- What is attachment parenting?
- A brief history of AP
- The 7 Baby Bs
- Principles of Attachment parenting
- Benefits of AP
- Criticisms of attachment parenting
Mira sleeps just beside her baby’s crib. She wakes up whenever her baby moves or sucks the thumb. She reads the cues and attends to the baby’s needs even before it begins crying. Through the day, Mira carries the little one in a saddle tied to her.
That’s a classic example of attachment parenting.
What Is Attachment Parenting?
Attachment parenting (AP) is an approach that encourages and forms a strong parent-child bond. This attachment since the time of birth forms the basis on which the child perceives and experiences their future relationships.
AP focuses on nurturing and connecting with the child. The parents meet their child’s needs of affection, care, and trust by providing love and care consistently.
A Brief History Of Attachment Parenting
Attachment parenting stems from the attachment theory founded by psychologist John Bowlby in 1950 (1). According to the attachment theory:
- Attachment begins in infancy and continues throughout the life; infants use inherent behavioral mechanisms for survival. These attachment behaviors are instinctive and get stimulated when there is a threat (such as separation from the parent) to the relationship.
- These attachment behaviors become fixed patterns over time, and the child produces ‘social releaser’ and reacts through crying or smiling to elicit a response from the caregivers.
- The infant initially establishes a secure attachment with the primary caregiver and forms the base for exploration. They like to explore, but when they feel threatened, they turn to the primary caregiver for protection.
- This attachment relationship serves as a prototype for all social relationships, hence severing it can have drastic consequences.
The term ‘attachment parenting’ was coined by pediatrician Dr. William Sears. In 1993, William Sears and his wife Martha have published The Baby Book, which talks extensively about this form of parenting.
[ Read: Parent-Child Relationship ]
The 7 Baby Bs Of Attachment Parenting:
William Sears has proposed seven tools of attachment parenting required to nurture the bond between the mother and the baby:
- Birth bonding: According to Dr. Sears, mothers should begin bonding with the baby immediately after their birth, when the infants are in an “alert state”
- Breastfeeding: The release of bonding hormones oxytocin and prolactin in the mother while breastfeeding, will help her get attached to the baby. Therefore, Dr. Sears recommends breastfeeding on demand and not on an adult-led schedule.
- Babywearing: Dr. Sears advises the mothers to carry the babies as much as possible to keep the baby happy. Also, it keeps the infant involved in everything the mother does. He claims that it also helps in language acquisition.
- Bedding close to baby (co-sleeping): Dr. Sears terms co-sleeping as an extension of babywearing. He believes that it helps the mother breastfeed the baby in the nights, be with them through the night, and avoid suffocation of the baby. He argues that sleeping together will ensure a better sleep for both the mother and the baby
- Belief in the language-value of your baby’s cry: A parent should understand the meaning of a baby’s cry. They need to know why the infant is crying, and attend immediately. Dr. Sears also says that the parents should respond to the early signs so that the baby doesn’t have to cry. This way, the infant will understand that they need not cry for minor issues.
- Balance: The burden of attachment parenting is heavy on the mother. Therefore, Dr. Sears advises them to take good care of their mental and physical health and maintain a balance.
- Beware of baby trainers: Dr. Sears advises parents to refrain from convenience parenting. Instead, he tells them to respond to the child with empathy and avoid training the child or forming schedules for the child.
The concept of AP has been revised by experts. Attachment Parenting International (API), a prominent organization in this approach, has come up with some principles.
[ Read: What Is Conscious Parenting ]
Principles Of Attachment Parenting
The API has identified eight principles (2):
- Lay the groundwork for pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting: Pregnancy is a stressful period, and parenting demands responsibility. Therefore, you need to decide about the childbirth options, pregnancy care, and the parenting style you want to follow. Get rid of negative thoughts about pregnancy and embrace parenthood.
- Respond sensitively: Attachment parenting considers all forms of expression (crying, tantrums, happiness) as real and parents respond to them sensitively and seriously.
- Provide a nurturing touch: Skin-to-skin touch of a newborn with the mother promotes bonding and facilitates the baby’s growth and development (3). Attachment parents ensure maximum skin contact by carrying babies in slings, holding and cuddling. Parenting methods such as cry-it-out do not suit AP.
