I didn’t really learn much about attachment parenting until my first child was about nine months old.
A fellow blogger asked me to guest post about the topic and I had to ask her what it was.
She responded with things like, “breastfeeding, cosleeping, gentle discipline, babywearing,” and the like.
I’ve since never actually studied the parenting style, per say, but I have learned lots about it as I’ve gone through my parenting journey and rubbed shoulders with like-minded moms and dads.
What I’ve discovered is that attachment parenting is really just following your intuition when it comes to taking care of your baby.
When a loving parent instinctively acts in a way that meets their baby’s needs, it usually falls into the attachment parenting category.
What I also discovered is that you don’t have to follow all the attachment parenting “rules” per say to be a part of it.
Many parents just adhere to a couple of the tenets of the style and not all, and that’s just fine. Rule-following sort of defeats the purpose of this approach.
When my first baby was born, she was so colicky.
I think back to her first few months and cringe as I remember the hours and hours of holding her, bouncing her, rocking her, and pacing the floor with her when all I wanted to do was sit down and take a nap.
She was so exhausting. I wanted to put her down, I wished I could just let her “cry it out,” as so many people say you should, but it didn’t feel right doing so.
I wanted her to know that anytime she called for me, I would come. So I came. Over and over again I came.
I came even if I was hungry, even if it had been four days since my last shower, and even if I hadn’t had a chance to pee yet. I came.
Sometimes I had to let her cry (and it broke my heart), because you can’t survive on baby snuggles without food or bathroom breaks, but it was only for minutes at a time.
I didn’t know what was irritating her so, I didn’t know how I could fix it, but I knew that my heartbeat, my movement, and my voice helped, so that’s what I gave her.
After about two months of this I was so exhausted. I didn’t know how I could continue.
I saw a woman in the grocery store wearing a Moby Wrap (basically a long strip of cloth artfully wrapped around mother and baby for babywearing), and I felt like that would be the key to sanity for myself, my husband, and our fussy daughter.
Once we figured out the wrapping, it made all three of our lives so much easier.
Now, I didn’t have to put my screaming little girl down when I peed or grabbed a snack.
I didn’t have to fit in folding laundry and doing dishes while she took her five minute naps intermittently throughout the day.
She stayed against my chest all the time. Only, she wasn’t screaming anymore, she was calm because she was wrapped so snugly and she was right up against my heart. It almost felt like she was in the womb again.
I could finally do dishes, and laundry, and I could even sit down once she fell asleep.
I could sit down! You don’t realize what a blessing it is to sit until you haven’t been able to do it in awhile. It was great.
I wore her in that thing until she was about two years of age, and I found it was helpful for babysitting my friends’ infants as well.
It was the magic key to calming any infant (that I encountered) and making them feel safe.
Only later did I realize that my reaction to my daughter’s colic and my wearing her against my body all the time could be classified as attachment parenting.
It makes sense, though, because she was literally attached to me most of the day.
Breastfeeding is also a key part of attachment parenting.
I don’t breastfeed because of a particular parenting style, though.
I breastfed because my mom breastfed and it was the most natural feeding solution to me.
I also breastfeed because I just love the bond it forms between me and my child.
I think it’s ingenious that we were designed in such a way that we feed our babies at the perfect distance from our faces for us to gaze into each other’s eyes and bond.
This isn’t to say you can’t practice attachment parenting or that special feeding bond without breastfeeding.
I have never bottle fed my own babies, but I have bottle fed other babies and when they’re cradled in your arms drinking milk from the bottle, they look at you just the same way a baby does at the breast, so I think the attachment there has to be similar.
Breastfeeding in particular, however lends itself well to attachment parenting because since it requires no preparation, it makes it easier to feed on demand.
The breast is always there, always ready to go, and there is no mixing, heating, shaking, or pouring required. You can let your baby nurse as needed.
They can suck for two minutes because they got a boo boo and they need comfort, or they can nurse for thirty minutes or more because they’re just that hungry or because they don’t know any other way to fall sleep.
Breastfeeding and baby wearing often work well together depending upon the type of carrier you use.
I have a Boba carrier now and if I’m wearing the baby against my belly and chest, I can easily pop out a breast and nurse while grocery shopping or running other errands.
The baby’s needs are being met emotionally because they’re held close to mom’s heart, and physically because they don’t have to wait to get the nourishment they need.
The attachment parenting style also encourages extended breastfeeding – nursing your child past one year of age.
I nursed both of my first two children until they were two years old and would have liked to do so for longer but for one reason or another had to stop.
It was nice to be able to still offer them that comfort and nourishment as they grew past the baby stage.
It was nice to hear them verbalize wanting to nurse or even hear what they were thinking in between sips.
It also comes in handy to be able to nurse when a baby is sick. It’s hard to get fluids into a sick child but when they nurse for comfort, they’re also staying hydrated, getting valuable antibodies, and they’re often able to get better more quickly.
Many parents who practice a more attachment parenting style choose to cosleep.
If you breastfeed, this can actually be more relaxing to you as you can just pop the baby on the breast without having to get out of the bed.
