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 homeschooled, 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 parenting—a term coined by pediatrician William Sears—is a warm, fuzzy approach to raising children with respect and responsiveness to their needs (yes, even at 2 a.m. … and 4 a.m. … ). The focus is creating strong bonds between parents and their children to rear compassionate individuals. Dr. Sears promotes seven principles, or “attachment tools,” that he calls the “7 Baby B’s.”
In practice, these generally translate to families following a natural child-rearing style, favoring “crunchy” practices such as midwife-assisted delivery, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, babywearing, alternative vaccination schedules and homeschooling.
In the United States, attachment parenting is viewed as a movement; however, in many ways, it’s a return to parenting following 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 may sound intimidating (don’t worry, you don’t have to make a sling from 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. Dr. 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.”
Attachment parenting is considered unconventional in the United States, 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 committing you 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.
7 Baby B’s of attachment parenting
Birth bonding. Dr. Sears advocates nuzzling your newborn as soon as possible but describes bonding as “a series of steps” that last a lifetime.
Breastfeeding. In addition to health benefits for mom and munchkin, nursing boosts the “bonding” hormones prolactin and oxytocin.
Babywearing. Dr. Sears recommends toting your tot as much as possible for nine months. Plus, research shows that carried babies fuss less!
Bedding. Stay close to baby. Dr. Sears supports co-sleeping but acknowledges that the best sleep solution is the one that gets your family the most ZZZs.
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.”
Beware of baby trainers. Attachment parenting advises against rigid schedules or inflexible parenting styles, since no method works for every baby.
Balance. Dr. Sears advises knowing when to say yes and when to say no to your baby to balance everyone’s needs, including your own!