What is the Attachment Parenting?
Attachment parenting (AP) is popular parenting philosophy first propounded by the famous American Paediatrician Dr. William Sears and his wife Dr. Martha Sears. Dr. Sears has written over 30 bestselling books like Baby Book, Attachment Parenting and Positive Discipline.
The essence of the philosophy is for the parents to form and nurture secure, empathetic connections, bonds or “attachment” with their babies and children. The idea is that if parents are tuned to their child and understand them, they can better guide them in life. Also, that the children will trust their parents more and feel more secure - good for their holistic development.
Another central idea is that babies are born with needs to be nurtured and be physically close to the mother especially in their first few years. Their development is greatly enhanced if they have are close to the mother and the mother is tuned to their needs. Some popular practices supporting the AP principles are extended breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping, baby wearing (close physical contact with babies and children), positive vs. punitive discipline etc. to give a quick idea.
Many of the principles are not new, but a return to old values.
Where and how is it followed?
Dr. Sears’s AP philosophy has a cult following in the United States and some other western countries and there is a whole AP ecosystem - AP families, AP friendly paediatricians and AP even friendly products from diapers to baby carriers.
Interestingly, a lot of the wisdom that is part of AP is an intrinsic part of Indian traditions anyway - breastfeeding, sleeping with baby, holding the baby and putting the baby in a sling made out of a sari etc. These are a natural part of the Indian ethos.
Note: parenting philosophies in general
Parenting philosophies and practices can give useful insights, tools and approaches for bringing up your children. But parents should not be rigid and dogmatic and follow practices blindly. Parents should look at them as a set of tools that you can choose from and adapt and adopt depending on your children, on yourself and your changing needs. Do not get lost in parenting jargon. After educating yourself on your choices, you must ultimately rely on your instincts.
Some key Attachment Parenting principles and practices
- Preparing for pregnancy and parenting
- Introspection by parents as to their life experiences and what they want for themselves and their children
- Education about breastfeeding, labour and delivery, parenting, baby care etc.
- Childbirth courses
- Breastfeeding on demand
- Of course we all know the benefits of breastfeeding and that feeding the baby on demand is best for mother’s milk supply
- As part of a larger AP principle of feeding with care and respect, it emphasizes being tuned to the baby’s natural reflexes like rooting (ideally even before a baby starts crying too much) and feeding the baby based on these cues vs. feeding based on a schedule. It is believed that better cue-reading by parents can also help babies be better cue-givers - making life simpler for parents as well.
- Breastfeeding the baby not just for nutrition, but also for bonding, satisfying the baby’s natural suckling urges and other emotional needs.
- Extended breastfeeding - Breastfeeding for at least 6 months and more. Getting cues from the child to determine when to start solids and when to wean the child. If the mother needs to start weaning before baby is ready, then wean gently.
- If the mother cannot breastfeed because of medical reasons, then use breastfeeding ideas like skin-to-skin contact with baby for bonding with the baby.
- As the child grows, this translates to, taking cues from the child for food timings vs. a strict food regimen and forcing the child to eat.
- Baby wearing
- It is part of a larger AP principle that emphasizes the nurturing quality of touch - close physical and skin-to-skin contact with babies. It emphasises practices like baby massage; holding the baby a lot; even “wearing the baby” or holding the baby in a sling or a baby carrier close to the body.
- Holding the baby or baby wearing will help in being more tuned to the baby and bond better with the baby. This can also help infants better regulate their body temperature and feel more secure.
- For older children it means lots of hugs, and physical play for bonding and fun.
- It means sleeping in close proximity to babies and children. For a baby it means, sleeping on the same bed to enable mom to breastfeed with ease while sleeping or lying down. For a child, it can be interpreted as sleeping on the same bed or “family bed” as they say in AP jargon, or in a different bed in the same room.
- Sleeping with a baby allows a mother to better tune to the baby and their reflexes like the rooting reflex and better support breastfeeding on demand. Many experts believe it can also help a baby regulate his temperature and sleep/wake cycles better (by being influenced by the mother’s sleep/wake cycle).
- Taking cues from the child’s development as to when the child is ready to sleep in her bed or in her room.
- Responding with sensitivity and empathy
- Basically treating babies and children the way you would want to be treated and creating a strong secure base for dealing with children.
- This principle is opposed to rigid expert regimens, but supports that parents understand themselves and their children best and should decide what tools work best for them.
- For babies, typically, AP is against letting the baby cry it out (CIO) to self-soothe. Soothing the baby by rocking the baby etc. is advised.
- For older children, it can be interpreted as not reacting to their behaviour but understanding the cause of their behavior first. For example, a toddler might be throwing a tantrum because he is hungry and is not developed to express that. The AP way might be parental help in understanding the situation helping them in expressing their needs.
- Participating in activities with children and letting them take the lead in deciding these activities.
- Positive (vs. negative or punitive) discipline
- Opposed to “traditional” discipline that fosters fear and shame.
- The idea is to develop self-control and self-discipline more naturally in children. If parents understand their children better, their children will trust them more and parents might be able to discipline children more effectively.
- Being proactive and preventing bad behaviour and bad behaviour situations by strong and secure parent/child bonds, trust and consistent and loving care.
- Developmentally appropriate discipline. Limits grow as the child grows and starts understanding more.
- Redirecting and distraction. For example, if a toddler is throwing a tantrum outside because she is hungry, try and distract and change the topic to control the situation.
- Natural logical consequences. For items within limits of behaviour, create a safe environment where children can learn by making mistakes and the consequences of their actions.
- Making positive and affirmative requests. For example, instead of saying, “Do not do that”, you could say “If you do this, xyz can happen...”
- Involving the child in problem solving in some areas.
- Modeling positive actions and interactions. Children learn from parents.
- Although, not a principle of AP as such, but many AP families are big into natural family living (NFL) and support natural child birth, organic foods, avoidance of antibiotics, natural remedies etc.
There is a whole framework and methods for following and teaching attachment parenting principles and practices. AP experts underscore that AP is not a step-by-step regimen but an approach and there are tools / practices that parents can pick and choose. There is also a recognition that not all practices might work for all children, families and situations.
I'm fascinated by this idea - another traditional India and intiutive practice getting a western identity and a fancy name :).
I've read loadsa books (including Dr.Spock) but nothing convinced me to force my baby sleep in a room of its own! And nothing could make me let the baby "cry it out". I'm glad someone in the West seems to sense this too! Glad my feelings have got a name :).