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Attachment Parenting

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When Abby Spencer of London was pregnant with her first child, she set up a cot in the nursery, bought a pram, a baby bath and baby bottles. She planned on giving breastfeeding a try but assumed she would bottle feed within a short time. The first night her son was home from the hospital, she realized that she did not feel comfortable with him sleeping alone. She put him in bed with her and he has been sleeping with her and husband for the past 3 years. 

As the days went on, she followed his cues and carried him during the day in a sling or in her arms. She used the pram only once and then sold it on eBay. She never touched the baby bottles and breastfed him until he self-weaned at 18 months. After a while, Abby realized that there was a name for the type of parenting she was doing with her son; Attachment Parenting.

What is Attachment Parenting?

Attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy made popular by William and Martha Sears that emphasizes respect and developing connections with your child from birth. The premise is that if a baby's needs are met then they will trust their caregivers and develop healthy attachments throughout their life. Proponents of attachment parenting say that it raises children that are independent, secure and caring. Many parents decide to practice attachment parenting before their baby is born, while others, like Abby, realize after the fact that there is a name for their style of parenting.

Attachment Parenting International (API) works with parents around the globe to educate them about attachment parenting and support families practising attachment parenting. API has eight principals to help families develop these connections during their daily life.

  1. Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
  2. Feed with Love and Respect
  3. Respond with Sensitivity
  4. Use Nurturing Touch
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  6. Provide Consistent Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

Many parents think that attachment parenting is a set of strict rules that they must follow. Instead, it is an overall philosophy, not a specific checklist of how to parent your child. However, many common parenting practices such as letting a baby cry it out and spanking are contrary to attachment parenting principals.

Practising Attachment Parenting

Attachment parenting looks different for every family, and there are many ways to apply API's eight principals to your family. For example, many parents implement the principal of 'Feed with Love and Respect' by breastfeeding until the child decides to self-wean (often into toddlerhood). If a mother chooses not to breastfeed, API advocates bottle nursing as an alternative. Bottle nursing is when a parent feeds their baby from a bottle while modelling breastfeeding behaviours, such as holding the baby close to her breast, switching from side to side and feeding on cue.

A common challenge for attachment parenting families is educating other people, such as doctors, family members and health visitors. Because most people are used to babies sleeping in separate rooms and riding in prams, they often don't understand attachment parenting.

Many new parents are concerned about the amount of time involved in attachment parenting and the demands on the mother. Attachment parents often find that this type of parenting actually takes less time than traditional parenting because the baby is with you most of the day and night. Because of the proximity, parents and baby develop a rhythm and relationship that make interpreting the baby's cries and needs much easier. Fathers are very important in attachment parenting and can wear the baby, change nappies and support the mother with feeding.

Recently, medical professionals have raised concerns about bed sharing increasing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). API addresses this concern by providing detailed guidelines for parents who are going to share a bed with their child and recommending bed sharing only for breastfeeding families. For families who choose not to share a bed with their children, API advocates co-sleeping. The child sleeps in the same room as the parent, but on a separate sleep surface. Parents who are co-sleeping may have their baby in a co-sleeper, bassinet or their older child in a separate bed in the parent's room.

In addition to the potential benefits of attachment parenting for children, parents typically find that they are more confident in their ability to care for their child. Abby says that the result of attachment parenting in her family has been 'Happy parents and happy children.' She goes on to explain that she advocates AP because it has brought joy to her life and that she couldn't imagine doing things any differently.

More information:

Attachment Parenting International

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Article by Jennifer Gregory

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