Attachment parenting (AP) is the latest trend in child-rearing to arrive from the US. The idea centres around creating a strong bond with your baby by feeding on demand, co-sleeping and ‘wearing’ your baby in a sling. But is it right for you and your family? Read on to find out.
At a glance
- Centres around creating a strong bond through feeding on demand,co-sleeping and wearing your baby in a sling
What does Attachment Parenting involve?
The idea originated from America in the 1950s. Its founder John Bowlby argued that babies need to feel physically close to their parents, especially in the early months, in order to feel safe and grow up to be emotionally secure.
The way to achieve this, Bowlby said was to keep your baby near you 24/7 (or near enough) by ‘wearing’ a sling to keep baby near, breastfeeding on demand for as long as your baby wants and sharing your bed.
Not every AP parent will do all these things all the time, but generally AP parents believe in a child-centred approach - keeping baby close so as a parent you can respond to your baby’s needs quickly rather than getting into a feeding and sleeping routine.
Attachment parenting is growing in popularity in the UK, and there are websites and Facebook groups about the parenting choice springing up all over the country.
The 3 Bs of attachment parenting
That’s breastfeeding, bed-sharing and baby-wearing. Most AP parents are enthusiastic supporters of all of these. But that doesn’t mean you have to breastfeed your child until he’s four (although some AP parents do) or share a bed with your child until he’s a teenager.
Breastfeeding: AP parents believe babies should feed on demand, at any time of the day or night, and for as short or long a time as they want. Mums should carry on breastfeeding for as long as their children want – whether that’s one year old or far older.
Bed-sharing: AP supporters believe it’s natural to want to sleep with your baby, as many other cultures routinely do. And if you’re feeding on demand it can be easier to share a bed with your baby, although the Department of Health says the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot or Moses basket in the parents’ room for the first six months because of the risk of cot-death. See below for some important rules if you decide to co-sleep with your baby.
Baby-wearing: Keeping your baby close by using a sling, wrap or other carrier is an important part of attachment parenting. It can be a practical option as it frees your hands for other tasks, and babies are often happier with the close contact, too. It’s also great for dads’ to bond with baby. Choose your carrier carefully, though, as what suits one parent’s body shape might not suit another. So try as many on as possible before you commit. The National Childbirth Trust says the best sling for newborn babies will keep their spines in a naturally rounded (not straight) position, support their hips and be snug enough to support the back of their head.
Co-sleeping: some important rules
The UK Government says the safest place for a baby to sleep is in the parents’ room but not in their bed. These guidelines are in place to avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot death) as it is reportedly more likely to occur with co-sleeping, especially if either parent has drunk any alcohol, smokes or is taking medication/drugs or if the baby was premature or of low birth weight.
However, supporters of co-sleeping say it’s perfectly safe if you follow some basic guidelines:
- Don’t use a duvet as your baby could over-heat. Use lighter bedding and check during the night that your baby hasn’t slid down the bed.
- A firm mattress is safer as it makes it less likely your baby will overheat or suffocate.
- A king size bed will give everyone more space.
- Dress your baby in light clothes for sleeping as he’ll have you and your partner’s body heat to keep him warm.
- If you’ve got two children in your bed, don’t let the older one sleep next to the baby as the older child could accidentally smother the baby or roll on to him.
- Never co-sleep if either of you have drunk alcohol or are taking medication which could make you sleep more heavily.
- Never have your baby sleeping on a pillow as there’s a risk of smothering.
- Don’t leave your baby unattended in case he rolls off.
- Never fall asleep on the sofa with your baby: this is the most dangerous of all.
What are the negatives of attachment parenting?
All parents want to build a close physical and emotional bond with their children, but some critics say attachment parenting goes too far.
Critics argue it can put a lot of pressure on mums to be available 24/7 which doesn’t give them time to take care of themselves – which can create stress, exhaustion and guilt. It also makes it difficult for them to resume working life (although AP supporters point out that plenty of them do work).
Dads can feel left out if mum assumes the ‘earth mother’ role and it can lead to tension because a couple never has time on their own. It’s a lot harder to have sex when you are sharing your bed with children…
Other critics say that responding to a child quickly every single time he cries leads to over-dependent children who haven’t learned to soothe themselves or to wait for attention. However, supporters say it’s all about adapting to a child’s changing needs: a newborn baby needs physical closeness to feel safe, but at nine months or a year, he won’t need as much. It’s all about finding a balance.
Some parents may worry a baby may get used to being cuddled and not learn to settle in a cot. Yet we know that in the early few weeks, babies do not have this cognitive function and you can not 'spoil' a baby, they do not get used to, or have the ability to manipulate a parent into holding them at this young age.
Is attachment parenting right for me?
There’s no one, right way to bring up a child (if there were, we would all have agreed on it by now after thousands of years of practice!) All you can do is follow your own instincts and decide what works for you and your family.
It can help to ask yourself what sort of person you are. Decide whether you are a structured person who works well with routine or the sort of person who is more comfortable going with the flow and responding to things as they happen.
It’s worth remembering that very few people use one deliberate parenting approach: we’re much more likely to blunder around a bit for the first few months then gradually work out what works for our personality, our baby’s personality and our family. All we can do is what feels right.