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Attachment Parenting

Attachment Parenting FAQ
by Gaye E. McKinnon
Q. What is attachment parenting?

A. Attachment parenting is a style of parenting which is all about responding to your child's cues and following your parental instincts. This incorporates really getting to know him, and not being afraid of "spoiling" or setting up "bad habits". It is more an attitude than a list of instructions. The usual trademarks of AP, such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping and sling wearing, are in most cases a natural response to the way an AP parent thinks and feels about his/her child.

Attachment parenting is about allowing the child to be "attached" to his parents, to be as dependent as he needs to be. APers let their children separate from them rather than the other way around.

Q. What makes AP different from mainstream parenting?

A. Much of the mainstream parenting advice revolves around trying to "train" a child to develop independence at a faster rate than the child would naturally, often in the hope that the child will be less of an inconvenience to the parents, or in fear that the child would become spoilt if these techniques were not adhered to. Examples of such advice would include the promotion of artificial and scheduled feeding, limited time spent cuddling or holding, techniques to try and get the child to "sleep through" such as cry-it-out methods, and the advocating of mother-baby separation before either would naturally be ready for this.

Attachment parenting involves allowing a child the freedom to be as dependent as he needs to be, and the freedom to develop a true independence at a pace suited to that individual child. AP children are given the breast (or on occasion the bottle) whenever they signal a desire for it, without regard to the clock, they are held or worn in a sling for as long as they need, they are given the wonderful gift of sleeping next to their mothers or fathers for as long as they have this need. Weaning from the breast, the family bed, even such things as toilet training are all done with respect to the child's readiness.

Q. I don't breastfeed, don't co-sleep and don't use any sort of sling or baby carrier. I still consider myself very attached to my child and she is very happy.

A. You probably wouldn't be considered AP according to the description of attachment parenting; however, it is important to realize several things. Firstly, AP is just a name, and really, every parent is unique. Having a name given to a parenting style can in some ways be helpful (eg. it can help some people to find others who feel the way they do and parent in a similar manner), but in other ways it can alienate and cause division. We need to be careful to not use the definition as some sort of barrier or "test" as to whether someone is a "good" parent or not!

Secondly, you CAN be attached to your child without being AP! APers DO believe in the benefits of extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping and frequent holding, and do feel that these assist in bonding and attachment. That does not mean though that parents who do things differently don't love their children or feel very attached to them, or that their children are unhappy. It is very common for parents to not parent the "AP way" in our western society, but VERY rare for a parent to have no bond with his child.

Q. What are the benefits of AP?

A. AP has many benefits for both children and parents! Children who have their needs consistently met as infants grow up secure, confident, loving, and sensitive to others. These children also have the many advantages of extended breastfeeding, including less illness than other children, higher intelligence on average, and less allergies. Even infants born prematurely can benefit greatly from an AP approach, and "Kangaroo care" is widely recommended in neonatal intensive care units these days, a testament to the power of touch on infant growth and well-being. Co-sleeping has also been associated in some studies with reduced risk of SIDS. Parents also benefit from the confidence and joy of following their instincts rather than continually feeling they have to fight them. It is also in many ways more convenient for parents who breastfeed on cue to get out and about, to get chores done or look after older children if using a sling, to get adequate rest at night by co-sleeping, and so on.

Q. Won't AP make my child too dependent?

A. Babies and young children ARE dependent! Infants in particular cannot talk, get their own food, walk, dress themselves, or use the toilet! It is not possible to MAKE a child dependent any more than it is possible to MAKE a child independent. Some parenting philosophies might suggest that you can make a child less dependent by ignoring his cries, putting him on a schedule, leaving him alone at night and so on: the child might learn to do without having these needs met, but the child is not truly independent. He is just making do. Similarly, by meeting a child's needs, and allowing a child to be dependent early on, there is actually evidence to suggest that the child will be able to develop confidence, security, and a true sense of independence when ready. Needs met will go away, but needs unmet just take a raincheck!

Q. Am I spoiling my baby?

A. How can freely giving your love to a child spoil him? APers do not believe that meeting a child's needs and responding to his cues will spoil him, and in fact it is probably those children whose needs are not met who are "spoilt". An infant's needs and desires are one and the same, but of course, as a child grows, he will sometimes want things which he does not necessarily need. It is up to the parents to teach the child that sometimes he has to wait for something, and sometimes he cannot have what he wants. It is also the parents' job to help the child come to terms with the inevitable disappointment and frustration which ensues. To give a child every single thing he requests is not AP. It is permissive parenting.

