What Is Attachment Parenting

This piece was contributed by our fan -favorite, Elaine Dalton.


There are many scientific theories surrounding parenting which can make an already difficult and demanding job even harder, more confusing and overwhelming for mom and dad. While we will not take the time to examine all the different methods and styles out there, we will take a look at one particularly popular one right now.


Attachment parenting was originally developed in 1969. It later took off in the 90s with Dr. Sears’ book on the subject. According to professional therapists and psychiatrists, attachment parenting is the best parenting style because of the attachment it later forms between child and parent. As Parenting for the Brain explains, “What they are referring to is the parenting style that can result in secure attachment. In order to achieve this, the caregiver should be sensitive and responsive to the child’s needs. That’s it!”


What Does Attachment Parenting Look Like


On the surface, attachment parenting looks close, comforting, a bit clingy, and exhausting. Parents respond to their child’s cries from the get-go and feed on demand. Breastfeeding is the selected route for attachment parenting and so is co-sleeping. These go hand-in-hand with baby-wearing. Sleep training does not include an intense crying phase for the family that practices attachment parenting, and potty training begins early with some form of elimination communication to help guide the child through this new and terrifying change without the unnecessary stress and crying.


As we all know, looks can be deceiving and people can fly to extremes in every circumstance. Psychology Today says,

“What attachment theory and parenting style theory propose, instead, is that parents provide their children with a firm basis of support (a safe haven) and adjust their expectations and attention to their needs to the child’s developmental level.”

Finding balance in the face of constant on-demand feedings and co-sleeping can be a trying thought but it is achievable.


To parent with attachment theory, you will need a baby carrier of some sort (find one that is comfortable for you whether it is a sling, a backpack carrier, an adjustable front carrier or your husband), and a large bed like a king with a double shoved up next to it. If you have a toddler, invest in guard rails for the bed or a very dense soft rug to cushion the landing when the toddler launches herself off the bed. Most toddlers will do this at least once. Falling off the bed is a fast way to exit the bed but it is not nearly as fun as it could be and is an experiment not worth repeating too many times.


The Eight Principles Of Attachment Parenting


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The Attachment Parenting website lists in detail the Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting. To summarize these principles:


  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Childbirth and Parenting with informed decisions and research
  2. Feed with Love and Respect because everyone has a right to be fed
  3. Respond with Sensitivity so no crying-it-out methods
  4. Provide Nurturing Touch (this is where all the baby-wearing comes into play)
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep
  6. Use Consistent Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Personal and Family Balance


The central core of attachment parenting is to provide the family with a safe and loving environment to grow and build secure relationship values. We want our children to explore the world around us and to feel secure enough to play on their own or to tell us about their woes in the trying teenage years. Natural Child puts it in a very special way, saying,

“As the Golden Rule suggests, attachment parenting is parenting the child the way we wish we had been treated in childhood, the way we wish we were treated by everyone now and the way we want our grandchildren to be treated. With attachment parenting, we are giving an example of love and trust.”


Research-Based Decisions


One of the main principles of attachment parenting is making informed decisions with your family’s best interests in mind. This means doing lots of research. As parents, we research everything from a sneeze to which high school extracurricular program is the best; so this isn’t too surprising. Attachment parenting begins with a natural birth for many parents. Some will have a natural birth in a hospital setting while others will opt for a home birth surrounded by their older children and other important figures in their lives.


After birth, nurturing touch comes into play immediately as mom and baby experience skin-to-skin touch and begin to breastfeed. They probably curl up in bed and fall into a deep recovery sleep together. As baby gets older, attachment parenting takes on a more active role than just the basic instincts that kick in after birth. Some of this will involve researching positive discipline techniques that work for your family and more specifically, for your child.


And there will be bad days. Days when you feel like baby will never leave you alone or will never stop throwing her toys or eating paper. This is a sign that you need some rest and love yourself. Attachment parenting takes the parents into consideration as well. Attachment parenting is family-centered, not child-centered.


