There is a lot of talk littering parenting blogs, websites and books about Dr Sears’ ‘Attachment Parenting’ (AP) – some people swear it is the only way to raise secure happy children, while others will swear all you will raise using this method are needy, dependent, unhappy children. We thought we would find out more about it and let you decide if it is the parenting style for you.
WHAT IS IT?
AP is a particular style of caring for your baby that emphasises a child’s need to develop, in early childhood, a very strong emotional bond with his or her parents, and it outlines exactly how to do this.
American paediatrician William Sears and his wife Martha came up with the term ‘attachment parenting’ and went on to write over 30 parenting books on how to develop this bond and how doing this will benefit your baby and obviously you, the parents.
THE BASIC B’s OF ATTACHMENT PARENTING
According to the Sears’, attachment parenting is based on five Bs: birth–bonding, breastfeeding, baby wearing, bed sharing, and being responsive.
By following the principles behind these Bs from as early as pregnancy, the Sears’ claim that you will form a deep attachment to your child – and he to you – and in doing so, ensure that your child is secure, happy and never cries. Sound easy? Have a look at what each ‘B’ entails and then you decide.
This first ‘B’ looks at two things: preparing for birth physically, practically and emotionally, and the ‘golden hour’ for bonding immediately after birth. Pregnancy is a time of preparation – preparing a nursery, getting the baby’s layette and preparing for the birth of your child.
It is also a time to prepare mentally for parenthood. The Sears’ advise that you as parents should also educate yourself about birth, breastfeeding and parenting. Thinking about your childhood experiences, finding out about parenting philosophies and recommitting to your partner are all part of educating yourself to become a parent and allows you to focus fully on your child and building a bond with him or her.
At birth a cocktail of bonding hormones is released in both you and your baby, which create a physical desire to be together. So the Sears’ (and other doctors) say that the prime time for bonding is immediately after birth.
These hormones kick-start a number of physical changes, such as the warming of a mother’s chest, the ability of a newborn to crawl to the mother ’s nipple, which if allowed to naturally occur, they say, decreases infant crying, promotes bonding and ensures successful breastfeeding. The key is skin–to–skin contact on the mother ’s chest seconds after birth.
The second basic ‘B’ of attachment parenting is breastfeeding. Not only do the Sears’ agree that breastmilk is the best food for your baby, they also emphasise the emotional bond that occurs during breastfeeding and that breastfeeding should continue well into toddlerhood, on demand.
“Feeding a child involves more than providing nutrients; it is an act of love,” they say. The hormone prolactin, released during breastfeeding, relaxes the mother and promotes caregiving behaviours. It also creates a need for baby and mother to be physically close.
When a baby breastfeeds he can smell his mother’s scent, hear her heartbeat, feel the warmth of her body, and gaze into her eyes – promoting a comforting bond. Attachment parenting explains that you need to feed on cue, before the stage of crying; breastfeeding as a means of comfort to the baby and that breastfeeding for nutritional, immunological and emotional reasons beyond one year of age is important.
This B promotes carrying, or ‘wearing’ your baby in a sling or pouch. In fact this ‘B’ is one of the hallmarks of attachment parenting, as Dave Taylor on his Attatchment Parenting blog writes, “it is about carrying or otherwise being with babies (especially newborns) every hour of the day. You can tell us attachment parenting types, actually, by the slings we use to tote our babies”.
Wearing your baby in a sling or pouch means you are able to meet his needs quickly before anxiety, fussiness and crying set in. The closeness achieved when wearing your baby promotes security and familiarity. Babies also spend more time in a quiet–alert state, which is proven to promote brain development.
As AP dad Dave Taylor, explains, “Rather than push newborns into a cot and separate room as fast as possible, we believe that newborns and babies need to be as close to their parents as possible. We believe that newborns learn healthy sleeping and breathing patterns from sleeping close to their parents at night.”
AP advocates that babies and children desire the warmth and protection of another person sleeping near them and that sharing sleep also makes night–time breastfeeding much more convenient.
This final ‘B’ is really the backbone of AP. Quite simply, it is about listening to your child and learning to respond, with love and respect, to your child’s cues and not following rules and schedules.
So instead of feeding according to a schedule, AP says feed on demand, instead of letting your child ‘cry it out’ at night, give them comfort. By doing this, they say, it builds trust between parent and child. Babies learn to trust that their needs will be met, and that they have an ability to communicate. For the parent it creates a confidence in their ability.
Back to our ancestors?
Attachment parenting is not new and the Sears’ certainly did not invent it – in fact Kenyan mother and writer Claire Niala shares her grandmother ’s wisdom in her research “Why African Babies Don’t Cry – An African perspective” and her pearls of wisdom sound very much like where the Sears got their ideas from.
In her book Niala writes, “The joyful silence of the African baby is a simple needs–met symbiosis that requires you to forget about ‘what should be happening’ and to, instead, think about what is actually going on in that moment.
"My grandmother’s wisdom is simple: Firstly, “nyonyo” – breastfeed her! Offer the breast every moment that your baby is upset – even if you have just fed her. Make the feeding your priority. There is very little that cannot wait.
"Secondly, co-sleep. Many times you can feed your baby before they are fully awake, which will allow them to go back to sleep easier and get you more rest.
"And thirdly, read your baby, not the books. You are the ultimate expert on your baby’s needs.”
Is AP for you?
Like any parenting style, some of it will suit your family and others may not. Some may find AP a very stressful and time–intensive way of raising children – especially mothers who have to work. If not managed well, it can also place strain on a relationship (where do you find time to connect with your partner with a baby strapped to your chest?).
For many parents the underlying idea that your baby’s needs should be met with love and respect are invaluable.