There are many parenting styles and more than one parenting philosophy out there. With so much advice, it can be hard to know what is best. Attachment parenting is one such type of parenting style that you have probably heard mentioned and likely already know a little about. There are some common misconceptions about practicing attachment parenting, what it entails for forming secure relationships with children, and how it affects child development. Read this post for an overview of attachment parenting, and learn more about this style of being a primary caregiver, parenting tips, and how many parents are finding support through online counseling.
So… What Does Attachment Parenting Entail?
Firstly, we'll go over a brief history of the AP approach.
The practice refers to what they termed the seven baby Bs: birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding close to the baby (or bed-sharing), belief in the baby’s cries, balance and boundaries, and beware of the baby trainers. These 7 ideas form the basis of the attachment parenting approach. We’ll explore each of these ideas later in this article. The essential idea of attachment parenting is that the caregiver is highly responsive to cues from the child indicating their needs. The Sears couple developed these ideas based on experience with their own eight children as well as observations of childrearing of tribal people by anthropologists.
On the other hand, an English psychiatrist John Bowlby worked with emotionally disturbed children and developed a similar theory called attachment theory. Mary Ainsworth, a child development psychologist also contributed many ideas to attachment theory. This theory emphasizes that young children rely heavily on their primary caregiver to give them a psychic foundation that results in secure attachment to other people later in life. In some ways, the ideas of attachment theory and attachment parenting overlap. However, attachment parenting is a more structured practice, and some critics feel it can lead to a mother feeling guilt or shame if she cannot provide the full range of ‘baby Bs’ for her child.
Specifically, attachment style parenting recommends that caregivers are to be physically close to their baby at all times, always touching and holding the baby and giving them plenty of love and affection. AP parents try to always to be nearby in the same room or family bed, so that they will readily hear the baby’s cry and can respond to a change in temperament right away.
The theory of attachment parenting also discourages parents from looking to what they call ‘baby trainers’ for advice on how to nurture their baby. Baby trainers, such as a developmental psychologist, often advise the parents to ignore the infant’s cues and follow a ridged formula or schedule of parenting. In contrast, attachment parenting encourage the mother to trust her instincts and have confidence in her ability to recognize the infant’s cues to know what to do and when to do it.
The “7 Baby Bs” Of Attachment Parenting According To Sears And Sears
William Sears’ theory of attachment parenting is rooted in the idea of encouraging mothers to be highly sensitive and reactive to her baby’s biological needs. There are, he believes, seven practices that mothers should do when following these sensitivity and empathy tenets of attachment parenting. He calls these practices the “7 Baby Bs,” and these principles are explained more fully below.
Sears advises against women using analgesics during the birthing process because it gets in the way of birth bonding with her baby immediately after childbirth. Instead, he recommends natural childbirth, aka drug-free childbirth. In regards to birth bonding, Sears says 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 physical closeness following unmedicated childbirth is extremely important in attachment parenting. This is the time immediately after birth where the new baby is placed on the mother’s bare chest. However, it is not limited only to the period just following birth. Skin to skin contact can be very calming for infants at any time, and the father can do skin to skin contact as well to help form baby’s secure attachment to both parents.
A natural birth can look like anything the mother would like; for example, a water birth or a home birth. It's important to note that with a high-risk pregnancy, these types of births are not recommended. However, the most important part of the birthing process is that there are no drugs involved to increase the pivotal "first-moment" connection between kids and their parents.
Another common practice that is not part of Sears' definition of attachment parenting is the lotus birth, made popular by participants in the midwifery community. This birth style involves leaving the baby attached to the placenta through delayed cord clamping until it naturally falls off. Another common post-birthing practice is called "placenta encapsulation", which involves placing the placenta into pill capsules after the birth and consuming them. Both of these practices are in line with Sears' recommendations for attachment parenting birth, but are not directly included in his 7 "B's" of parenting. They are more new-age, and you should do further research on the subjects before incorporating them into your birth plan.
Sears recommends that mothers, or the primary caregiver, wear their child on their body as often, and for as many hours, as they possibly can. He believes that baby wearing allows the mother to involve her child in everything she does, and that it makes the child happy to be with their mother for the majority of the day. In addition, the mother can quickly respond to the baby’s signals that it needs some form of attention.
Sears believes you can continue wearing your child for the first three years of life, and that baby wearing also calms down tantrums. While experts agree that baby wearing can calm a child, some pediatricians do not recommend it past nine months, saying this goes against the child’s natural inclination to become more independent and gain skills and experiences with a wider range of family life. By encouraging children to go outside their safety zone, you could foster independence from a younger age.