Q. I seems sometimes that AP is all about mothers. What role do AP dads play?

A. Fathers have a very important role to play!! They can do everything except breastfeeding, so can and should play an active and loving part in the life of their baby and child. Every aspect of attachment parenting is something in which the father can be actively involved. Even with breastfeeding, which the dad cannot actually do himself, a father's support and encouragement can make all the difference, and cuddling up together while the baby is nursing can be a lovely way for the whole family to enjoy each other. In the first few months especially, because of the frequent nursing that is occurring, it is not uncommon for babies to need to spend a lot of time with their mothers. However, dads still have plenty of opportunities to be with their children and to develop an attachment. Dads can wear their babies and young children in a sling, and can enjoy the wonders of co-sleeping just as can mothers (again, except the breastfeeding part of course!). Particularly if the father is out at work all day away from his family, nighttime closeness can be an amazing way to reconnect with his family. Even though much of what is written about AP might be aimed at mothers, it applies equally to AP dads!

Q. How is discipline different for AP children?

A. Whereas mainstream discipline is often punitive, even including physical punishment, AP discipline is based on a foundation of a solid knowledge of the child, a respect for her feelings, and a gentle teaching of life's important lessons. AP discipline is in some ways easier than mainstream discipline because the AP style greatly assists in setting up a wonderful relationship of trust between children and their parents. Parents and children know each other so well and develop a sensitivity to one another which facilitates honest and respectful interactions. Having said that, AP discipline can also be more effort on the part of the parents. Really taking the time to talk through issues or to stay and comfort a child during a tantrum takes more time and effort than a quick slap on the bottom. It does, however, have amazing rewards for both parents and children.

Q. Do you have to be a SAHM (stay at home mum) to be AP?

A. AP parents recognize the fact that infants and young children have a very strong need to be with their mothers. AP mothers also have a strong attachment to their children, and generally want to be with them almost constantly (with the occasional break if feeling burnt out of course). When it is possible on a financial level for the mother to stay with the children, then it would be unusual for an AP mother of young children to work outside the home unless she had a job where she could take her children with her. However, in the real world, this is not always possible! If financially necessary for the mother to earn an income then many AP mothers will try to work from home if that is at all feasible, or to work part-time, or hours where the children can be with their father when the mother is working, or perhaps working "strange" hours so as to minimize separation from the kids. Even if the mother must work full-time, AP mums often go to great efforts to pump their breast milk for their nursing children, and maintain an attached relationship with their children by co-sleeping, nursing, and lots of cuddles when they can be together.

Q. I have heard that APers all have homebirths, don't vaccinate, use cloth nappies and homeschool. Is this true?

A. No! Whilst all these activities could fit very well into an AP lifestyle, they are not necessarily part of AP. The crucial part of AP is responding to a child's needs, and it is possible to do this if having a hospital birth, vaccinating, using disposable nappies, and children going to school.

Q. I have heard that co-sleeping isn't safe. Is this true?

A. Co-sleeping can be very safe, depending on how you do it. It is recommended that you use a firm mattress, have no pillows or soft bed coverings near the baby's head, do not overheat the baby, and do not smoke, drink or take any drugs which could impair your judgment.

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Q. I have been told that I MUST Ferberize my child or he will never learn to sleep on his own. Won't co-sleeping just create problems in this regard?

A. What rot!! Generations of children who have co-slept with their parents have all managed to progress to sleeping through the night without having to be left to cry it out. Children who are allowed to develop this "skill" naturally are more likely to have positive sleep associations throughout their lives than those who are not.

Q. I am about to have a second child. My first did not receive AP. We put him in a crib, listened to the doctors who told us to let him CIO. Because of this, my husband thinks that we should not do things differently with our next child because it would not be fair. What do we do?

A. We are all human, and sometimes we realize AFTER we have already done something that there is a better way. At the time, you did the best you could with the information you had, so don't beat yourselves up over it. Now you know differently, so to continue to parent in this way would be unfair to your children and yourselves. Why not AP both children? You could take your first child into bed with you and your new baby, for instance.

