Unfortunately, babies don't come with owner's manuals. All new parents must try to figure out their own approach to raising a happy, healthy child. One such approach, developed by Dr. William Sears, is called attachment parenting. The idea is that when children are kept close to their parents and tended to on demand, they form a more secure emotional bond with their parents and, ultimately, become more secure, independent individuals.
Principles of Attachment Parenting
Believers in the theory of attachment parenting follow eight guiding principles:
- Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting: Parents-to-be should be well-informed and work to keep a positive mindset, from the moment of a positive pregnancy test through the receipt of the first baby gift, the birth of the child, and beyond.
- Feed with Love and Respect: Children should be breastfed on demand and allowed to feed as long and as often as they want. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies beyond one year of age, which is known as extended breastfeeding.
- Respond with Sensitivity: Babies should not be expected to soothe themselves; rather, parents should act quickly to tend to a baby's needs whenever they cry. Parents should never let their child "cry it out."
- Use Nurturing Touch: Skin-to-skin contact is encouraged, as is the practice of baby-wearing, using a baby carrier rather than a stroller.
- Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: Keep the child close through the night with the practice of co-sleeping, which can consist of either keeping the child in the same bed as the parents, having the child sleep in a three-walled "sidecar" bed that attaches to the parents' bed, or, for older children, sleeping in a separate bed in the same room as the parents.
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care: Whenever possible, avoid being separated from the child; change the parents' schedules as much as possible to allow bringing the baby along. If another caregiver must be used, choose someone who has also formed an emotional bond with the child, and have them come to the child's home. Avoid leaving a young child in another person's care for more than 20 hours a week.
- Practice Positive Discipline: Model positive behavior and work to redirect a child when they misbehave, rather than imposing your will on the child. Strive to understand what the child is trying to communicate when they act out.
- Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life: While the first priority should always be the needs of the baby, gift yourself with time to take care of your own needs when possible.
Criticisms of Attachment Parenting
While most parents would agree with some of these ideas, such as the need to be well-informed before birth or the importance of seeing to the parents' needs as well as the child's, some principles of attachment parenting theory have sparked controversy. For instance, the practice of extended breastfeeding, which consists of continuing this practice beyond one year of age and weaning only when the child wants to, has drawn criticism. Not only can breastfeeding a toddler attract stares and comments in public, but breastfeeding an older child is sometimes viewed as likely to cause psychological issues in the child. In addition, pushing the idea that exclusively breastfeeding a child is the only "right" way can lead to feelings of guilt and even postpartum depression in mothers who cannot produce enough milk to meet their baby's needs or encounter other difficulties with breastfeeding.
Other critics zero in on the practice of co-sleeping, which can be dangerous. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against bed-sharing in particular, since studies have shown that it raises the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related deaths in infants. Meanwhile, others take attachment parenting advocates to task due to the toll it can take on parents. After all, if at least one parent is always with the child, then the parents never get any "couple time" without the child, which means that the relationship can suffer. Also, always putting the child's needs first can mean neglecting those of the parents, even basics, like sleeping or maintaining a proper diet.