What is attachment parenting?

Attachment parenting (also called “natural parenting” or “instinctive parenting”) is an approach to parenting that has been practised widely for thousands of years. There has recently been a renewed interest in this approach to parenting in Western societies. Attachment parenting is based on the principle of understanding a child’s emotional and physical needs and responding sensitively to these needs. The focus of attachment parenting is on building a strong relationship between parents and child.

A strong and trusting relationship with your child can be developed by following your intuition; responding to your baby’s cries; “demand” breastfeeding for an extended period; carrying or “wearing” your baby; using gentle ways to help your baby sleep; co-sleeping with your baby and minimising separation from your baby during the first few years.

However, attachment parenting is not a set of rules and does not necessarily mean following all of the above. These practises simply help to develop a close, empathic relationship with your child in order to better understand your child’s needs and feelings. Children are not seen as manipulators who must be controlled. Attachment parenting extends beyond the early infant period and involves a life-long desire to know your child and to parent in an understanding and nurturing way.

What are the benefits of attachment parenting?

  • fosters a strong and trusting relationship with your child.
  • increases your joy in the experience of parenting
  • helps your child to become confident in themselves and able to form good relationships with others.
  • develops your child’s sensitivity towards themselves and others. Children learn empathy and caring from parents who show empathy and caring.
  • improves your child’s physical and intellectual development. Many aspects of attachment parenting such as breastfeeding; close physical contact and affection; and nurturing sleep practices have been shown to improve a child’s physical and intellectual development.
  • makes discipline easier. Children that have a strong relationship with their parents are more easily disciplined because they trust what their parents say and want to please them

What are some aspects of attachment parenting that help parents connect to their baby?

  • Follow your intuition rather than a strict set of rules about when to breastfeed or when to respond to a cry.
  • Responding sensitively to your baby’s cries and cues builds trust between babies and their parents. The more parents respond to their baby the more they learn about how to respond and the better the baby becomes at communicating her needs.
    For more information about responding to your baby’s cries and cues go to: http://www.askdrsears.com.
  • Breastfeeding helps you get to know your baby, provides the best nutrition for your baby, provides comfort for your baby, and creates a loving and nurturing bond between mother and baby. The WHO and Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) recommends that babies are breastfeed exclusively for six months, with continuing breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond. For many mothers the experience of breastfeeding is not easy at first. For more information and support about breastfeeding go to the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA).
  • Night-time parenting or responding to your baby’s needs at night is as important as your day-time parenting. Babies need to be “parented to sleep”, not just put to sleep. Some babies can be put down while drowsy yet still awake and drift. Other babies need parental help by being held and rocked or breastfed to sleep. Attachment parenting does not involve leaving your baby to cry alone in order to teach your baby how to “self-settle”.
  • Sleeping close to your baby creates a secure and nurturing environment for your baby. This reduces your baby’s anxiety about separation from you. It also means that you can respond more quickly to your baby’s needs and minimise sleep disruption for you and your baby. Co-sleeping helps you get to know your baby. It also assists breastfeeding and helps you to develop a strong bond with your baby. It is common for babies to co-sleep with their parents for the first few years of their life. Babies who co-sleep with their parents do not have a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or “cot-death”. In fact, co-sleeping reduces the risk of SIDS.
  • Carrying or “wearing” your baby creates a safe and loving environment for your aby and fulfills his need for close physical contact. Babies cry less when worn or being held. Carrying or wearing your baby also helps you get to know your baby because your baby is so close to you.
  • A strong bond is developed between a mother and her baby in the first few years. Being together most of this time, helps develop this bond and helps support “demand” breastfeeding. With time, the mother understands more about her baby and her confidence in responding to her baby’s needs grows. Most babies will want their mothers quite frequently. This means that it may be difficult for a mother to be more than a few minutes away in the early period, which may include the whole of the first year of her baby’s life. Minimising the time you spend away from your baby in the early period will make breastfeeding easier and strengthening your attachment with your baby. With time, the baby becomes less dependent on the mother and the baby’s needs will be fulfilled by other people the baby is strongly attached to, such as, the baby’s father or a grandparent.

Many aspects of attachment parenting are easier if a mother remains at home for the first few years of her baby’s life. However, for many women this situation may not be possible or desired. A mother can still practise attachment parenting and go back to work.

Parents, particularly with their first baby, may hold unrealistic expectations about their lifestyle; what they can achieve day-to-day; how much time they need with their partners without their child, and how much time they need to themselves without their child. Having realistic expectations and goals helps create balance with the inevitable change in your life. There is some loss but so much is to be gained through the joy of parenting. Try to focus on how important the nurturing and love you give your baby is and remember that this demanding period will pass.

The early years in your baby’s life are the most intense and demanding. The time when you carry your baby, breastfeed, and sleep with your baby in your bed lasts relatively a very short time. However, the love and nurturing your baby receives last her whole lifetime and will help to create a happier world.

For more information and additional guides on Attachment Parenting checkout the Australian and International Attachment Parenting website.