Have you breastfed, bed-shared, or carried your baby in a sling? Then you may have unknowingly practiced some of the principles of attachment parenting. This parenting style focuses on nurturing a strong connection between the parent and baby with tools like breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing. With parents attuned to the baby's every need, experts assert that the child is more likely to grow up secure, curious, self-reliant, empathetic, and independent. This method also sharpens the parents' instincts to anticipate the baby's needs, allowing them to forge deep trust and strong bonds with each other.
However, some parents consider this approach quite demanding, especially for the mother who is encouraged to do extended breastfeeding (into toddlerhood). According to TIME magazine, attachment parenting redefines the modern relationship between mother and child, with a parenting style that's veered towards parental devotion and making sacrifices to raise self-sufficient kids.
This parenting style asserts that the more time babies spend in their mother's arms, the higher the likelihood that they will become more well-adjusted kids and adults in the future. But the practicalities ask a great deal from the parents, especially the mothers.
It is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all parenting approach. The truth is the majority of parents around the world seek to forge a close emotional bond with their children. And for this reason, they adopt a parenting model that works for their family's unique dynamics, which may be influenced by religious upbringing and cultural expectations. For example, some parents may prefer to treat young ones as tiny adults they reason with, while others enforce obedience with stringent rules guided by religious dogma.
No Right or Wrong Parenting Style
There is not necessarily any right or wrong parenting style, as long as you’re not neglecting or mistreating your children. The ultimate goal is to raise happy, well-rounded children who will grow up to be responsible adults. Nonetheless, there are numerous theories about the best way to parent a child. Hence, anyone who has ever been pregnant will most likely tell you that they are bombarded with so much advice from well-meaning veteran parents sharing parenting philosophies that have worked for them. So how do you know what will work for you, your spouse, and your kids?
There is no set answer because family dynamics and value systems vary just as children have different temperaments. That's why even children from the same parents could grow up with vastly different personalities and preferences. The act of parenting is a unique journey, and considering the parenting style may be something you want to think of before you even get pregnant to assess if you’re truly ready to start a family. Discovering what parenting style you want to adopt can take a bit of trial and error. So don't be so hard on yourself if things don't work out seamlessly, especially with a newborn. Setting up routines and figuring out your parenting style could take time.
In fact, your parenting style can also morph with time as your family ecosystem ebbs and flows. These changes may be brought about by the birth of a new child, moving to a new location, getting a promotion, or shifting finances. Although we'll take a close look at attachment parenting in this article, you're encouraged to follow principles and create routines using what works for your family.
What is Attachment Parenting?
The term attachment parenting came about thanks to American pediatrician William Sears and his wife, Martha Sears, a registered nurse. They co-wrote a book called "The Attachment Parenting Book," which states that young babies and small children must form loving and secure attachments with their parents so they'll thrive. Attachment parents help children build trust and encourage them to regulate emotionally.
This parenting philosophy asserts that the attachment of parents and infants could be harnessed not just through empathy and responsiveness but through continuous bodily closeness and touch. That's why proponents of attachment parenting encourage parents to respond to their baby's every cry, do skin-to-skin in the first few weeks, breastfeed on demand, do extended breastfeeding, wear the child (babywearing), sleep close to their baby, and hold the child.
Although the attachment parenting term came out in early 2000, the precept is based on the psychological concept of attachment theory in the 70s. This is grounded on the research of John Bowlby and, later on, studied and refined by Mary Ainsworth. The idea asserts that children come to this world pre-programmed to form secure attachments to adults, usually the parents, because it will help them to survive. The connection, closeness, and responsiveness a baby receives from their caregivers have a long-term impact on the child's future emotional well-being.
Tools Used in Attachment Parenting
While most loving parents aim to shower their kids with love and attention, the attachment parenting style takes it a notch higher. Several attachment parenting tools cultivate infant-parent bonds because they promote physical touch, responsiveness, and maximal empathy. The ultimate goal of these tools is to foster confidence in both parents and child because the adults can confidently identify and respond to the baby's cues, and in turn, the baby feels secure that all needs will be met.
Some of these tools could resonate with you and your belief system. However, you may find that some of them are not aligned with the American Academy of Pediatrics or AAP’s safe sleep guidelines and recommendations. If you have any doubts, you must speak with your pediatrician before implementing any of these strategies. Check out tools used to practice the tenets of attachment parenting:
Bonding at Birth
This style emphasizes the initial bonding between mom, dad, and baby immediately after birth and up to the first six weeks. Skin-to-skin contact and constant togetherness are encouraged to promote closeness. It is seen as a nurturing touch that young ones need to thrive. Dr. Sears considers this a crucial step in forming a healthy parent-child attachment in the long term.
