It’s a common piece of Southern folklore. I’m not sure how pervasive it is in other areas, but I expect it’s well known across the board. My grandparents told me when I was a little boy that a cat will “suck out” a baby’s breath and kill it, imbuing felines with a sort of satanic craftiness and malevolence (despite owning, as farmers who had to deal with lots of rodents, a whole heckuva lotta cats). They often claimed to have seen a cat trying to murder infants with their own eyes. While that particular bit of the narrative is hogwash, there is truth to it.
I woke up the other night with my cat Mabel standing on my chest and her face almost touching my mouth. Any time I roll onto my back the little beeyotch wastes no time in assuming her perch upon my chest. See, cats like to smell our breaths. Who knows why, but they do. While for me it amounts to nothing more than an annoyance for my cat to perch upon my chest to sniff my halitosis, you can easily see how a cat sitting on a newborn’s chest could suffocate it. It would be completely unintentional on the cat’s part. Also, babies are soft and warm, and cats love to curl up and sleep on top of anything that’s soft and warm. This could result in the same tragic consequence. But the cats aren’t doing it on purpose. Cats aren’t evil. Except for Mabel. She would do it on purpose if she could. She’s evil incarnate. Thankfully God in His wisdom, knowing her sinister nature, stuck her black soul in the body of a furry little tortoise shell tabby capable of working no real mischief in the world. We should *all* be grateful for that.