Clearing up the confusion over what attachment parenting is, we look at creating emotional bonds
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have no doubt heard of attachment parenting. There seems to be a fair amount of confusion over what attachment parenting really is, so we thought we’d demystify the issue.
What is attachment parenting?
Attachment is purely the scientific name for the emotional bond that forms in any healthy relationship, so when people talk about attachment parenting they are simply referring to practices that strengthen the emotional bond between a parent and their child. There is a misconception that attachment parenting is focused around a belief that parents and children spend every waking minute together. In fact, we all know that giving other people space and freedom is a crucial part of building a healthy relationship, and guiding their children towards independence is something that is important to the majority of parents.
You may well be practising attachment parenting yourself, without being aware of it. The beauty of attachment parenting is that it is non-prescriptive. Attachment parenting may mean various things to different people. However, using the term attachment parenting can be helpful when it comes to identifying like-minded parents or seeking out events that resound with a similar ethos to your own.
Although there are no hard and fast rules, attachment parenting tends to centre around certain elements that facilitate bonding, such as :
- co-sleeping (either in the same bed as the parents, in the same room or staying with the child until they have fallen asleep)
- babywearing and physical contact
- feeding on demand (although the preference is on breastfeeding, attachment parenting is open minded and non-judgemental so this could also refer to bottle feeding)
- responding to crying (rather than letting a child “self-soothe” parents who opt for attachment parenting tend to prefer to comfort crying children)
The Department of Health recommends that babies spend the first 6 months of their life in a cot in their parents’ bedroom. Some parents decide to share the bed with their newborn too, believing that it strengthens the bond. It also means that the whole family often has less disruptive sleep and breastfeeding is much easier. If you do decide to co-sleep then you must always do so with caution:
- Never share a bed with a baby or infant if you have been drinking or have taken any form of drug
- Don’t practise co-sleeping if you are severely sleep deprived or exhausted
- Never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or chair
- Ensure there is no danger of your baby falling from the bed or getting trapped between the wall and mattress
- Avoid the use of pillows
- Use light sheets rather than a duvet and ensure they are away from your baby’s face
- Always put your baby to sleep on their back rather than lying on their side or front
Some parents feel safer using a “sidecar” arrangement, so the baby has its own safe space but also benefits from being beside their parents through the night.
Babywearing is simply the act of carrying your child around in a sling or carrier. As well as being immensely practical (taking the strain off your arms and leaving your hands free for other things), carrying your baby in this way is a great way to strengthen the bond. After nine months in utero where your baby was enveloped in warmth to a steady soundtrack of your heartbeat, the outside world can feel like a huge shock. This is why so many parents are now honouring “the fourth trimester” and allowing their babies time to adjust after birth, as well as giving their own bodies the time they need to recover.
Simply speaking, the physical closeness that babywearing brings stimulates the production of ‘the bonding hormone’ oxytocin. This hormone is also released through breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact (with either parent). When a baby is held close to a parent like this, their survival needs are being met and they are generally calmer. The motion is often soothing to a little one, and babies that are carried in this way tend to be less fractious. Babywearing is also a great way for dads and other caregivers to strengthen their bond with the little one. Newborns come into the world knowing their mother’s voice and scent, associating it with comfort. Through babywearing, dads can bond with the child while allowing their partners time to recover during the postpartum period. As pregnancy hormones soften the ligaments, it is advisable for women to avoid heavy lifting after the birth.
Exploring Attachment Parenting
Attachment parenting isn’t just something that you practise with little ones. Developing a strong emotional bond with your children is something that most of us strive to do continually as our children grow.
APUK (Attachment Parenting UK) is a wonderful organisation that offers resources and local groups so that parents who are passionate about developing a strong bond with their children, have a safe space to seek advice, guidance, make friends and learn new skills.
As with any aspect of parenting, it is important to go with what feels right to you. Learning, listening, seeking advice, staying perpetually curious but ultimately making the decisions that feel right for you and your family.
This feature first appeared in the August 2017 edition of Natural Mumma Magazine.