While plenty of people have practiced attachment parenting throughout history, and still do, it’s only recently been given a name. Please don’t let this fool you into thinking that AP is new or a trend. The mothers in other countries who carry their babies in slings with easy access to the breast are following what Dr. Sears has labeled “Attachment Parenting.” Many parents practice Attachment Parenting long before they find out that it’s been given a name, if they ever do.
Attachment parenting has nothing to do with circumcision or vaccinations, natural (drug-free) birth or organic foods like some AP groups would have you believe.
Dr. Sears summed up attachment parenting in “The 7 Baby B’s.”
(This is my explanation of the B’s, not Dr. Sears, just so you all know.)
1. Birth bonding. What this means is that immediately after birth and for the days and weeks to come, the mom and baby are to spend this time in close proximity to each other, bonding. Yes, it takes into account babies in the NICU. This is not to say that if your baby is in the NICU that you can’t bond with them, but that your newborn and you need to be together as much as you possibly can, even if for you, that means in the hospital when you can be, and when they finally come home. This not only helps the baby’s transition into the world, knowing that their mother is still there for them and comfort is still readily available, but it helps the mother as well begin her breastfeeding relationship with the best start, as well as really learn her baby’s personality, quirks, and especially cues and patterns.
2. Breastfeeding. Aside from all the benefits of breastfeeding, this is again an exercise in the mother-baby relationship. Breastfeeding helps you learn your individual child’s cues, such as when they’re starting to get hungry, when they’re overly hungry, when they’re full, when they want a snack, when they want to comfort suck, etc. It also is the natural, nature-designed way for the mother’s body to heal from pregnancy and delivery. Breastfeeding contracts the uterus to help it contract back down to size, which can help prevent problems that lead to uterine, cervical and ovarian cancer. It also tells the mother’s body to release oxytocin and prolactin, which make you “happy” and are the body’s natural way to try and avoid PPD or PPP while your hormones are going wacky and trying to level back out.
If you couldn’t breastfeed, the most important part of this whole thing is to be very active in your time spent with your baby. When you feed them, try to have skin-on-skin contact which is proven to have benefits, and talk to your child and interact with them while
3. Babywearing. A baby learns a lot in the arms of a busy caregiver. Carried babies fuss less and spend more time in the state of quiet alertness, the behavior state in which babies learn most about their environment. Babywearing improves the sensitivity of the parents. Because your baby is so close to you, you get to know baby better. Closeness promotes familiarity. This is not to say you can never put your baby down. Of course you can. What this promotes is involving your baby in your daily life while you get things done you need to, without hoping that they don’t get bored with the swing before you’re done folding the laundry. AP-following parents still have swings, exersaucers and playmats. We have lives too, and have to pee and eat sometime! However, it’s often found that you can get a lot more done in the day when your baby is near you and involved in what you’re doing. I understand that some people can’t baby carry – I couldn’t because of my spine, and my lack of knowledge about the variety of slings. I still can’t promise that if I knew about them, that I would have been able to find one that worked for me without hurting my back, neck or shoulders. So my alternative was to have my child close to me throughout the day, whether that meant a blanket with toys on the kitchen floor and talking to him while I did the dishes, or things of the like. Babies want to be involved in your day to day routine, and they want you to talk to them about what you’re doing. Consider this B to not be Babywearing, but proximity to your baby throughout the day. APers don’t think, “God, can I put him down to do the dishes EVER?” they think, “How can I involve him while I do the dishes so we’re both happy?”feeding, and respect when they’re full instead of worrying about the ounces on the bottle.
4. Bedding close to baby. This means having your newborn in close proximity to you, even while sleeping. For some, this may mean co-sleeping, a co-sleeper, or a crib in the bedroom. For an infant, knowing that comfort is close by helps them feel more secure. Also, studies show that babies who sleep in close proximity to their parents mimic their breathing patterns, which in turn helps reduce the risk of SIDs. Mothers also have been shown to be much more aware of their infants, even while in a deep sleep, and are more likely to sense (and therefore wake up and handle) any distress in their infant, from apnea to other forms of distress. You’re also more likely to catch your baby whimpering to be fed before they actually cry, which makes getting back to sleep much easier for the both of you, and makes breastfeeding easier as a full-blown crying infant has already given the cues that they’re hungry, but now think they’re starving, which may actually make it harder for them to latch on to nurse.
As your child gets older, they’ll learn that you will respond to them, even at night, and will be secure in knowing that. Studies show that children who have their cries responded to sooner become more independent and are more willing to go out on a branch by themselves, knowing their support is always there to catch them when they fall, regardless of whether or not the sun is up. This is not to say that attachment parenting moms jump out of bed at the tiniest whimper – to the contrary, you’re more likely to know when your baby is just whimpering in their sleep, or woke up and just needs you to say, from your bed, “It’s okay honey, go back to sleep,” or if they actually need you fo
r something. This actually gives everyone the most sleep possible – yes, even the mother.
