Attachment Parenting: Overview, Benefits and Drawbacks

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The arrival of a new baby brings about a turnaround or a resolution to your life. One time you’re busy planning weekend getaways, date nights, and perhaps holiday trips, and the next moment you’re busy looking after your sweet baby and attending to their every need.

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A quick reminder is that you shouldn’t forget to look after yourself too. At the end of those fuzzy first few months of day and night feeding periods and sleepless nights, you would probably want to take a deep breath and decide how you’re going to go about this parenting stuff.

It’s the time to plan how to be a supermom or super dad in a way that conforms with your personal beliefs and values. There is no perfect approach when it comes to parenting.

At some point, you might feel the urge to adopt a specific style of parenting, but in the real sense, parenting is a whole journey in which the method you wish to adopt can take time for you to figure out.

Even when you figure out a specific style to use, it could still change because your family needs are ever-evolving. Let’s have a close look at the meaning of attachment parenting and how it’s done.

You are also free to generate your own parenting style that fits well for you. But bear it in mind that emphasis is laid on using evidence-based practices that promote the maximum health and safety of your child.

What is attachment parenting?

Attachment parenting is a contemporary parenting principle based on the attachment theory coined from the work of two child psychologists, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.

This theory states that a strong emotional and physical attachment to at least one primary caregiver is critical to personal development. Attachment parenting stresses that emotional and physical child-parent bond is formed through designated “tools.”

These tools are created to enhance physical contact, maximum empathy, and responsiveness.

It is believed that this approach will boost both parent and child’s confidence because the parent gets to know how to identify and respond to the needs of their baby correctly, and the baby also feels confident that their needs will be met.

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Basic tenets of attachment parenting

Every loving parent’s intention is to be watchful and attentive to their child’s needs, but the difference between parenting styles is how to go about it.

Below are the guides to attachment parenting, which put together is known as the “Baby B’s.” As you read through, try considering the best tool for your child.

If you feel there’s a tool you aren’t comfortable with, as some don’t fall in line with the current American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations, you should talk to your pediatrician about it to make sure your baby is safe.

Birth Bonding

Attachment parenting sees the early bonding between parents and their baby immediately and a few weeks  after birth as an important phase in creating a healthy and long-term parent-child attachment.

In this approach, there’s a lot of  skin contact and consistent togetherness between parent and baby with a high amount of infant nursing from the mother especially, and this could be done using the tools below:

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is seen as an important healthy way to nurse and calm your baby. It brings about physical contact and a chance to answer to your baby’s hunger needs. Breastfeeding also activates a mother’s body to release hormones that may boost mothering impulse potentially.

Mothers listen; we know breastfeeding can be physically and emotionally exhausting. There are instants where new moms want to breastfeed their baby but are unable to do so for a number of reasons, and other moms too who choose not to breastfeed their babies for very genuine reasons.

Although attachment parenting and science establishes that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for your baby, your baby’s source of nutrition and mother-baby bonding can thrive through other methods of feeding.

Breastfeeding is a personal choice that is motivated by what allows you and your baby to thrive.

Baby Wearing

You probably have seen every type of sling and wrap, so with the attachment parenting view, babywearing brings about physical closeness and trust between the baby and their caregiver.

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Babies can safely get to know about their surroundings, and parents can mutually learn about their babies through such closeness.

Bed Sharing

This might pose as contentious of all the attachment parenting tools. This approach explains that bed-sharing is used to reduce a baby’s restlessness at night and make nighttime breastfeeding less stressful for the mother.

However, research has shown that there are serious risks that come with co-sleeping. These include but not limited to suffocation, oxygen deprivation, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and being caught in the covers by the caregiver while sleeping.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released the safe sleep guidelines which recommend sleeping in the same room with your baby for the duration of 6 months and up to 1year, but on different sleeping areas.

It also states that room-sharing and not bed-sharing can reduce the risk of SIDS by 50 percent, bed-sharing only increases it. Other safe sleep suggestions from the AAP include:

  • Preventing your baby from exposure to alcohol, illicit drugs, and smoke.
  • Placing your child to sleep with their back on a firm surface.
  • Giving your child a pacifier at nap and bedtime, although pacifiers tend to disturb breastfeeding.
  • The use of tight-fitting sheets in a bare cot with no toys, blankets, or pillows included.

Belief in baby’s cries

In the attachment parenting, the cries of a baby are seen as their own way of communicating when they’re in need, and not as a form of manipulation.

Attachment parents are fast to compassionately attend to their baby’s cry to enhance the growth of infant-caregiver trust and become acquainted with their baby’s style of communicating.

Balance and Boundaries

The notion of balance is hard to meet 100 percent most of the time, especially during the early days of raising an infant.

Striving for balance involves that everyone’s needs, not just the child’s, are recognized and met to the greatest extent possible. In an ideal world, every family members need is reached all the time, everyone is happy and healthy, and the family is perfectly in balance.