Balance And Boundaries
No one expects the mother to be the only one who can meet her baby’s needs, even if she is the primary care giver. Attachment parenting does not demand this because it would be unrealistic and unhealthy. It is important that mothers take care of themselves and let other people and friends help, and attachment parenting recognizes this. Especially given that VBAC or just normal childbirth can be intense on the mother's body, and that she is also healing during the first few weeks after having a baby. As the primary caregiver, a mother need to balance her personal and family life, letting fathers and other family constituents help so that she can have enough time for self-care and maintaining secure attachments with a toddler or older children. Attachment parenting can be more draining on a woman than mainstream parenting styles, and the goal is to develop emotional bonding and secure attachment early in the child’s life, not to exhaust the mother. Sears recommends a variety of ways mothers can balance personal and family life by prioritizing their tasks and passing them on to others to prevent burnout, such as letting other family do housework and chores.
This should come as no surprise really, but Sears advocates strongly for extended breastfeeding, stating that the oxytocin released during the process makes for a strong bonding experience between the mother and child. This is especially true, says Sears, during the child’s first ten days of life. He recommends frequent breastfeeding – about 8 to 12 times per day. Baby-led weaning, aka following the child's cues for when they are ready to be taken off breast-feeding is also an important part of attachment parenting feeding.
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 bed sharing, also called co-sleeping, referring to it as the nighttime version of baby-wearing. Sears particularly advises working mothers to co-sleep with their baby, as bed sharing makes up for the absence the child feels during the day while she’s at work.
He also says that co-sleeping makes nighttime breastfeeding easier, which many breastfeeding moms agree with, and that it also prevents Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and separation anxiety. While there is still much debate on whether co-sleeping prevents Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or raises the risk, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against bed sharing with infants but does encourage the idea of room-sharing as a safer alternative.
Belief In Babies Cries
Sears does not believe in sleep training, the “cry it out” method of allowing a crying child to fall asleep on their own while crying. Sears believes that listening to her baby’s cry without responding only hardens the mother’s emotional responsiveness, reduces mother/child emotional bonding, and creates insecure attachments in the child. Sears argues that there is no scientific proof that sleep training is good for children or a healthy part of child development. 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 other experts who say it is not harmful.
Crying, Sears believes, is a child’s way of expressing emotions. He advises AP parents to learn how to “read” or perform a "diagnosis" of 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 attachment parents should engage in a physical contact with the child, breastfeeding, and bed sharing as much as they can and also 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.
Beware Of Baby Trainers
Baby trainers is what Sears calls child development experts who offer advice to new parents about how to raise their child. He felt that too often, these experts encouraged mothers to go against their correct instincts about how to care for and respond to their infant. Instead, the baby trainers advised mothers to follow a set program or schedule of baby care, and Sears felt this interfered with bonding and forming a deep attachment.
Is Attachment Parenting The Right Way To Go For Me?
Common Criticism Of Attachment Parenting
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 the parenting philosophy known as attachment parenting:
It’s fear-based: Some argue that attachment parenting plays to parents’ insecurities. Most parents say they have no problem bonding with their babies and certainly don’t need to be reminded to give them love. They don’t believe that quickly responding to or preventing babies cries will result in emotional deprivation, insecure attachment, or attachment disorders. In reality, the joy of parenting and being around your child is enough without the sense of fear that Sears' instills in his patients.
It is anti-sleep training: There is so much debate and so much advice on the idea of sleep training, with some studies say it damages children and others say it’s perfectly fine. Some experts say the “cry it out” method leads to neurological problems and attachment disorders, such as disorganized attachment or insecure attachment. Other developmental psychologists say these effects are not true.
It is anti-feminist: Attachment parenting essentially advocates for women to be stay-at-home moms, which is something that is not possible for many women in today’s society, and not all mothers want to be the primary caregiver, staying at home all the time. Many women in our current world want to work and have children.
It is anti-formula: Critics argue that while breastfeeding is certainly healthy for both mother and baby, there are some mothers who can’t breastfeed or who don’t want to, and they shouldn’t be shamed in either of these cases or made to feel bad that they do not have the tools to 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 the child. 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, the effect soon becomes overbearing with the benefits few and far between. These critics feel that attachment parenting deprives children of the opportunity to explore life for themselves without mom constantly in the same room, watching over their shoulders – or wearing them on hers.
Modified And Less Strict Versions Of Attachment Parenting
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 and ready for anything. You can co-sleep and breastfeed and leave out wearing your baby all day long. Or, you can carry your child close to your body for much of the day but 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. Soon after birth, mothers experience a lot of changes in their hormones and, thus, their feelings about attachment parenting may change. You may be a carrying your baby 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 recommends. Some parents may find that cloth diapers or elimination communication work best for their child, while that simply may not be the case for you.
