Woof! Does Fido Belong in the Hospital Delivery Room?

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


February 20, 2013

Hi. This is Art Caplan from the NYU Langone Medical Center. Who should be present when a woman is going to deliver a baby? Some women may say that they would like their partner, husband, or boyfriend to be present. Sometimes that husband, partner, or boyfriend doesn't want to be. Men have been notoriously squeamish about being in the delivery room. These days, however, we are used to having somebody show up with a video camera, and maybe even some lights, to record the wonderful event.

We have gotten used to something that wasn't the case many, many years ago, when it was tough to have anybody in the room except nurses, doctors, or a midwife. Today, we have opened the doors and at least allow the partner or spouse to come in and be present if they want to be.

Should we extend that welcome mat further? A woman in England raises an interesting question to think about, because she wanted her dog to be present during her birth. She had a specially trained dog. I think she suffered from anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. The dog was a therapy dog and helped her to stay calm and not be anxious. She was obviously nervous about giving birth. I don't know if she had a husband. If she did, she didn't ask for him. She asked for the dog. And she got the dog. The dog was present when she gave birth. There was a lot of backlash among British doctors who said that you can't put a dog in the delivery room because it is unhygienic. It might communicate diseases.

Should we open the door to dogs, cats, and other pets? Besides husbands or spouses, who else and what else might be present when a woman is about to give birth? If you want your pets there, should clinics have a special room or a special floor where they clean things thoroughly after each delivery? Should you take your chances having your dog there when your baby is born? Or are things just too buggy and microbial to ever let any type of a pet cross the threshold?

I think there are risks, and I think the risks are pretty significant. I am not sure that we should open the door to every barnyard creature we could think of to be present at birth, even when the mom-to-be says that she would like to have her pet there. But at the same time, I think there are arguments that, for some people, such as the woman in England who has a special relationship with her pet, or perhaps a woman who is blind, a case can be made.

This is an area where we have to think hard. We don't want to jeopardize the health of the mom, the baby, or any other people who are likely to use that room for a delivery. Pets could make it tougher to keep things safe and hygienic. But there may be a case either to make a special room where this could occur or, for certain people who would be greatly advantaged by having that pet present, to be allowed to have it present.

This is a case in which we have to start thinking a little more flexibly. If we can make a case for letting men in the room, can it really be beyond our means to figure out how to let a dog or a cat be there?

This is Art Caplan at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Thanks for watching.