- Give love and care constantly: Attachment parenting proponents recommend constant presence of the mother with the baby to provide love and care, and breastfeed them whenever the child asks for.
- Feed lovingly and respectfully: Breastfeeding creates a secure attachment between the mother and the child. It also gives the baby an assurance that their mother will attend and fulfill their needs.
- Sleep together: The API recommends sharing a room with the baby and sleeping in the same bed if the parent takes every possible care to avoid sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Sleeping in the same room helps the parent to respond to the baby’s needs without delay.
- Adopt positive discipline: Attachment parenting focuses on leading by example. It is against giving any punishment to the child but discipline them through distraction, problem-solving and such methods, which require a parent’s active participation.
- Aim for personal and family life balance: Attachment parents are motivated to construct a support network to have a healthy life and prevent exhaustion. Parents need to strike a balance between their parenting role and personal life so that they give their 100% to parenting. They need to be healthy to inspire the child to have a healthy lifestyle.
- So much attachment from the parent makes AP beneficial to the baby. Let’s see how.
[ Read: Holistic Parenting Tips ]
Benefits Of Attachment Parenting
Here are the benefits of attachment parenting:
- Mutual love and care: In attachment parenting, you give your child total attention and are highly responsive to their needs. Your baby understands that you are there to calm and soothe them. It teaches them to love you and care for you as they grow up.
- The baby remains calm and peaceful: AP practices such as babywearing, co-sleeping, and breastfeeding reassure babies, make them feel secure, and calm them down. These feelings are transferred to you too. For example, while breastfeeding, you nourish and comfort your baby, and your baby reciprocates through sucking, which releases prolactin hormone; this hormone has a soothing effect on you.
The child learns to be calm and quiet, instead of getting upset. Your baby is likely to cry less even during the night. They sense that you are there to meet their needs. Hence, they are less cranky, fussy or clingy.
- The child develops healthy relationships: Attachment parenting allows your child to connect and interact with others. They interact better with their peers and develop a strong bond with people.
- Improve the child’s overall health: Children who are secure are able to focus on their academics and have better cognitive abilities. As you are attached to your child, they have nothing to worry about and seek your help when required. The constant flow of communication and support keep them mentally and physically healthy (4).
- Helps the child become independent: Secure environment and responsiveness promote independence in the child.
- Brings the best in both parent and child: When babies are calm and relaxed, the parents too are stress-free. Healthy parents act as emotional regulators for the child. The child’s energy is conserved and diverted towards healthy development.
- Helps children to regulate emotions: A strong support base at home makes the child seek the family’s support during emotional times. They bank on the parent’s guidance instead of taking any extreme steps or resorting to unhealthy practices. Secure attachment relationships result in emotional regulation and increased levels of positive mood.
In a nutshell, attached babies grow to their full potential. However, AP is not spared from criticism.
Criticisms Of Attachment Parenting
Not everybody supports the attachment theory. Here’s what the critics say:
- Change in the times and caregivers. Attachment theory dates back to the 1950s when the mother was the primary caregiver and was often at home. But times have changed now and women like to pursue their careers even after childbirth. It means that they can’t be with the child throughout the day and night.
- There is the risk of SIDS. Critics say that when the child shares the bed with the parent or when there is co-sleeping, there is a risk of SIDS. API recommends safety measures while sharing the bed so that there is no risk of suffocation for the baby.
- The degree of attachment changes. Psychologists say that AP may not suit the child as they grow into a teenager. Their priorities change and they feel suffocated with too much attachment from the parent.
- Children become over-dependent and parents get overstressed. Critics say that when every need and mood of the child is constantly taken care of, then the child becomes heavily dependent on the parent and that becomes an additional pressure on the parents. Children might even start controlling the parents.
[ Read: What Is Positive Parenting ]
Attachment parenting might be taxing on the mother. But certain principles, such as breastfeeding, being available for the baby, and attending to them before they cry, have all been scientifically proven to be beneficial to the baby.
You do not have to rigidly follow the parenting style. Instead, make amendments to your approach as you learn from your experiences, and as your child grows from a baby to a teenager.
Do you have any attachment parenting experience to share? Leave your comments below.
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