Go with what works for you and your child by using gentle discipline, both on yourself and the baby, when it comes to following certain parenting methods.
How To Get Help From Professionals
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 and would like support and feedback? If so, you might want to consult with a developmental psychologist, or, you can contact one of the licensed BetterHelp counselors for more information about attachment parenting, attachment theory, and forming a secure attachment with your child. BetterHelp is an online platform with thousands of licensed and experienced counselors who you can work with anywhere you have internet and a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
You can also connect with the organization called Attachment Parenting International. Attachment Parenting International has a mission of educating and supporting families as they strive to provide healthy emotional bonding and positive discipline for their children. Attachment Parenting International publishes attachment parenting tips in ENewsletters, weekly blogs, a digital magazine, and a book called Attached at the Heart, authored by Attachment Parenting International co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker. If you are interested in learning more about attachment parenting and these ideas about forming a secure attachment with your child, this organization has a lot to offer.
What is attachment style parenting?
Attachment theory parenting was originally developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby who noticed that infants would go to great lengths to maintain constant contact with their parents. His work lead to a great deal of understanding about attachment and was used as the basis for understanding attachment disorders like reactive attachment disorder in children. The term attachment parenting was popularized by Dr. William Sears. Through attachment parenting Sears believed that children could develop a secure attachment to their parents and may experiencing positive outcomes later in life.
Attachment parenting is often associated with the "7 B's," which are a set of principles that help guide parents in fostering a strong emotional bond and attachment with their children. These principles were coined by Attachment Parenting International (API) as a way to summarize key aspects of the approach. The 7 B's of attachment parenting are:
- Birth BondingThis refers to the importance of creating an immediate and strong bond with your child from the moment of birth. Practices like immediate skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and allowing the baby to stay close to the parent encourage this bonding. Often a registered nurse or doctor will directly hand the baby back to the mother for skin-to-skin contact after birth.
- Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is considered a way to promote emotional closeness and provide optimal nutrition and comfort for the baby. It's viewed as an essential part of attachment parenting.
- Babywearing: Wearing your baby in a sling or carrier allows you to keep your baby close while still attending to daily tasks. This promotes a sense of security for the baby and helps foster a strong bond between parent and child.
- Bedding Close to Baby: This principle involves practices like co-sleeping or room-sharing with your baby. Keeping the baby close during sleep allows for easier nighttime caregiving and promotes a strong parent-child attachment.
- Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby's Cry: This emphasizes responding promptly and sensitively to a baby's cries, understanding that crying is a way for babies to communicate their needs.
- Beware of Baby Trainers: Attachment parenting discourages the use of methods that seek to "train" or control a baby's behavior through techniques like strict schedules or ignoring crying.
- Balance and Boundaries: While attachment parenting emphasizes closeness and responsiveness, it also highlights the importance of finding a balance that meets both the baby's needs and the parent's needs. It encourages setting healthy boundaries and supporting a child's growing independence.
These principles provide a framework for parents who are interested in practicing attachment parenting. However, it's important to remember that each family's situation is unique, and parents can adapt these principles to align with their individual values, circumstances, and cultural considerations.
Is attachment style parenting good?
Attachment parenting can be beneficial for many families, as it emphasizes building a strong emotional bond between parents and children and prioritizes the child's emotional and psychological well-being. Although the effectiveness of attachment parenting depends on many factors, there are a few benefits to this style of parenting including developing a strong bond between parent and child, secure attachment, and increased independence in the child. Perhaps the most important aspect of attachment parenting is the reliance on exclusive breastfeeding to improve the overall health of the child.
What are the flaws of attachment parenting?
While there are many benefits to attachment parenting, it's important to recognize that no parenting approach is without potential flaws or challenges. Attachment parenting requires intensive mothering and may make it challenging for parents or other caregivers to continue in the early stages as a child needs constant care and attention. Well-meaning parents may experience negative impacts on their mental health in an attempt to practice attachment parenting. Even a good mother or father may feel guilt if they are unable to meet the ideal demands of attachment parenting.
For parents practicing attachment parenting, it may be a good idea to have a solid support network in place to help manage the early stages of development. This is especially important for mothers as breastfeeding is an integral part of attachment parenting.
What are benefits of attachment parenting?
Some of the benefits of attachment parenting include:
- Strong Parent-Child Bond: Attachment parenting focuses on creating a close and secure attachment between parents and children, which can contribute to a strong and healthy parent-child relationship.
- Emotional Well-Being: AP mothers and fathers provide emotional support, responsive caregiving, and a nurturing environment that can help children develop a positive sense of self, emotional management, and resilience.