Breastfeeding (Including Extended Breastfeeding)
Attachment parenting views breastfeeding as essential in nurturing and soothing the baby. Breastfeeding involves holding and skin-to-skin contact, so it's seen to forge even stronger bonds as the mom responds to her baby's hunger cries. In this parenting style, breastfeeding on demand is preferred instead of having a structured feeding schedule for the parent's convenience. As a result, the parents put the infant's feeding cues and emotional bonding needs at the forefront.
Furthermore, breastfeeding also encourages the release of hormones prolactin and oxytocin that could potentially amplify a mother's instincts. Studies refer to prolactin as “the love hormone” which supposedly encourages mothering behavior, while oxytocin promotes calmness. Together these two hormones ascertain that mommy is relaxed and ready to care for her baby. As for the babies, breastfeeding teaches them to trust their parents, especially their moms. The act of feeding on demand shows babies that parents will listen to their cues and meet their needs.
Attachment parenting practitioners strongly recommend babywearing with a sling or wrap because it promotes touch and closeness while building trust. This could make babies feel secure because they slowly learn about the physical world while close to their mom or dad's body. In turn, the parents could learn more about their babies when they're physically close.
Bed-Sharing or Co-Sleeping
Attachment parenting encourages co-sleeping because it promotes closeness and encourages a strong emotional connection. Proponents also attest that this reduces the baby's separation anxiety since the parents can quickly soothe the baby if needed. At the same time, it makes nighttime feeding so much easier. Those who share a family bed are seen as less likely to have disturbed sleep for both parents and child.
This approach may be the most controversial of all the tools because it goes against AAP's recommendations. It poses severe risks, with bedding suffocating the infant or one caregiver unintentionally entrapping the child resulting in oxygen deprivation. Instead, the AAP suggests using a bassinet or a separate sleeping surface if you wish to keep your baby in the same room.
Addressing Baby's Cries
With this parenting philosophy, babies' cries are seen as their way of communicating their needs. Cries are not considered a form of manipulation. Hence, parents who follow this method are attuned to their baby's cries and whimpers, responding with sensitivity. They respond to the cries to build trust, which is the polar opposite of the cry-it-out sleep training method that purportedly helps babies sleep through the night.
By the same token, the attachment parenting philosophy sees tantrums in toddlers as a real effort to communicate. Hence, the toddlers must be understood rather than dismissed and punished. Parents practice the art of distraction and redirection to guide their babies and toddlers. When children act up, parents practicing attachment theory do their best to see and understand what the negative behavior communicates. Instead of immediately spanking, they devise a solution with the child. Parents also model positive behavior that their young kids can emulate.
Although attachment parenting promotes the constant presence of a parent, the goal is still to strive for balance to prevent burnout. Parents are strongly advised to create a support network and ask for help when needed.
Does Attachment Parenting Suit You?
Having a close emotional bond with your child is indeed something to aspire for. However, not everyone has the privilege of being constantly near their baby. Some single-parents or even dual-income households have no choice but to bottle feed and leave their children with a trusted caregiver. It's the only way for both the parent and baby to thrive. Hence, it is understandable why some attachment parenting principles may not work out for you.
For instance, breastfeeding is emotionally and physically draining for the mother. Furthermore, the mother may have the desire to breastfeed but can't for valid reasons like an inverted nipple or poor milk supply. Similarly, you may not feel comfortable co-sleeping because you have restless leg syndrome that messes up the bed covers, or you can't constantly babywear because of scoliosis (spine issues). These personal choices can be driven not just by your baby's comfort but also yours because parents need to take care of their mental, emotional, and physical health too.
Self-care is essential because you can only nurture others when you're not running on an empty tank. If you want to love your family wholeheartedly, it stems from loving and being kind to yourself first. To help you figure things out, assess what parenting style could work for you by taking a CircleDNA test. Apart from helping uncover your ancestry, health risks, and personality traits, it could help you evaluate what parenting routines complement your genetic strengths and weaknesses so you can be a more effective parent who can stay attuned to your baby’s needs.
And remember, no parenting style guarantees a perfect lifelong relationship with a child. Your brand of parenting also doesn't assure that children will never encounter hardship. Even staunch attachment parents have kids who feel down from time to time. Children will inevitably feel sad, insecure, angry, etc., not because they have bad parents but because they are still little humans who encounter trials and tribulations along this journey called life. There are many ways to raise kids, and the tools may help, but ultimately, what matters most is a parent’s unconditional love and unwavering support.
- Impact of attachment, temperament and parenting on human development (Yoo Rha Hong, MD & Jae Sun Park, MD) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3534157/
- The Man Who Remade Motherhood (Kate Pickert) https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,2114427,00.html
- Contributions of Attachment Theory and Research: A Framework for Future Research, Translation, and Policy (Jude Cassidy et.al.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085672/
- Safe Sleep (AAP) https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/safe-sleep/
- The Birth of a Breastfeeding Baby and Mother (Judith Lothian) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595228/
- Cry It Out Method of Sleep Training (Colleen De Bellefonds) https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/crying-it-out.aspx