I gave birth in a hospital, but I used a midwife. I vaccinated my child, but I considered each immunization carefully and postponed several. I use disposable diapers, but I buy an eco-friendly brand that decomposes. I wear my baby in a sling, but I also push him in a stroller. My son sleeps in a crib most nights, but he joins us in our bed in the mornings. I breastfed, but I switched to formula before my son was a year old. I was home-schooled, but I will probably send my son to “regular” school. These choices put me into a growing category of parents who follow some—but not all—of the principles of the parenting philosophy known as “attachment parenting.”
Attachment theory is a concept developed in the late 1960s by child psychiatrist John Bowlby, and later expanded on by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s, that led to the conclusion that early bonds formed between infants and their caregivers can affect a child’s development. Attachment parenting—a term later coined by pediatrician William Sears, MD—is an approach to raising children with respect and responsiveness to their needs (yes, even at 2 a.m. … and 4 a.m.). The focus is on creating strong bonds between parents and their children to rear compassionate individuals. Sears promotes seven principles, or “attachment tools,” that he calls the “7 Baby B’s.”
1. Birth bonding. Sears advocates nuzzling your newborn as soon as possible and states that the sensitive period after birth allows the “natural attachment-promoting behaviors of the infant and the intuitive, biological care giving qualities of the mother to come together.”
2. Breastfeeding. In addition to health benefits for mom and munchkin, nursing boosts the “bonding” hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Sears sees breastfeeding as an important step in getting to know your baby and learning his cues.
3. Babywearing. Sears recommends wearing your tot in a carrier as much as possible for nine months. The close environment allows baby to figure out his surroundings while feeling completely secure. Plus, research shows carried babies fuss less.
4. Bedding close to baby. Sears supports co-sleeping especially because it allows baby to feel mother’s touch in the middle of the night and allows for convenient breastfeeding. He does acknowledge, however, that the best sleep solution is the one that gets your family the most Zs.
5. Belief in the language. (Value of your baby’s cry.) Crying is your baby’s only way to communicate and responding builds his trust. Attachment parenting advises against letting babies “cry it out.”
6. Beware of baby trainers. Attachment parenting advocates avoiding rigid schedules or inflexible parenting styles since no method works for every baby.
7. Balance. Sears advises knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to your baby to balance everyone’s needs—including your own.
In practice, the 7 Baby B’s generally translate to families following a natural child-rearing style, favoring practices such as midwife-assisted delivery, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, babywearing, alternative vaccination schedules and home-schooling.
In the U.S., attachment parenting is viewed as a movement; however, in many ways, it’s a return to parenting following a mother’s instincts.Many of the practices—such as breastfeeding and babywearing— have been used throughout human history and are still common in other countries. In many parts of the world, families slumber together and women tote their tots in slings made from cloth or animal hide. In contrast, American babies spend two-thirds of their time detached from loving touch—in cribs, strollers, car seats, bouncers and other plastic contraptions. Interestingly, in places that utilize the practices of attachment parenting, colic—characterized by prolonged periods of inconsolable crying with no known cause—is unheard of.
While some principles of attachment parenting can sound intimidating (i.e., making a child carrier out of animal hide), others may be appealing. You may think babywearing is cuddly and fun, but cloth diapering gives you the heebie-jeebies. Or you may agree that breast milk is best for babies but want an obstetrician to welcome your bundle of joy. Attachment parenting isn’t all or nothing.Sears encourages families like mine to understand the 7 Baby B’s and embrace the elements that match our values and lifestyle. We aren’t protesting outside formula companies, lecturing new moms on the benefits of attachment, trashing doctors, or forcing a sling over anyone’s head, but we do question society-driven parenting norms and create our own M.O. that works for us. I call my philosophy “light attachment parenting.” Many families today are incorporating this new way of thinking into everyday life without worrying about the consequences of missing a few steps.
Attachment parenting is considered unconventional in the U.S., but the rise of practices such as breastfeeding and babywearing reveal that it’s not just for hippies living in VW campers. Many families realize that these principles help build strong, loving relationships, without requiring a commitment to life in a commune. Using a midwife doesn’t mean you have to give birth in your bathtub, and breastfeeding doesn’t mean you have to continue until your youngster goes off to college. The essence of attachment parenting is to use the 7 Baby B’s to channel your instincts, connect with your child, and figure out what’s right for your family.