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The Cat's Meow: Do Cats Really Steal the Breath from Babies?

From Kimberly L. via AOL

"Until the day she died, my mother was convinced that cats needed to be kept away from newborn babies or they would steal their breath. She was a very rational and practical woman, but she firmly believed in a lot of these sort of 'old wives tales' and, honestly, a lot of them made good sense, and still do even today. As soon as my little sister came home from the hospital I watched as she shooed the cat out of the house, never to return (we lived on a farm, so he didn't have things so bad even outside).

"We didn't have cats in the house when my daughter was a baby, but now she has her own newborn in a house with three cats. It's got me to thinking that, if my mother was right about so many other things, then maybe she was right about this too. Is there any chance that cats can be dangerous to newborn babies?"

Rest easy, Kimberly. No less an authority than _blank">Snopes says that your granddaughter is perfectly safe around her feline companions. As the story goes, cats get jealous of newborn infants and will actually attempt to suffocate them. Specifically, they'll "suck the wind out of the baby," by placing their nose in the infants mouth while the infant is asleep.

More rationally, it's said the smell of milk on the child's breath draws the feline in for the kill. But the truth is, most cats don't care much for milk and, indeed, are lactose intolerant. Unless your cat's been taught to like milk, it generally won't seek it out.

Another theory relates to the jealousy kitty will supposedly experience when the baby is brought into the household. But in reality, things aren't that much different than when a new pet is brought into the house and the cat is competing for attention there. Cat brains just aren't built for "murderous intent" -- they're much more likely to scratch at the furniture or urinate inappropriately. I doubt they even understand that the baby is the cause of the lack of attention, only that they're getting less of it.

There's a long history of viewing cats as evil, with superstitions featuring their bringing bad luck abounding for centuries. Another baby superstition warns of not raising a kitten and a baby together, lest the cat steal the child's vitality by magic -- the cat will thrive and the child waste away.

Such folk beliefs have traditionally worked to give people a sense of control over their destinies, a small measure of security in a capricious world. Tragedy is hard enough to bear without its also being inexplicable. It's can be easier to blame the cat than to confront the idea that the cause of a child's death is unknown and could strike down another infant. If a parent can believe that preventing crib death is simply a matter of keeping the cat out of baby's room, they'll sleep easier than one who realizes such a tragedy could occur any night, cat or no cat.

In truth, I suspect the cat has more to worry about from the baby than the baby does from the cat!

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Cat fancier Rob "Power of the Meow" Stanson has been an observer and studied cats for over twenty years. Visit him at "The Cat's Meow" where you can view the archives or ask him your own question which he will answer in a future column!


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