What Is Attachment Parenting?
Updated May 17, 2019
Reviewer Kristen Hardin
There are so many types of parenting styles out there; it's enough to make your head spin. Attachment parenting is one such type of parenting style that you have probably heard mentioned and likely know a little about already. There are some common misconceptions about attachment parenting and what it entails. Read the post below for an overview to explain more about this style of parenting.
What Is Attachment Parenting?
For a general definition of attachment parenting, the term refers to exactly what it sounds like: you are attached to your child both physically and emotionally, day in and day out. If you've ever seen those moms with the slings, carrying their babies close to their bodies, this is a form of attachment parenting.
The attachment parenting theory was developed by William Sears, an American pediatrician, in 1982 after reading Jean Liedloff's book The Continuum Concept. In the book, Liedloff advocated for mothers to wear their babies, breastfeed them, and share their beds with them.
Specifically, attachment style parenting dictates that you are to be physically close to your baby at all times, always touching and holding your baby and giving him plenty of love and affection. You are also always to be nearby so that whenever your baby needs something, you can respond right away.
The "7 Baby Bs"
William Sears' theory of attachment parenting is rooted in the ideas of encouraging mothers to be highly sensitive and reactive to her baby's biological needs. There are, he believes, seven practices that moms should practice when following the tenets of attachment parenting. He calls these practices the "7 Baby Bs," and these are explained more fully below.
Sears recommends that mothers wear their child on their bodies as often and for as many hours as they possibly can. He believes this allows the mother to involve her child in everything she does and that it makes the child happy to be with his mother for the majority of the day.
Sears believes you can wear your child up until he is three years old, as wearing him can also calm down his tantrums. While experts agree that babywearing can calm a child down, some pediatricians do not recommend it past nine months, saying this goes against the child's natural inclination to become more independent.
No one expects the mother to be the only one who can meet her baby's needs. That would be unrealistic and unhealthy. It is important that mothers take care of themselves and let other people help. Mothers should let fathers and other family members help so that she can have enough time for self-care. Attachment parenting is more draining on a mother than parenting styles can already be. Sears recommends a variety of ways mothers can prioritize their tasks and pass them on to others to prevent burnout such as letting other family members do housework and chores.
Sears advises against women using analgesics during the birthing process because it gets in the way of her ability to bond with her baby immediately after birth. Sears says that there is a period after being born in which the baby is in a "quiet alert state," which he believes is the best time for bonding with mom. Skin to skin following birth is extremely important. This is the time immediately after birth where the new baby is placed on the mother's bare chest. It is not limited to just the following birth. Skin to skin contact can be very calming for infants at any time and father can do skin to skin contact as well.
This should come as no surprise really, but Sears advocates strongly for breastfeeding, stating that the oxytocin that's released during the process makes for a strong bonding experience between mother and child. This is especially true, says Sears, during the child's first ten days of life. He recommends frequently breastfeeding - about 8 to 12 times per day.
Sears says that families should use whatever sleeping methods work best for them, but that the mother should sleep close to the baby. He believes in co-sleeping, referring to it as the nighttime version of babywearing. Sears particularly advises working mothers to co-sleep, as it makes up for the absence the child feels during the day while she's at work.
He also says that co-sleeping makes breastfeeding easier (which most breastfeeding moms will agree with) and that it also prevents SIDS and separation anxiety. While there is still much debate on whether co-sleeping prevents SIDS or raises the risk, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against it but does encourage the idea of room-sharing as a safer alternative.
No Sleep Training
Sears does not believe in sleep training (the "cry it out" method of allowing a crying child to fall asleep on his own). Sears believes that this only works to harden the mother and make the child more apathetic over time. Sears argues that there is no scientific proof that sleep training is good for children. There are many expert reports that state just how traumatic sleep training can be although there are many other less harsh methods of sleep training and experts who say that it is not harmful.
Using Crying as A Tool
Crying, Sears believes, is a child's way of expressing himself. He advises parents to learn how to "read" their child's cries and respond appropriately. Before it even gets to that point, Sears advises that parents should be doing everything possible to prevent crying, as once it has gotten to that point, things have already gone too far.
Sears says that parents should engage in babywearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping as much as they can, and to learn to read the signs of when a baby is about to cry so that the parents can stop it before it starts. Sears argues that babies should never be left to cry because it can damage them, yet another American pediatrician, T. Berry Brazelton, says a certain amount of crying is normal and will not hurt the child.
Attachment Parenting Criticism
For every parenting style out there, there's a form of criticism about it, and attachment parenting is no exception. Here are some of the general critiques about attachment parenting:
It's fear-based: Some argue that attachment parenting plays to parents' insecurities. Most parents say have no problem bonding with their babies and certainly don't need to be reminded to give them love.
It's anti-sleep training: There is so much debate on the idea of sleep training, with some saying it damages children, and others saying it's perfectly fine. Some experts say the "cry it out" method leads to neurological problems, while others say this is not true.
It's anti-feminist: Attachment parenting essentially advocates for all women to be stay-at-home moms which is something that is not possible for many of women in today's society and not all mothers want to stay at home. Many women want to work AND have children.
It's anti-formula: Critics argue that while breastfeeding is certainly healthy for both mother and baby, there are some mothers out there who can't breastfeed, or who don't want to and that they shouldn't be shamed in either of these cases or made to feel bad that they do not breastfeed their children.
It is not "essential" to wear your baby: Critics argue that true attachment does not come from wearing your baby all day long, but from the positive relationship you nurture with him. So long as you have a close relationship, they say, your baby isn't going to be damaged by being in a stroller, rather than a sling.
Some believe attachment parenting is highly unnecessary, and some believe it to be a form of child abuse. Others believe that while it may be fine in the beginning, it soon becomes overbearing, and children are not permitted the opportunity to explore life for themselves without Mom constantly watching over their shoulders - or wearing them on hers.
Attachment Parenting, Modified
If attachment parenting seems like something you want to try, you may be thrown off by the criticisms against it, or the amount of work that seems to fall on the mother. However, it is important to remember that you don't have to practice every tenet of attachment parenting to the letter. As long as you are fostering a close and loving bond with your child, then you're already on the right track. You can co-sleep and breastfeed but not baby wear. You can babywear and formula feed. You just need to do what works for you and your child.
Above all, it is important to remember that every child - and every mother - is different, and so what works for some parents and their children may not work for others. You may be a babywearing day in and day out, and still, your child cries. You may be offering your child breastmilk, but he doesn't want it the recommended 8 to 12 times a day that attachment parenting calls for.
Are you interested in learning more about how to pick a parenting style that will work best for you? Do you have concerns about parenting that you would like support and feedback for? If so, you can contact one of our licensed BetterHelp counselors for more information. BetterHelp is an online platform with thousands of licensed and experienced counselors who you can work with anywhere you have access to the internet and a smart phone, tablet, or computer.