- Secure Attachment: Attachment parenting aims to foster a secure attachment style, which research suggests is associated with positive social and emotional outcomes in children's later lives.
- Effective Communication: By prioritizing open communication and responsive listening, attachment parenting encourages children to express themselves, advocate for their own needs, and develop effective communication skills. There may also be a language value associated with AP as parents using this method of child-rearing saw quicker language development.
- Positive Discipline: Attachment parenting often involves positive discipline approaches that focus on teaching and guiding rather than punishing, which can help children understand consequences and learn from their behavior.
- Independence and Autonomy: Attachment parenting recognizes the importance of supporting children's autonomy and independence while providing a secure base from which to explore.
Is crying it out better than attachment parenting?
"Cry it out" (CIO) and attachment parenting are two contrasting approaches to addressing a child's sleep and emotional needs. Both approaches have their proponents and critics, and the effectiveness of each can vary based on individual family dynamics and the temperament of the child. It's important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and common sense dictates that what works best for one family might not work the same way for another.
Cry It Out (CIO):
Crying it out involves allowing a child to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, even if it means crying for a period of time. Proponents argue that it helps teach children to self-manage and develop sleep independence. Critics of this method express concerns about the potential stress and the emotional impact of leaving a child to cry without comfort.
Attachment parenting, championed by Katie Allison Granju in her book, “Attachment Parenting,” emphasizes responding promptly to a child's cues, including during sleep. Practices like co-sleeping or immediate comfort when a child cries aim to build a strong parent-child bond and provide a sense of security.
Ultimately, the choice between these two approaches depends on a variety of factors:
- Child's Temperament: Some children may adapt well to self-soothing and CIO, while others may become overly distressed. Attachment parenting might be a better fit for children who need more comfort and closeness.
- Parent's Values and Comfort: Some parents feel more comfortable using CIO, while others prefer the attachment parenting approach that emphasizes immediate responsiveness.
- Family Dynamics: Consider the needs and preferences of both parents and other family constituents, as well as any cultural factors that might influence your choice.
- Sleep Needs: Balancing a child's sleep needs with an approach that aligns with your family's values and lifestyle is important.
- Flexibility: Some parents might use a combination of approaches or adapt their approach based on the child's developmental stage and changing needs.
- Consult Professionals: Consulting pediatric professionals, sleep experts, or counselors can provide personalized guidance tailored to your family's situation.
Both approaches have their pros and cons, and the most important factor is the well-being of both the child and the parents. Finding an approach that aligns with your values, respects your child's needs, and promotes healthy sleep habits is key. It's also important to remember that parenting is not about finding a single "right" way, but rather about making informed decisions based on what works best for your unique family.
Why is attachment parenting controversial?
Attachment parenting is controversial due to a variety of factors, including differing perspectives on child-rearing philosophies, cultural variations, and personal beliefs. Research findings on the effectiveness of attachment parenting can be mixed or inconclusive. This creates a debate among experts and parents about the validity of the approach and its long-term outcomes.
One of the main reasons for controversy is due to the fact that many proponents of attachment parenting promote co-sleeping, where the baby is in bed with the parents. This has not been shown in research to produce a secure attachment and it may increase the risk rate of suffocation or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in certain situations.
Is attachment parenting the same as gentle parenting?
Attachment parenting and gentle parenting share some similarities in their focus on nurturing and fostering a strong parent-child bond, but they are not the same. They are two distinct parenting approaches that emphasize different aspects of parenting during different times in a child’s life.
Attachment parenting is a parenting approach that centers around building a strong emotional attachment between parent and child. It emphasizes practices such as immediate responsiveness to a child's needs, babywearing, co-sleeping, and breastfeeding as a means to strengthen the parent-child bond. Attachment parenting often places a high value on physical closeness and is rooted in attachment theory.
Gentle parenting is a broader approach that prioritizes respectful communication, empathy, and understanding in parent-child interactions. It involves treating children with kindness and compassion while guiding their behavior in a positive and non-coercive manner. Gentle parenting focuses on teaching children the skills they need to navigate life while promoting their emotional well-being.
While both attachment parenting and gentle parenting advocate for positive and empathetic approaches to parenting, gentle parenting encompasses a wider range of practices beyond the physical closeness emphasized in attachment parenting.
Is attachment parenting unhealthy?
Attachment parenting is not inherently unhealthy, but like any parenting approach, it has both potential benefits and challenges that families should consider. Benefits may include developing a strong bond with the child early on, emotional well-being, and the potential for secure attachment. However, attachment parenting can be challenging for the parents due to the high demands put on parental involvement. Constant responsiveness may lead to parents becoming more stressed and exhausted than they would using other methods of parenting.
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