It is a wonderful coincidence that the April #AtoZBloggingChallenge begins with this post on Attachment Parenting. The Attachment Parenting style is somewhere a very comprehensive approach to parenting. It encompasses everything right from pregnancy to raising a child. In that sense, it truly is the beginning of everything. Many sub-concepts are derived from this broad theme of Attachment Parenting. But first, is Attachment Parenting truly a new-age phenomenon?
A brief history
Sociologists and behavioural scientists believe that the post World War II era is when the idea of Attachment Parenting was first developed. It has references in Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care published in 1946. Since then many experts have evolved a concept similar to Attachment Parenting.
The idea of attachment was first researched and published by Jeal Liedloff who studied about a sect of people in Venezuela and how the mothers there, breastfed, carried their babies, shared the same bed etc. She concluded that like primitive man and animals, babies were not born genetically wired to take to bottles, cribs and prams. Man was still an animal and babies needed the kind of nurturing that all newborn mammal babies did too. They needed to be close to their nursing mother. Sounds logical?
Attachment Parenting was first used as a stand-alone term in the hugely popular The Baby Book by William & Martha Sears published in 1993. The Sears’ were greatly influenced by the work of Liedloff. Their book was largely seen as the Attachment Parenting Bible.
Today there is an international community called Attachment Parenting International which says:
Our mission is to educate & support all parents in raising secure, joyful and empathic children in order to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world.
Sounds lofty and idealistic?
To an outsider perhaps yes. But to a parent-to-be or a new parent, this would be what we aspire to!
And the truth of the matter, coming from a person who has put many of its principles into practice is that Attachment Parenting is not all lofty. It is actually a very instinctive and natural way of parenting. I am sure once you see what the essence of the Attachment Parenting style is, you will agree that it seems like the right way of bringing up baby.
So, what is Attachment Parenting
Quite literally Attachment Parenting is about the physical proximity of the mother and her baby. It is about holding baby close to the body of the mother. And still, it is about a whole lot more.
The Sears’ concept of Attachment Parenting believes in 8 principles which have been empirically researched for proven success in building strong, secure and healthy bonds between the baby and its mother and other important people in their environment.
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting
Pregnancy is a miracle and an incredibly transformative period for both the mother and her partner. Pregnancy offers parents-to-be an opportunity to prepare for the physical, mental, and emotional needs of parenthood. This includes gaining the right nutrition, ensuring the optimal and positive development of the foetus, choosing the best means of giving birth and from then on the best ways of newborn care and nourishing. It is a time to research and choose your philosophies on breastfeeding, and routine baby care like massage, bathing, swaddling, vaccination etc.
Parents-to-be today have a wealth of information on their hands. From books to online resources such as websites, tracker apps and Facebook groups, to Lamaze classes, they come to the delivery room well prepared.
When I was pregnant, the best-seller What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff was a constant companion. I relied more on this book than I did from wisdom handed down to me by people around me. Not that there was anything wrong with what they were saying but I felt the book was logical, scientific and based on real experiences without attempting any scare-mongering.
The method of giving birth is also a choice today, with women free to choose if they want to give birth at home or an institution, by C-section or natural labour. All of these are informed choices where they are the best judges of their individual situations and environments, in synch with the way they would like to raise a family.
- Feed with love and respectFood and feeding are so much more than just eating. We have come to realise this in the run-up to our adult lives. We socialise over food, celebrate over food and sometimes even bury our aches under food (which is not a great thing to do.) For newborn babies, suckling at the mother’s breast does no doubt provide immense nutrition but also gives emotional strength and physical warmth.
Attachment Parenting, therefore, says that breastfeeding is the most natural and normal thing a mother can do for her child. Attachment Parenting places the baby at the centre of the equation and says that the mother must follow the baby’s cues to feed him. Actions, like mouthing and opening the mouth, are the cues which must be answered with a feed and one must not wait for the baby to cry.
During feeding also there is no reason to look at the clock and time feeds, but trust baby to unlatch when he is done. Breastfeeding is more than just feeding a baby milk. It cures many aches and pains both physical and emotional.Bottle feeding is not discouraged under Attachment Parenting, but they do say that feeding with a bottle must mimic breastfeeding. The father/ partner also plays a very important role in bonding and nurturing the mother while she is breastfeeding.
Attachment parenting also goes on to talk about when and how to introduce solids, eating healthy and nutritious meals, making good habits out of meal times. Concepts like traditional weaning and baby led weaning, eating together as a family, bonding over food are highlighted. Further down in the #AtoZBloggingChallenge I will explore these concepts in greater detail.
- Respond with sensitivity
Babies obviously do not know how to speak. But they do know how to communicate with body movements, cries and facial expressions. They look for adults around to respond to them in a sensitive manner. Responding sensitively to a baby involves reading these signs and understanding the communication as much as spending time indulging in some enjoyable play and communication. Babies learn to trust and feel secure around this close circle of people who understand them.
