Home births are more popular in some countries than others.
The Centers for Disease Control reported that the pandemic caused a 30-year high in U.S. births at home in 2021 as people avoided hospitals that were being swamped with COVID-19 cases. The findings offered another view of the pandemic’s effects on maternal health and how, of the nearly 52,000 home births recorded in 2021, the greatest increases were among Black and Hispanic women.
Many parents-to-be who are planning a home birth and have a dog or dogs wonder about how their dogs will handle it.
Since I frequently get questions about dogs during home births, I wanted parents to be able to make informed decisions and be well prepared.
I interviewed Lindsey Bowns, a Calgary-based birth doula, a mom to a little baby girl, and two dogs. Lindsey has worked with many expecting couples who have dogs, and she has a wealth of knowledge. All of her and my tips on home birth are included in the new Home Birth and Dogs module in the First Meeting Course.
The module covers the following:
- How to determine if a dog is a good fit for a home birth.
- What are the benefits and risks of having your dog present during a home birth.
- How to prepare your dog for new people entering your home, like a midwife or birth doula.
- How to prepare your dog for the sounds, sights, and smells of labor.
- At what point should you remove the dog.
- If the dog can no longer participate or you need to leave for the hospital, how to make the transition a positive thing.
- What to consider when you have multiple dogs.
Why having a dog at home birth is helpful?
A number of studies have shown that interactions with dogs cause a surge in the feel-good hormone oxytocin. This is beneficial for laboring moms because oxytocin drives the labor, keeps things going productively, and helps the mom cope. The potential benefits are huge.
How to decide if a dog is a good fit
If your dog is very tuned into you, picks up on your emotions, and is deeply affected by your pain, it might be best not to have your dog there or to remove them when things get intense.
If your dog doesn’t care too much, is resilient, can give you space, is not glued to your side, and will help you while not getting worse by being by your side when you labor, those are the kind of dogs I would have there.
Not every dog can handle the stress of labor. Their favorite person is in a lot of pain and suffering, and they don’t have the tools to process what’s happening.
If your dog doesn’t bounce back easily after a stressful moment, your dog may spiral out of control. If you are in labor, you won’t be able to comfort them, and you both may end up being stressed.
When you choose home birth, you choose comfort and familiarity and want to keep this comfort item of your dog around.
But it’s good to consider how the home birth might affect the dog when it lasts for 4, 8,12, 24, 36, or 48 hours. And beyond that.
As Lindsey said, very few people would do her work because birth doulas subject themselves to sitting in other people's discomfort and need to be okay with that.
Not every dog can be an emotional support dog, and that’s ok.
Can my dog do the job?
Lindsey shared an example of a dog who was, on paper, a good fit but turned out to be too much.
Here’s the story.
Labor started overnight, as it often does. The dog wasn’t exercised.
It was a young Border Collie. In Lindsey’s words, he was wild.
At first, he was lovely, interacted really well with his mom, and was very friendly to anyone who entered the home. But when he was in the laboring space, he became too much.
This family had a fine enough plan.
- They had a backyard, and the dogs could spend some time outside.
- They had someone come later in the afternoon to walk them.
- And immediately after the baby was born, they had a bag of new toys to give the dogs something novel and distract them.
He destroyed his toys in under two minutes and then was right up on the bed where the midwife was trying to examine the baby.
The dog thought it was party time because of all the extra people and energy in the house.
He became annoying; they couldn't keep him off the bed where they were trying to weigh and check the baby.
I’m sharing this story because looking at it from a physiological perspective is important.
Going back to the oxytocin that drives your labor, if your dog annoys you or stresses you out, it’s no longer providing you positive hormones toward your labor. And instead, your body is flooded with cortisol, which will slow down your labor by snapping you out of that all the time.
If your dog can handle the stress of the labor but hasn’t had much training, brush up on the training. You will need this not only for a home birth but even more so later!
Life with a well-trained and prepared dog is so much easier. If your dog jumps on everything and everyone, can’t stay on their bed, and doesn’t listen, it will be complicated or impossible to have your dog in the same room as your baby. Even if your dog is relaxed and comfortable around your newborn.
The Preparation Course has an extended training section covering all the behaviors that are useful when you have a baby. My tip - you don’t need to train everything! Choose 3-5 cues and train them really well. I personally use Go to Bed, Stay, Leave it, and Down the most. Here is a reel that shows some of the useful behaviors.
A, B, C, and D (backup) plans
The second thing I would plan for is exercise if the labor starts overnight. Some dogs are not going to care, but if you have a puppy, a young dog, or a very high-energy dog that becomes a lot to handle without exercise, ensure you include exercise in your home birth plan. Similarly to hospital labor, deciding who and when will take over should be part of the plan. Whether it’s a hospital or home birth, always have A, B, C, and D back -up plans and a labor bag for your dog ready. The content of the labor bag is described in detail in the First Meeting Course, but I also write about it in the Preparation Checklist. You can download your free copy here.
How to make this choice if you have multiple dogs
Often, one dog would be great, and the other dog would not be able to handle it.
But separating them would be too stressful for both. If you don’t plan to split your dogs, choose the scenario based on the more sensitive dog.
Wishing you a safe and beautiful birth.
For more tips on Home Birth and dogs, go to the First Meeting Course.
Big thank you to Lindsey Bowns for sharing her wisdom with Dog Meets Baby readers.
Lindsey’s website and contact details:
Adore Your Birth Helpful Links
Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only. Please contact your veterinarian, a certified dog trainer, or a veterinary behaviorist if your dog's well-being is at risk or your dog's behavior poses a threat to you or other people.