It’s calming to your baby and in many cases to the mother as well because she gets more sleep without having to leave the bed and climb into a chair to nurse or to the kitchen to prepare a bottle.
Moms have a tough time staying away during night feedings and can end up falling asleep in chairs or on the couch anyway, so if that’s the case for you, cosleeping might be just the ticket.
We’re on the fence about cosleeping, simply because we don’t sleep very well with a baby in our bed.
I bring the babies into the bed with me to nurse, and in the first months I often fall somewhere in between waking and sleeping as they nurse and then rouse an hour or two later to put them to bed, but I don’t actually sleep soundly until they’re out of my bed.
My husband and I keep our babies in our bedroom right next to our bed until they’re a couple of months old anyway, so they’re still near enough that I can get to them immediately, but I can also fall into a nice deep sleep in between feedings if it’s a night where the baby actually allows that.
Some people feel uncomfortable cosleeping because all the anti-cosleeping literature that is out there.
If you aren’t comfortable doing it, then don’t. Not cosleeping doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby and you aren’t going to bond with them well.
When done correctly, cosleeping can be perfectly safe and can actually prevent infant death by SIDS.
If you’re going to cosleep, you shouldn’t be a smoker. Babies who live in the house with a smoker run more of a risk of dying of SIDS than other infants anyway.
Avoid alcohol if planning to cosleep. In addition, avoid any drugs that will cause drowsiness or inhibit your ability to wake up as necessary throughout the night.
Keep any pillows or thick blankets away from the baby.
Also, it’s best if a cosleeping baby is breastfed and sleeps with the mother, not the father, as a breastfeeding mother is biologically more in tune with her baby and its needs.
The reason I don’t cosleep full time with my babies is that I can’t actually fully fall asleep with my baby under the crook of my arm, which tells me that I’m biologically created to be able to cosleep safely given the correct circumstances.
No matter how sleep deprived I am, I’m always partially aware as long as my baby is in my arms. I’m hyper sensitive to their every move and sound.
When our babies are sick, I keep them in the bed with us all night for this reason – I am able to sleep very lightly and I’m constantly aware of any temperature changes that happen while they sleep and available to attend to them if their fever gets to high, their breathing changes, or they vomit.
Finally, cosleeping should happen on the bed and with purpose rather than on the couch or a chair by accident.
Many SIDS deaths associated with cosleeping happen because the mom or the dad falls asleep in furniture other than the bed and the baby slides down to a position where they can’t breathe.
Often, these parents are trying to avoid the dangers of cosleeping and accidentally fall asleep with their children.
In any case, do read up on the dangers and the benefits of cosleeping and weigh them out before deciding either way whether or not it’s the right choice for your family.
No “Crying It Out”
As I mentioned before, an attachment parenting style depends strongly on intuitively loving your child and meeting his or her needs as they come.
While my children are young, I don’t let them cry very much at all before going to them to hold them, change their diaper, or feed them.
So many people tell me “You’re going to spoil that child if you keep picking her up!” and I strongly disagree.
Infants don’t cry to be manipulative, they cry because it is their only means of communication.
If their parent comes to them quickly to meet their needs, they come to trust that when they cry, someone will come.
It is impossible to spoil a baby. When you become a parent, you realize that instantly.
A baby cries to communicate needs because that is their only means of communicating.
When my babies cry, my entire body craves to find a solution to their problem and it almost feels as if I am in physical pain until they are calm and happy again.
As they grow older and become more and more independent, my natural instinct to run immediately to them when they cry slowly decreases.
I think it’s no accident that it decreases as my children become more cognitively aware and capable of communication.
At this point, sometimes their cries can be manipulative.
That isn’t to say they shouldn’t be attended to quickly, simply that sometimes their cries do imply urgent action needs to be taken and other times they’re just cranky or mad at me because I didn’t let them have two cookies.
Also, please don’t feel badly for the times that your infant is crying and you truly can’t attend to their needs immediately.
My third child, for instance, cried longer before I was able to get to her than my first two simply because I was so busy taking care of her older siblings as well.
The fact that she always did cry was a testament to the fact that she knew I would come for her and she was bonding well with me.
Baby wearing comes in handy when you have multiple children because it often helps you meet the needs of multiple children at a time.
I can be holding (wearing) my fussy infant while making lunch for my toddler, or even changing his diaper.
Baby wearing can be a saving grace for any parent with multiple children under a certain age.
If you want to read about all the tenants of attachment parenting, check out this website here: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/parentingtopics/infants-toddlers/babysleepstrategies
It includes simple explanations for what the style entails as well as links to many more resources that can educate you further on the topic.
As you read it, don’t feel like you have to adhere to them all, either. You are the parent and ultimately you are the one who knows best what your children need.
Parent as you need to to meet their needs while simultaneously being sure not to neglect your own needs.
Finally, when you “fail” as you will most assuredly feel you have many, many times, don’t beat yourself up about it.
We are all imperfect people and we can’t do everything right all the time. Your parents weren’t perfect and you turned out okay.
Your child can sense that you love them and you are trying your best to be a good parent and that is really all they need – the security of knowing that you love them unconditionally and you will meet their needs to the best of your ability.