This sub-point also does away with the ridiculous notions that floated around which said that too much holding and carrying babies spoils them for life. Babies want to be held because it is a physical and emotional need that is being fulfilled and attached parents and caregivers do just that – provide it readily.Concepts like tantrums and handling them in a positive manner are covered here.
- Use nurturing touch
The concept of baby massage is age-old in our culture. There is a whole profession of ladies who are hired to come home and massage both mother and baby. It is believed that massages with enriching oils give the baby some much-needed stimulation to gain weight and build strength and movement in their bodies and limbs. While this is true to a large extent, it is now advocated that the mother or father provide this nurturing touch. Massages provide much more than just the rubbing of oils into the baby’s body. It is a way of building and enriching the bond that is so essential to a baby’s well being. This is a great way for daddy dearest to bond with the baby too.With babyT when I was living at my maternal home, practically every family member massaged him – me, his daddy, his grandparents and uncle. I am not saying this is 100% connected to the act of massaging but babyT does share the greatest of bonds with these people. (Again not saying he doesn’t have good bonds with other family members who did not massage.)
Babywearing is a big element of nurturing touch and it has proven benefits its benefits to its practicers. While some people criticise babywearing for the fear of creating dependent and clingy babies, reality is far from it. In my personal experience and those of other moms around me who practised babywearing – we found that wearing babies for extended periods of time makes them secure, confident and more sociable.
- Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
You know what was the one question which people started asking me constantly and which I hated to the bottom of my heart? ‘Is your baby sleeping through the night?’ I got asked this even before babyT turned a month old. Yes! How anyone can assume a baby will sleep through the night even when most adults have difficulty doing so is a case that is lost on me.I pretty much got tired of explaining to people that while babies do sleep a lot, they do not sleep through the night. Sleep is impacted by hunger, pee/poop (which babies do a lot of in the early days), growth spurts, regressions, too hot/ too cold, need for comfort etc. Sleeping through the night is actually a developmental milestone and we saw that only around the time babyT was 2 years old.
Attachment Parenting pretty much rubbishes sleep training and seemingly harsh ways of training children to sleep. Baby sleep trainers are mere tricksters in their opinion. They may get the job done but it is not the natural or gentle way to do things with babies and sleep.
Co-sleeping or sharing sleeping space with mother is the natural way of life. Informed co-sleeping doesn’t lead to SIDS as perpetuated by many agencies. It, in fact, can lead to better feeding relationship between the mother and child, better comfort and security for both.
- Provide consistent and loving care
Attachment Parenting says that babies need consistent loving care and attention of parents. Wherever possible one of the parents retain this role as full-time caregiver. If this is not possible then the child needs the support of someone who they have bonded well with. This could be extended family or a dedicated caregiver.
The principles of Attachment Parenting also go on to say that it is important to build dedicated schedules for loving and playful fun with the baby in mind. So outings and routine things like going grocery shopping or to the mall along with the baby in a sling is welcomed.
- Practice positive discipline
As mentioned earlier on too, Attachment Parenting is about doing things the ‘gentle‘ way. So too with discipline.Most of our generation grew on some form of punishment, some of it gentle and some of it scarring. As adults, we usually go around joking about horror stories and we would never want that same kind of discipline enforced on us anymore. When it comes to our children we would not want to discipline them in the same way.
Positive parenting wants to use a collaborative or conflict-free way of teaching our kids wrong from right. Good behaviour is instilled when we show the same to our children and that includes sparing the rod. Unlike the old saying, we know this will not spoil the child but should make the child reflect on their behaviour and make them responsible for their actions and words.
- Strive for balance in your personal and family life
Last but not the least is the importance of the self in the parenting relationship. While it may seem that Attachment Parenting and its principles are a lot of hard, consistent work, the theory also pushes the parents especially the mother to be happy, healthy and in balance.Of course, real life does not find itself in balance all the times and it is then that the parents must find creative ways to find it again. From pursuing own interests and passions to being a part of support groups, the attachment parenting community seeks to promote the well being of its members. Asking for help and finding dedicated support is one part of this principle.
Social media has in a big way contributed to making the world a closer community and people find increasing solace and comfort in its vast networks. This will be a part of one of my #AtoZ blogs too.
For last year’s #AtoZBloggingChallenge I touched upon some concepts of Attachment Parenting too.
N is for Natural Parenting: Read the blog post here.
U is for Unsafe baby care practices: Read the blog post here.
S is for Sleep: Read the blog post here
To conclude, Attachment Parenting is a huge umbrella of ideas, concepts and suggestions for a raising a secure, comforted and happy, healthy child. Attachment Parenting touches upon a range of topics and practices. But at the same time, it is very flexible.
Attachment theorists say that it is not a rigid discipline where an interested member must practice every canon. Parents must understand the concepts and the logic that it is based on and then make informed parenting choices to suit their individual families. Attachment Parenting is not about adopting every single principle that exists. It allows you the freedom to pick and choose what will work for you. A very apt motto that many API support groups propound is to “Take what works for your family and leave the rest.”
This blog post is a part of my blog series for the #AtoZBloggingChallenge where my theme is New Age Parenting: Parenting in 201x. Read my theme reveal post here.