There has been some confusion lately as to what Attachment Parenting is and is not. I'd like to help clear it up, not by making up my own definition, but by reminding us all that Attachment Parenting is a term coined by Dr. Bill Sears, a style of parenting defined by the one who made up the term.
Let's delve a little deeper. I'm not going to interpret what Dr. Sears has said in order to fit my own style of parenting, merely lay it out in the simplest of words.
1. Birth Bonding
"The way baby and parents get started with one another helps the early attachment unfold. The days and weeks after birth are a sensitive period in which mothers and babies are uniquely primed to want to be close to one another. A close attachment after birth and beyond allows the natural, biological attachment-promoting behaviors of the infant and the intuitive, biological, caregiving qualities of the mother to come together. Both members of this biological pair get off to the right start at a time when the infant is most needy and the mother is most ready to nurture" (Sears).
What does this mean? Get that babe in your arms, at your breast, skin-to-skin ASAP. Now, sometimes, due to interventions, c-sections, or other complications, this is possible later rather than sooner. Here's where natural birth comes into play. We all know that the more interventions that take place, the greater the risk of complications for mother and babe, the greater the risk of a c-section. Certainly, there are times when these are emergent and necessary. Certainly, there are times when these are not. If the goal is to get that babe on your chest immediately, then the goal should be for a natural birth. If the goal is to have a natural birth, one might wish to research and strongly consider home birth, since we also know that, for the normal pregnancy, a home birth is safer than a hospital birth and far less likely to end with intervention-caused complications.
Is the way one births laid out in Dr. Sears' Attachment Parenting model? No. But bonding is and if we follow the dotted line, we can make our own decisions based on the outcome we wish to achieve.
"Breastfeeding gives baby and mother a smart start in life. Breastmilk contains unique brain-building nutrients that cannot be manufactured or bought. Breastfeeding promotes the right chemistry between mother and baby by stimulating your body to produce prolactin and oxytocin, hormones that give your mothering a boost" (Sears).
What does this mean? There is no substitute for the boob. I love seeing APers use donor milk and SNS if, for whatever reason, they are unable to directly breastfeed. It's all good. Boobie juice is boobie juice. Formula is not boobie juice. It's not even close. Your breastmilk is made specifically for your babe. And it is important in forming that attachment (among other miraculous things). Bottle feeding parents can help create this attachment by ensuring they hold babe in arms through the whole feeding, engaging with babe, preferably while skin to skin.
"Babywearing improves the sensitivity of the parents. Because your baby is so close to you, you get to know baby better. Closeness promotes familiarity" (Sears).
What does this mean? Since most of us cannot spend all day every day holding our babes in a tight embrace (though, that does sound lovely), the next best option, the only really viable option for those of us who wish to, you know, move is to wear those babes. Sling, wrap, carrier, what have you...find what works best for you and get those babes in there. Good for babe, good for you - it's a win-win!
4. Bedding Close
"Co-sleeping adds a nighttime touch that helps busy daytime parents reconnect with their infant at night. Since nighttime is scary time for little people, sleeping within close touching and nursing distance minimizes nighttime separation anxiety and helps baby learn that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a fearless state to remain in" (Sears).
What does this mean? Babe should be somewhere in your room. This doesn't mean in your bed, per se, but in your room, within your easy reach, within ear shot. To make life easier on all of us, in bed with us has been where our son has always slept. He loves it, we love it - another win-win. I would get no sleep if he were in a crib in another room. First, I'd always be worried. Second, I'd have to get up a few times a night to breastfeed him and instead of just rolling over, sticking a boob in his mouth, and falling back asleep, I'd have to stay up until I could put him back down. No thank you. I value my sleep. Further, if my son rustles in his sleep or has as bad dream, I am able to simply reach my arm out, lay it on his stomach, back, or arm and he is instantly comforted without ever waking up. I wouldn't be able to do that if he were elsewhere. He feels safe, he feels secure, thus I feel safe, I feel secure.
5. Belief in Babe's Cries
"A baby's cry is a signal designed for the survival of the baby and the development of the parents. Responding sensitively to your baby's cries builds trust. Babies trust that their caregivers will be responsive to their needs. Parents gradually learn to trust in their ability to appropriately meet their baby's needs. This raises the parent-child communication level up a notch. Tiny babies cry to communicate, not to manipulate" (Sears).
What does this mean? Allowing a child's cry to go unanswered is not only counterintuitive (anyone who has tried CIO can tell you that they had to fight their every instinct that told them to go in and pick up that babe), it is damaging to babe and the bond you're trying to create. Love your babe, trust your babe, believe that when your babe tells you something the only way they know how, they're telling you exactly what they need.
