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Attachment parenting is a much-debated topic, but if you simply want to know what it’s all about, then this is the guide you’ve been looking for.
The attachment parenting technique is based on attachment theory, which suggests babies and children need emotional and physical closeness to their parent in order to develop into stable adults.
However, as with any parenting style, it’s important to use the aspects of attachment parenting that work well for you and your family. There’s no point trying to force anything into your routine if it’s inconvenient, fruitless or negatively impacting on your day-to-day life.
What is attachment parenting?
Attachment parenting stems from attachment theory – the study that says that instinctively, infants look for closeness with a stable ‘attachment figure’. According to people who follow the principles of attachment parenting, this closeness is needed in order for infants’ emotional security.
With this in mind, attachment parenting is said to promote a way of raising children that ensures their trust in their caregivers. It is said that if a child isn’t raised by the attachment method, they’re more likely to develop insecurities, resentment, attachment disorders, and a lack of empathy as they grow older.
How do I use attachment parenting?
According to attachmentparenting.org, a parent should try to follow the eight key principles of attachment parenting:
1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting
To apply attachment parenting during pregnancy, you need to avoid all negative emotions and thoughts towards being pregnant. The point of this is to prepare yourself emotionally for how demanding parenting can be.
2. Feed with love and respect
In the world of attachment parenting, breastfeeding is ‘the optimal way to satisfy an infant’s nutritional and emotional needs’.
Breastfeeding is seen as the best way to create a proper attachment between mother and child, and is said to teach babies that their mother will listen to their indications and will respond by fulfilling what they need. However, breastfeeding isn’t always straightforward or possible for many women, so there’s no need to worry if this is the case – formula is perfectly fine!
3. Respond with sensitivity
Part of attachment parenting is the belief that every expression of emotion counts as an attempt to communicate – even tantrums. Rather than punishing children for their outbursts, attachment parents instead aim to understand what their child is trying to say to ‘build the foundation of trust and empathy’.
‘Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions,’ the site states. ‘Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.’
4. Use nurturing touch
Skin-to-skin contact is used frequently to strengthen the bond between parent and child. Joint baths, co-sleeping and &’baby-wearing’ (carrying babies in front-facing baby carriers) all count as nurturing touches.
5. Engage in night-time parenting
Co-sleeping is a big part of attachment parenting. It’s when a child sleeps in the same room as its parents, so that they can attend to its needs throughout the night.
You can even take it a step further and share your bed with your little one, although the NHS currently advises against this, as it’s said to increase an infant’s risk of SIDS. It’s important to remember that if co-sleeping doesn’t work for you, then there’s no need to force it!
6. Provide constant, loving care
This means that your presence as a parent is almost always constant, or at least as much as you can allow, and external childcare should be limited to 20 hours a week for babies younger than 30 months old.
However, work schedules and life in general can often get in the way, so simply getting some quality time with your little one as often as you can is a great effort.
7. Practice positive discipline
Parents who wish to follow attachment parenting are advised to discipline their children by guiding, distracting and redirecting them – from the moment they’re born. An emphasis is placed on trying to understand a child’s reasons for misbehaving, communicating with them, and trying to reach a conclusion by working together.
8. Strive for balance in personal and family life
Attachment parents are guided to try and juggle everything that comes with being a family, by creating and strengthening a support system, living healthily, and avoiding becoming stressed and burned out.
Does it attachment parenting work?
Mum Leta from Attachment Mummy is a keen supporter of attachment parenting, and says her family’s lives would be drastically different if they hadn’t had been involved with it:
‘We discovered Attachment Parenting when pregnant with our first child, and emotionally and intellectually it made perfect sense. Why go through TTC then waiting for our beloved baby to be born, only to separate her from us in a baby chair, pram and cot?
‘Babies are meant to be with their mother, to be carried, held and slept next to. Evolutionarily, we would have died out long ago if they hadn’t!
‘Many of the ‘problems’ with babies we hear about in modern times are caused by denying this fact. If you’re with your baby, and responding to their needs 24/7, they don’t need to cry.
‘Breastfeed to term, wear them in a wrap or sling (correctly!), honour natural sleep patterns, and more, and they are highly unlikely to suffer from colic, flat head syndrome, weak necks, sleep issues and all the other complaints a whole commercial industry has grown up to rectify.
‘We have been with our children constantly since birth, we have completely altered our lifestyle and working lives to accommodate our family’s needs, and we wouldn’t change a thing. Now aged 6, 4 and 2, they are delightful, interesting, engaging human beings (most of the time!), independent of thought, outgoing and fun. Why wouldn’t we want to spend time with them?
‘I can’t even imagine how our life and family would be if we had followed a conventional parenting route.’
Parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith is an advocate of attachment theory, but feels that some of the guidelines that stem from attachment parenting are too idealistic for many parents.
‘[Attachment theory] at no point [says] that all babies and toddlers should bedshare, be carried, baby led wean, breastfeed, wear cloth nappies, be born at home and never, ever cry. These ‘tools’ have nothing to do with attachment theory (which is what I support, rather than attachment parenting),’ she explains.
‘They are modern-day additions that have formed an idealistic label. They are not necessary, certainly not in order to foster a secure attachment with a child. They may make our job [as parents] easier (and I’m a fan of them all), but they are not a pre-requisite.
‘Contrary to [common attachment parenting] opinion, it is perfectly possible to be a great, respectful and empathic parent if your child sleeps in a cot in their own room, is formula fed and you use a buggy. Attachment theory is about providing a ‘secure base’ for the child.
‘Allowing them to attach when they need to and detach when they need to. It’s about being ‘good enough’ as a mother (or father) to allow the child small, well-timed, doses of separation so that they emerge as an independent, confident child and adult as they grow.’
Are there any drawbacks to attachment parenting?
Attachment parenting is a style, not a requirement, and it may not suit every family. Criticism of attachment parenting says that it often plays to the fears of new parents, and creates division around issues like breastfeeding and baby wearing.
What’s your verdict on attachment parenting? Let us know in the comments below!