Feeding Through The Years


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For many families, mealtimes are the hardest part of parenting. In attachment parenting, breastfeeding is the main form of nourishment for the baby until she is old enough for solids. According to Attachment Parenting,

“Breastfeeding is the healthiest infant-feeding choice. The physiology of breastfeeding promotes a high degree of maternal responsiveness and is associated with several other positive outcomes. In the case breastfeeding is not possible, bottle-nursing―attentive bottle-feeding―should emulate the closeness of breastfeeding.”


I’ve breastfed all three of my children. With my first, I often jumped at her cries and would stuff a boob in her mouth thinking she was hungry. This later made weaning difficult as she associated feeding with comfort and wasn’t able to self-soothe for months. With her sisters, I developed a method that worked better for us. I would still jump to feed them on demand for the first three to four months of life. After that, I would check first to see if they were just cold, wet or tired. Sometimes my second just wanted to be picked up and didn’t want to eat. Sometimes during the night they would whine or whimper in their sleep. I wouldn’t immediately offer to feed them during these times and we would all drop back off to sleep in minutes.


They essentially developed their own natural feeding schedules where they would nurse six to eight times in a 24 hour day. Some days they might snack more than others, but these days usually coincided with growth spurts or colds or general “bad days” in their world.


All In The Mindset


Babies and small children are very intuned to our moods and emotions. They can pick up a lot from our vocal tones and facial cues. If we regularly respond to their cries of distress with frustration or more distress, this will teach them that their feelings are distressing or not important to us. Attachment parenting works to teach children that they are entitled to their feelings and can express them safely. It is our job as the parents to teach them how to safely express their feelings and to identify those feelings.


Natural Child says, “We trust that though he may be small in size, he is as fully human as we are, and as deserving as we are to have his needs taken seriously.” With this in mind, training strategies that include crying it out don’t fit with attachment parenting. If we as adults tried to sleep in an environment where we are separated from our primary person, plunged into a dark strange room and left for hours on end with our pleas and frantic cries landing on deaf ears, we would cry foul play and sleep would be the furthest thing from our minds. How then can we ask tiny humans who have never been separated from us to sleep through the night in their own rooms after crying for hours?


The definition of safe sleep can vary from house to house. For some, this might mean that baby co-sleeps for the first three months and then sleeps in a crib in the parents’ room. For others, this might mean that baby co-sleeps with the parents until he is a toddler and wants his own room. For my family and I, the babies co-slept with us till they were about two and then they were transitioned to their own bed in our room. This made life difficult at times―especially when the four-year-old and the toddler want to sleep with the newborn and the exhausted parents in the same bed. But ultimately everyone sleeps for eight or more hours without a lot of crying.


The Power Of Touch


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Touch is a primary sense for a good reason. We use touch to communicate with people (through hugs, handshakes and waving); we use touch to tell the difference between hot and cold or sharp and soft, and we use touch to communicate to our children that they are safe and loved. This begins in the beginning when we are stroking our round bellies and cradling that brand new baby to our chests as we wait to deliver the placenta.


Around my house, we are all big cuddlers. We pick a movie, grab some blankets and settle down in a cozy heap. When baby needs some extra love, she curls up on my lap and plays with my fingers or her feet while she nurses. If the big five-year-old has had a rough day, she asks for hugs several times. To put them to sleep, I like to rub their backs or arms very gently till they drop off.


All of this touch communicates to them that they are safe and loved, that their feelings are important and that their needs will be met. Sometimes they have to wait their turn to have their needs filled but this teaches them patience.


In the end, while attachment parenting works for our family, it is a lot of work, especially in the beginning. But now that I have been in the game for five years, I can see the benefits of putting in all the time and effort. My oldest is sweet with her sisters and the natural balance of our family has a nice ebb and flow like the tides of a lake. And all the work and effort is second-nature. I tote my baby around everywhere. I always have company (even when I’d rather not have company) and I always have extra hands available for carrying things or fetching things. It might not work for every family but it works for mine.


Sources: Parenting For The Brain, Psychology Today, Attachment Parenting Website, Natural Child

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