6. Beware of Baby Trainers
"Attachment parenting teaches you how to be discerning of advice, especially those rigid and extreme parenting styles that teach you to watch a clock or a schedule instead of your baby; you know, the cry-it-out crowd. This 'convenience' parenting is a short-term gain, but a long-term loss, and is not a wise investment. These more restrained styles of parenting create a distance between you and your baby and keep you from becoming an expert in your child" (Sears).
What does this mean? All those people who say they can teach your babe to sleep through the night in three days (or whatever claim they make), are fighting to break your bond in the long-term. Aren't we in the parenting "business" for the long-term? Then making decisions based on short-term goals is unwise. Yes, if we allow our children to "self-soothe" (read: cry until they pass out), what we're teaching them is that we are not there for them, they cannot count on us, they are all alone in this vast world as they have been abandoned by the very people who are supposed to care for them most. Buyer beware. If the claims of these baby trainers seem too good to be true, they probably are. Babes aren't supposed to sleep through the night. Very few of us truly do even in adulthood.
"As you will learn the key to putting balance in your parenting is being appropriately responsive to your baby – knowing when to say 'yes' and when to say 'no,' and having the wisdom to say 'yes' to yourself when you need help" (Sears).
What does this mean? Attachment parenting is not the same as permissive parenting. Nobody ever said to say "yes" to every little wish your babes have. If my son wishes to run out in traffic to play, the answer will be a resounding "no" without guilt or reservation. It also means that sometimes we need help, lots of times we need help, and it's OK, it's healthy and wise to ask for it. Perhaps this help comes in the form of a therapy session every couple of weeks, a parent coming over to play with babe while you take a long-overdue shower, taking your friend up on his offer to bring over dinner Tuesday night. Whatever your need, it's what you need, so it's OK to ask. Parenting should be enjoyable. It can't be if you're miserable, because you've so neglected yourself. Happy parents make for happy babes make for happy parents, which make for happy babes - it's cyclical and it's every bit as important as the other Bs.
There is an 8th B that is not yet, but will hopefully be added soon: Be Confident in Keeping Babe Whole
"Circumcision is not in line with Attachment Parenting. It interferes with birth bonding, breastfeeding, infant sleep, and belief in baby’s cries. It is painful, medically unnecessary and welcomes our newest citizens by violating a basic human right" (Our Muddy Boots and The Whole Network).
What does this mean? There's no way to amputate a healthy, vital part of the human body without interfering with the natural process that is attachment parenting. Babe is taken from the safety and comfort of mama's chest, arms, breast in order to be strapped to a cold, plastic board where strangers will hurt him in a way no human should ever be hurt against their will. We know that circumcised babes will very often not wish to breastfeed after the procedure. After such trauma, they will likely do much sleeping as their bodies try to shut down unnecessary functions in order to heal. If we believe in, trust in our babe's cries, we have to do that, too, when they scream in fear and pain at the hands of their genital mutilator. Finally, 80% of babes are unable to achieve the optimum amount of REM sleep post-circumcision. As we know, REM sleep is vital to normal human function. I will leave out the other myriad arguments against genital cutting and leave them for another post. Suffice it to say, there are no pros, only cons and those cons are plentiful and major.
(If you'd like to sign the petition for Dr. Sears to add this 8th crucial B to his list, click here and don't forget to share it far and wide.)
"AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules. It's actually the style that many parents use instinctively. Parenting is too individual and baby too complex for there to be only one way. The important point is to get connected to your baby, and the baby B's of attachment parenting help. Once connected, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately develop your own parenting style that helps parent and baby find a way to fit – the little word that so economically describes the relationship between parent and baby" (Sears).
For the record, I do consider myself an attachment parent, but, like Dr. Sears says himself, AP is a starter style until we can all find our own parenting style. I am more of a APer by happenstance. I practiced the Bs long before I knew there were any Bs to be practiced. It felt right to me and my son. I add a lot to my parenting style that is not a part of attachment parenting. I work to fight gender biases, I choose to unschool, I do not vaccinate, I will never spank, and a number of other things that make me the parent that I am. More than anything, I consider myself a Zen Parent. I am reflective, I am in constant search of enlightenment through research and education, and most of all I follow my and my son's guts. That's Zen Parenting, not attachment parenting. When they overlap, that's great. When they don't, that's OK, too. I believe strongly in both, but am aware that there are differences. Ultimately, I don't believe it's important to define one's parenting style as long as we're all doing what is right for everyone who really matters, but I do feel it is important to understand a definition of a term one chooses to use (or not).