5. Belief in the language value of your baby’s cries. I already explained this in the last B for the most part. This is the belief that your baby cries because they NEED something, and that infants are too young to manipulate or blackmail, or cry just “to bother you.” This means that parents learn what their baby needs, and respond when the baby NEEDS something. By promptly responding to needs, you can actually learn to respond when your baby starts giving you cues for certain things, and thusly reducing the amount of crying. This does not mean that the mom is at the baby’s beck and call. It means that the mom spends time figuring out exactly why the baby cries by responding to each cry, so that as the baby grows older, she can tell them, “Honey, it’s okay. You can handle yourself for a minute,” while Mommy does something else, because she knows the difference between a “want” cry and a “need” cry by the cues that come before it, and the behavior associated with the cry.
6. Beware of baby trainers. Attachment parenting is about learning about your child, so you know what they need and when, so you both can make the most out of your time together, and fulfill needs before they become demands. Baby training, especially the strict schedules and “Cry It Out” training, goes completely against what is natural in parenting, which is listening when your baby tells you they need something. Your goal is never to be an expert in children, but to be an expert in YOUR child, because every single child is different. Schedules are necessary in life, as they give children more security when they know exactly what to expect (we read books, then brush teeth, and then we go to bed). However, especially in infants, and especially if feeding is scheduled, you can cause a lot more harm than good. Breastfeeding mothers especially should never schedule feedings because this can damage your breastmilk supply, and even in formula-fed infants can cause “Failure to Thrive.” No parenting expert, no matter how many years they have on them, knows everything about YOUR child. There are certain medical things where yes, you need to listen to the people who know more than you and have put millions into researching exact things, but when it comes to feeding your baby when they’re hungry instead of when the clock tells you to, and getting them to sleep when it works best for you and your baby, experts are going to do nothing other than get in the way of what your natural mothering instincts tell you is right. A lot of “expert” books are all about magical solutions to make your child do exactly what you want them to and when. Children all vary, their needs all vary, and they are not trying to manipulate you or make you their slave (even when it feels like it). When a baby says they’re hungry, feed them. If your baby is not tired when it’s time for a nap, don’t force them into it, but instead consider waking them up earlier the next morning so you can get their natural schedule back intact. A lot of parenting training is about the parent training the infant… which if it’s done with concern to the long run and allows for differences in every family and every baby, is ideal – but so many try to fit all families and all children into a mold that only causes parents more stress when their baby is screaming for hours, or is unhappier and they’re stressed with no sleep. If it feels wrong, DON’T do it.
7. Balance. Attachment parenting is not indulgent parenting. As your child gets older, you have learned the differences between wants and needs, and as a result, you are perfectly capable of saying no to wants while still promptly addressing needs. You also will be in tune with your child, and capable of knowing their level of understanding so you can set boundaries that are age appropriate while still explaining to your child that you understand why they do (insert behavior you want to change), but th
at (this) is a better alternative, and the other is not acceptable. You’ll also be able to tell when your child is in toddlerhood when they do things merely because they forgot the rules, and when they’re doing things just to push your buttons, and you can respond accordingly.
Attachment Parenting is often referred to as “child-led” parenting, and I see a lot of confusion as to what this means. Yes, we ARE the parents. Yes, we set the rules and boundaries. However, what child-led means is that we follow our child’s lead. We will not force them to eat when they’re not hungry, but we will let them know that if they turn down lunch and are hungry in a little bit, they’re not getting new food but the reheated lunch from earlier. It’s about showing your child respect as a person, for their needs, wants, and feelings. It has nothing to do with letting your child rule the roost, and anyone who claims such doesn’t really understand attachment parenting in the first place. Child-led does not mean your child tells you what to do. It means paying attention to when your child is tired, and adjusting your routine accordingly, or being able to tell when your child is about to get into the restricted drawer, and gently reminding them that that is not acceptable, and there are better alternatives. We understand that every child is different, and we follow the cues of our child, and respect their individuality while shaping them towards the person we want them to be without squashing who they are or disrespecting them.
AP followers do not have a set handbook of rules, because every child has a different personality, different needs, and different needed interventions and guidelines. We also do not spoil our children – to the contrary, we teach our children the difference between wants and needs, and to respect when mommy’s needs will inevitably override their wants, and that they WILL be tended to – if they wait patiently.
Dads are also very involved in this process, contrary to popular belief. AP mothers generally encourage the fathers to learn their babies cues just as much as they have. Moms all need time away from their children, and AP moms are no different. We want the other caregivers to know our child as well as we do, or similarly, so that our baby is not crying for a nap with the caregiver trying to force toys in their face. Also, with the ability to read cues and intervene before a baby cries, many parents don’t feel like their child is a hassle at the grocery store or restaurant because they can meet their needs before a meltdown, so they feel more confident in taking their children out in public, rather than feeling tied down at home. As a result of both of these things, you may find AP moms who often state that they feel like “a part of them is missing” when they leave without their child (even though they enjoy the break) and that they’re very, very discriminating when it comes to who they leave their child with, often limiting it to family and very close friends.
“Hover” parents are not AP parents. Hover parents never allow their children to make decisions for themselves, and have no time for their own activities as a result of not trusting their own child to make good decisions. This causes inappropriate dependency. Attachment differs from prolonged dependency. Attachment enhances development and encourages independence; prolonged dependency will hinder development.