Q. What is child-led weaning, and what are the benefits?

A. Child-led weaning, otherwise known as natural weaning, is when a child is given the freedom to decide when he does not wish to breastfeed anymore. Apart from very natural changes from the mother, such as the sometimes less urgent response to a request to nurse from an older child, the parents do not actively do anything to stop the child breastfeeding. Sometimes a mother decides to stop offering the breast ("Don't offer, don't refuse"), but even that is not considered by some people to be true child-led weaning. Dr. Katherine Dettwyler has done extensive work on the topic of weaning, and concludes that an expected age of weaning in humans is anywhere from 2 1/2 to 7 years of age. She also found that in parts of the world where children are allowed to breastfeed for as long as they desire, they usually stop nursing around the age of three or four.

There are many, many benefits of child-led weaning. These include all the benefits of extended breastfeeding, and the longer a child nurses, the greater these benefits, of course. There is also the wonderful and immeasurable emotional benefit to the child of being allowed to separate from the mother rather than the other way around. The child is able to become independent at his own pace. Benefits to the mother include natural child-spacing, the many joys of nursing a toddler and maybe even older child, and reduced risk of breast cancer.

Q. What benefits does sling wearing have for me and my child?

A. Holding a child in your arms or wearing him in a sling is a natural expression of love and comfort, and is a wonderful way to provide the closeness that a baby and young child needs. A sling enables a parent to keep the baby close and still keep hands free to care for another child, do housework, shopping, generally get out and about. Slings can also be used for discreet and convenient breastfeeding. They are also usually easier to use than lugging a stroller around.

Q. How can AP fit into an active lifestyle?

A. Breastfeeding and wearing your child in a sling make babies very portable! As long as baby is with you, you can go just about anywhere with very little preparation, very little to take, and very little worry. Some parents are in the enviable position of being able to earn a living with their baby in a sling! Other parents can enjoy outings knowing that they do not have to worry about when or where the baby is likely to get hungry. Co-sleeping also makes holidaying a breeze in many instances. Whilst babies who sleep away from the parents might be very unsettled in a strange cot, in a different place, babies who are used to nursing off to dreamland beside their mothers are generally happy to go to sleep anywhere as long as mum is there too! A real bonus!

Q. What items do I need in order to be prepared for my baby to come home?

A. Very little! A good carseat is vital, of course. A sling, preferably with an instructional video or at least written instructions, is also something that most APers would not be without. Usually very little is needed for breastfeeding, but a book such as The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding and/or The Baby Book would make a great gift for the expectant family. A stroller might be useful at times, but many AP families manage quite fine without one. The same with a cot. Some families find one useful to use in a side-car arrangement, or for baby to sleep in for naps when at the crawling stage (there are ways of getting by in safety without a cot though, such as a mattress on the floor). Babies also need clothes of course!

Q. My parents are offering to buy us a crib. How can we tell them that we really don't need one?

A. Firstly, are you SURE you really don't want one? It might be useful if you ever want a side-car arrangement or for some of baby's naps. If you really are sure that you don't want one, then by all means just explain to your parents that you will be sleeping with your little one in your bed, and that a cot would just sit there unused. You could even suggest an alternative gift if they seem amenable. For the price of a cot, you could probably even get a sling, some baby clothes, some good books, maybe even a rocking chair!! If the worst comes to the worst and they insist on going ahead with getting you a cot, then there is not anything you can do about it. You cannot force them to not buy you one, but remember that they can't force you to use it!! Perhaps your family pet might enjoy using it!!

Q.

How can I be AP without my friends feeling that I am judging them?

A. It can be very hard for some people to witness others choosing a path which is very different from their own. They might see it as an indication that you disapprove of their choices, and feel very defensive and offended by what you are doing. Be sensitive to this. Let's face it, if imitation is the highest form of flattery then doing the opposite is probably giving a pretty negative message. Imagine if one day your children decide to parent very differently from you!

Nevertheless, you have every right to choose to parent in a way that you believe is right, so don't let your fears of offending people hold you back from following your instincts. Just tread carefully when discussing "hot" topics such as cry-it-out!

Q. I love parenting the AP way, but am constantly being criticized and challenged by my doctor, health care nurse, mother-in-law, and even strangers!! How do I deal with this?

A. You can try to educate them about your choices (eg. giving information about the benefits of co-sleeping), and if that fails, then just take courage in the fact that you are doing what you know is right for you and your child. As mentioned above, people can get very defensive about issues such as whether to cry-it-out or not, and criticizing you might be their way of coping with feelings of guilt or regret. You can politely but firmly thank people for their concern but let them know that you are happy with your choices. Giving an air of confidence (fake it if necessary!) can really help too.

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