat of Cats Smothering Babies - Debunked!

Old Wives' Tale Raises Good Safety Points, But No Longer Red Flags

With five weeks to go, the Ward nursery finally looks like a place a baby could live.

We've assembled the crib and the changing table. We've laid a rug and cushioned a rocking chair. We've even washed, folded and sorted all five loads of clothing into the drawers. (Well, I have.) Sharing this news, coworkers and neighbors of older children have gone giddy over the mention of Dreft, let alone its trademark scent.

No, it's not ill preparation that made me anxious last week, but a threat does still linger in that little, yet-empty room.

I'll take the blame for my husband's fear that Sistercat will suffocate our newborn.

For years I've let this cat cozy up to my neck before I fall asleep. Her scent and  soft fur against my chin lull me right to sleep and have gently stirred me to many promising new days.

Though I protest, Jamie has spent the past two years swiftly pushed her away at any sign of this, insisting the habit needed to be broken. “There's a history of cats 'sucking the wind out of babies,' suffocating them or something,” he said. "She'll end up out on the curb."

And over the months, his fear had become contagious.

Thankfully I'm pleased to report that plenty of research to date (including the use of my all-time favorite mythbusting website, Snopes.com) have only unveiled one news story about a cat suffocating a baby — and tests eventually blamed Sudden Infant Death Syndrome instead. Upon discovery of the ill-fated six-week-old, the cat had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Before SIDS was identified in the 1950's, it was likely the cause of the original old wives' tale, combined with myths of evil cats and black magic.

So there. Sistercat will not join the ranks of those cats shelter-bound at the hands of uneducated pregnant owners. (Or “on the curb,” for that matter.)

Precautionary measures will still be taken. Newborns can't turn over or move their heads, so heat-seeking cats could, in theory, make it difficult for them to breathe. I've never had Sistercat snuggle too close to belabor my air supply, but thankfully our nursery came with a door, so that solves naptime nonetheless.

To prevent jealousy, which isn't fatal to anyone but could be heartbreaking after a decade of treating my cats as children, I'll also be following ASPCA's advice when baby arrives — allowing them time to explore new furniture before establishing off-limit zones, providing a gentle introduction when we come home from the hospital, tossing some used clothing onto the ground for casual investigation, etc. We'll do our best to keep them from feeling neglected.

Of course we've also heard we'll inevitably neglect even ourselves and each other at the beginning. I hope that's not the case, but I know we should all anticipating changes — even Muppet and Sistercat. I can tell they know something is about to change by the way they visit the new nursery, curl up on the new rocking chair, sniff the Dreft. And for months now Sistercat has found ways to gracefully drape herself over my growing belly, rather than my chest, whenever I'm relaxing on the couch.

No, the Ward household can't possibly know yet what the next couple of months will bring. But based on everything I've heard and learned, we should be able to coexist just fine.

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