But in the real world, nobody’s family life is perfectly balanced all the time. It is not unusual for a parent to feel out of balance at times. Parents continuously look for creative ways to find balance in their personal and family life.

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Attachment parenting supports the need to find ways to calmly and respond rightly to the needs of your baby, yourself, and others in your family.

Attachment parenting infants (birth to age 1)

Contrasting with attachment parenting are other styles that use the “baby training” approach, which is seen in the “cry it out” technique that creates more parent-infant autonomy and strict schedule for sleeping and feeding.

However, in attachment parenting, the cries of the babies are viewed as their communication tool, which gives way for the baby to guide these needs rather than their parent affirming them.

The following are examples of what attachment parenting techniques might look like from birth to age 1.

Birth

  • The beginning of physical bonding and skin-to-skin contact between mother and child starts Immediately after birth.
  • Breastfeeding also starts Immediately after birth.
  • Both parents hold their newborns often.
  • Parent starts listening to the cries and signals of their baby so as to learn cues, needs, and reaction to certain things.
  • The mother sets up breastfeeding with a required feeding schedule.
  • The use of pacifiers should be shunned, and breastfeeding should be used instead.

0 to 12 months

  • Parents use a safe baby carrier to hold and carry their babies often.
  • The mother allows the baby direct when feeding happens, and this fosters persistent breastfeeding.
  • Parents respond to the cries of their baby as quickly as possible and attend to all their needs with sensitivity.
  • Parents study the behavior of the baby, facial expressions, and ways to build knowledge about the baby’s temperament, needs, and overall health.
  • Parent and child co-sleep (the AAP does not recommend this) or sleep in the same room( this is recommended)
  • There is an emphasis on empathy towards the baby’s negative emotions or outbursts.
  • The use of pacifiers should be avoided.

Attachment parenting toddlers

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Attachment parenting in toddlers takes the same parent-child connection principles, but the tools changes as the baby move into this autonomous stage of growth.

The style is primarily child-guided, and it is proposed to keep an open time frame for tools used for weaning and those related to co-sleeping and breastfeeding based on the baby’s readiness signs.

The attachment parenting style in toddlers may seem different for each family. However, there are some ways the principles can be approached with your toddler:

  • Breastfeeding may continue even when the child is more than a year old, depending on the cues of the child.
  • The parents verify any negative emotions like anger or fear put on by the child that may be due to inappropriate behavior such as crying, hitting, etc.
  • Parenting empathy guides responding to the needs of the child.
  • Co-sleeping continues until it has been ascertained that the child can sleep on their own.
  • There should be more physical closeness, touches, and cuddles from the parent to the toddler.
  • Parents should allow the child to get independent and make decisions on their own when safe and right.
  • Discipline should be done gently and with guidance rather than resulting in strict and severe punishment.

Benefits of attachment parenting

Research has it that the benefit of attachment parenting might be related to breastfeeding, and it’s numerous proven medical, developmental, neuromotor, and nutritional benefits.

According to the AAP guideline in 2012, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for up to 6 months and continued with solids for up to 1 year or even longer.

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Besides, another surprising benefit of this parenting method, as described in a 2019 meta-analysis, is that children whose parents listened and were attentive to their physical and emotional needs were more likely to develop better language skills than children who didn’t undergo this style.

Another benefit of attachment parenting is knowing the skill of emotional regulation. A 2010 article resolved that infants introduced to a highly responsive parenting style tend to cry less. Also, older children, influenced by responsive parenting, were known to regulate emotions such as distress, fear, and anger.

This, in turn, lowers their exposure to stress, which can affect brain development negatively and the capacity to handle stress later in life.

The drawbacks of attachment parenting

The most crucial aspect that poses a threat to attachment parenting is bed-sharing. As earlier discussed, co-sleeping increases the risk of SIDS and suffocation than room-sharing – a practice where the baby is positioned in a different and safe sleeping space within the room.

Although the effects are not recorded, practicing the attachment parenting tools can be very demanding both physically and emotionally on the parent (the breastfeeding mother) or the primary caregiver.

The emphasis on the on-demand breastfeeding and continuous physical closeness in this approach may hinder the mother from observing her own sleep patterns, returning to work or to even keep up the same level of intimacy with her partner for some time.

Hence, all the attachment parenting tools may not suit the lives of some families properly.

Final Note

The presence of a newborn tends to bring about a type of inner joy, so when choosing what parenting approach style to use, go with the one that conforms with your family values, beliefs, life, and goals.

The most forceful extending benefit of attachment parenting is building a responsive parenting style that continues to meet your child’s physical and emotional needs in a sensitive way.

Though the benefits of breastfeeding are well known, it’s still an individual decision for each mother. Precaution should also be taken when it comes to co-sleeping.

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It is suggested that you talk to your child’s pediatrician about safe sleeping before putting the attachment parenting tool into practice.

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Emmanuel Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuel Eguono is a mass communicator and fashion designer. When he is not behind a laptop screen or on a sewing machine, he spends his time netflixing and swimming.
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