Are you feeding your baby on demand or sleeping next to him in the same bed? You may be practising Attachment Parenting, or AP, as many refer to it. Who doesn’t want to be an attached parent?
Attachment parenting took a beating after Time magazine featured a controversial cover picture of Jamie Lynne Grummet nursing her 3-year-old son. If the cover wasn’t inflammatory enough, the title “Are you mommy enough?” added further fuel to the anti-attachment parenting outrage.
But, what is attachment parenting? With so much advice on different styles of parenting, which one is the best? Should you tend to baby’s every whim, or not?
What is Attachment Parenting?
AP involves “child centered” rather than “parent centered” parenting.
AP became a popular buzzword around parenting theories around 25 years ago when a paediatrician, Dr William Sears, introduced the term. . According to Sears, this attachment will help a child to develop a higher level of security which will translate into healthier relationships throughout life. AP is based on the idea that babies learn to trust and thrive when their needs are constantly met by caregivers.
They key components of AP are:
• Co-sleeping – either in the same room as the parents, or in the same bed. This may involve having bedtime occur on the child’s schedule, not the parents’.
• Feeding on demand – allowing the child to set the timing for feeding (whether breast-fed or bottle-fed), along with self-weaning.
• Holding and touching – keeping the child physically near, whether through cuddling or cradling, or by wearing on a front- or backpack arrangement.
• Responsiveness to crying – not letting the child “cry it out” but instead intervening early, reacting to the child’s distress before it gets out of control.
You can see why each of these areas of AP would have strong advocates and equally strong critics.
One of the tenets of AP is that a child is breastfed on demand. Yes, baby will be happier and won’t cry as much but critics warn that this could lead to a habit where baby will want to “snack” throughout the day and night! Is this sustainable? While baby is “snacking” constantly, it will be hard for mom to get anything done, let alone taking care of her own needs. Critics also warn that this could possibly limit the involvement of dads and other caregivers. If baby is eating so frequently, he probably just wants his mother. Life might be easier when you don’t have to worry about feeding schedules and having bottles ready … as long as mom is available.
AP advocates that mom and baby should sleep together; when baby wants to eat, mom is able to just roll over and feed him. Yes, this is very convenient, but critics warn that aside from the safety concerns, babies get used to sleeping next to a warm body and heartbeat next to them and they will come to depend on that.
The same is true for constant baby-wearing. It is hard for a child to be put down when she is used to being held all the time. Does responsiveness to crying simply reinforce crying? According to critics it means that a child will never learn to self-sooth if the first thing he gets when he cries, is the breast.
Parenthood is never easy. Like so many intentioned practices, when taken to the extreme it loses its value. AP seems to hold some advantages for alleviating stress in parents. Kids aren’t crying as often and if what we know about stress is true, their immune systems might function better and they won’t be sick that often. The bottom line is that when you separate the popular exaggerations of AP from the more objectively orientated studies, it’s a sensible approach that fosters physical and psychological well-being in kids. Keep in mind that Attachment Parenting is neither right nor wrong. The “style” of parenting is not important.
Every child and every parent are unique individuals – you need to find a good fit.