Attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy by pediatrician William Sears.1 It is based on attachment theory based on psychologist John Bowlby’s studies of maternal deprivation and animal behavior research in the early 1950s.1
Its basic principles —the 7 Bs— include:
- Birth bonding
- Belief in your baby’s cry
- Beware of baby trainers
Attachment parenting is making waves in the parenting world. Although the theory behind its principles is not in question, the extreme, impractical, and — sometimes — anti-feminist practices involved with attachment parenting are causing all the commotion.
Let’s take a closer look at each attachment parenting principle and see for ourselves whether it’s actually good or bad.
THE GOOD: Birth bonding is the formation of a close bond between the parents and their baby, starting as soon as birth. In addition to birth bonding, attachment parenting advocates finding the least traumatic birth method for the baby.
THE BAD: This tenet may seem alienating for mothers who didn’t get the chance to bond right after birth. This suggests that moms who adopt or were separated from their newborns due to medical issues cannot attach with their babies.
VERDICT: At this point, we should differentiate attachment parenting from attachment theory. Attachment parenting is the style of parenting aimed at achieving attachment. On the other hand, attachment theory states that a baby will securely attach as long you meet their needs.
Therefore, a mother unable to bond with her baby right after birth but does “catch-up bonding” can still achieve attachment.
Attachment parenting also advises you to feed your baby on demand, not according to the parent’s convenience. Responding promptly to the baby’s needs fosters trust.
THE BAD: Mothers who don’t breastfeed could get the wrong idea that they won’t be able to attach well with their babies. And for whatever reason, a lot of mothers do not breastfeed.
Furthermore, attachment parenting states that the child should breastfeed for as long as they want. This could become impractical or uncomfortable for some.
VERDICT: Although breastmilk is undeniably best, attachment is not based on what milk the child drinks. Attachment is based on being attentive and responsive to your baby’s needs.
THE GOOD: Attachment parenting advocates wearing your baby using a sling or wrap. Physical contact fills an infant’s need for comfort and stimulation.
THE BAD: Unless you’re a stay-at-home mom, this arrangement can be quite impractical.
THE VERDICT: Quality time spent with your baby is more important. You don’t need to be joined at the hip to form a secure attachment. Setting your baby down nearby to do chores is completely fine.
THE GOOD: Attachment parenting encourages co-sleeping to make it easier for the parents to respond to their baby’s needs at night.
THE BAD: Bed-sharing significantly increases sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) risk. 74% of infants younger than four months who died from SIDS were bed-sharing at the time.2 Safety precautions must be taken seriously when considering bed-sharing.
THE VERDICT: Bonding with your infant during the day, plus, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep if you’re unable to relax. If you insist on co-sleeping, keep a bassinet near your bed or research safe bed-sharing.
Belief in Your Baby’s Cries
THE GOOD: Babies cry because they have a need that’s not being fulfilled. Since their brains haven’t fully developed, crying is babies’ only way of communicating needs.
For babies, crying is not a form of manipulation. By changing the perception of crying from noise to actual communication, parents can learn to interpret their baby’s cries and respond to them faster.
THE BAD: Some parents immediately respond to the slightest whimper by feeding their babies. This preempts the crying, making the parents unaware of the actual cause. This could also suggest that attachment parenting means spoiling the baby.
VERDICT: Wants and needs are practically the same for babies in their early stages. Thus interpreting these cues is very important. Wants and needs only become more distinct as your child grows older.
Beware of Baby Trainers
THE GOOD: Figuring everything out on your own can be tough, especially when you have your baby’s life is on the line. If you think sleep training could help you, proceed with caution. Don’t trust any one sleep training method. Seek out advice from other mothers more experienced in this.
THE BAD: Baby trainers are unacceptable in attachment parenting. Understanding your child trumps any baby expertise or training method, for that matter. No one-size-fits-all approach works for all the babies in the world.
VERDICT: Each baby is different, and no one method for sleep training works for them all. Some babies sleep through the night with minimal fuss, and others wake and cry every hour. Ultimately, your decision to defer to sleep trainers depends on your circumstances and good judgment.
THE GOOD: Balance in the family is achieved by continually reevaluating priorities: meeting the baby’s needs while not neglecting your partner’s. Or your own, for that matter.
THE BAD: The principles of attachment parenting may seem contradictory to this one. Keep in mind that you’ll be your best self when your needs are satisfied. And being your best self leads to being the best parent you can be.
THE VERDICT: Upon becoming a parent, you’re expected to put your needs aside and your child’s first. But don’t forget that you’re human too.
Ultimately, if attachment parenting works for you, well and good. If it doesn’t, then don’t do it. The choice should be what works for you and your family with everyone’s best interests in mind.