Attachment Parenting – Natural Tender Love and Care for Your Baby

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When pregnant, it’s sometimes so easy to focus only on the birth, and you can forget that there will be an actual baby at the end of it! And along with birth choices, you also have a choice as to the kind of parenting you’d like to practise. There are many different aspects to consider: whether or not you want to co-sleep; what kind of routine (if any) you want to set; whether you will breastfeed, bottle-feed, or use a combination of the two; whether you’d like to carry the baby, or prefer to use a pram. As with everything to do with pregnancy and birth, there are several options. One ‘style’ which has been gaining popularity in recent years is ‘Attachment Parenting’.

As the Australian Attachment Parenting  website explains, attachment parenting ‘is based on the principle of understanding a child’s emotional and physical needs and responding sensitively to these needs.’ It focuses very much on the relationship between parent and child, and is promoted by child health agencies and The Department of Health as helpful in establishing a loving and secure environment for the baby. There are many different aspects1 to attachment parenting, but central to the philosophy is physical closeness. The reason for this is easy to understand: you can only imagine what a massive change it must be for a baby to have experienced a very snug, warm, secure environment inside the mother’s body, and then suddenly, they are out in the world, where they are separated from that closeness. Through attachment parenting, parents and other carers aim to help babies adjust, and feel protected and safe.

So what does this mean, in practical terms? There are a few ways you can introduce attachment parenting  when caring for your baby:

1. Breastfeeding on demand. Breastfeeding offers your baby the best nutritional start in life2, but it also allows you to foster a close relationship with your baby from the very beginning. Within the first few days, you will understand the signs your baby is giving you, to let you know they’re hungry or thirsty. Breastfeeding whenever your baby wants or needs to feed (‘on demand’) is a wonderful way of letting your baby know that you’re there when they need you, for both food and comfort. If for some reason you’re not able to breastfeed, don’t despair—you can still bottle-feed on demand3, with either expressed breastmilk or formula. Make a point of holding the baby while they feed. You might also like to have skin-to-skin contact during this time, giving your child the comfort of physical closeness.

2. Co-sleeping. While Department of Health guidelines recommend against co-sleeping 3, they also give many other options if you want to sleep near your baby, so you can both benefit from the closeness. If you do decide to co-sleep, make sure your bedroom and your bed are a safe place for the baby and you to sleep together. Dr Sears, a long-time advocate of attachment parenting and co-sleeping, gives some guidelines for a safer bed-sharing environment here. I fully admit that sharing our bed with our babies never worked well for us (they didn’t sleep, and neither did we!) so we just didn’t . But we did have them in our bedroom for the first few months. The advantages of co-sleeping aren’t simply about having the baby close for his or her comfort, it also means that you’re on hand, should your baby need feeding or changing. Being able to comfort your child within moments of them needing you is reassuring for them, but it also has a practical purpose—you’re not stumbling through the house, groggy with sleep, trying to reach a screaming baby before they wake up the entire household, and possibly all the neighbours, too!

3. Babywearing. To me, this is one of the most natural and instinctive ways to get around with a baby. Tying a baby to your body is something humans have done for thousands of generations. I carried all of our children in a sling or baby carrier from the day they were born—not only did it allow me to keep my baby close and warm, it also meant I could use my hands to do other tasks: make breakfast, hang washing, weed the garden, tend to other children. If your baby suffers from colic or is restless, wearing them can give them the reassurance they need as well as giving you some freedom of movement. There are so many kinds of slings and carriers around, but don’t feel overwhelmed by choice. Different styles work for different people, so see if there is a babywearing group in your area, or check out reviews and parenting sites, where you will certainly find discussions and recommendations.

4. Communication. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have become pretty good at communicating what we want. We use spoken and written language, gestures, expressions and social cues. But especially at the beginning, our babies have quite limited means of communication, and because of this, sometimes we find it difficult to interpret their needs and wants. We also perhaps don’t recognise just how many cues they’re picking up from us. Smell, touch, sound are all ways in which your baby gets a sense of security and belonging. Attachment is formed by ensuring that the baby surrounded by the same people on a regular basis. In this way, parents also learn the language their babies are using to communicate, through sounds and gestures. While it’s not always possible to stay at home with your baby for months or years, ensuring that they have consistency in their carers helps them form solid relationships. If you have to go back to work or share the care of your baby, you can still foster this strong attachment by choosing a family daycare, or a childcare centre that has long-term retention of full time staff, and where staff are well-trained and want to make a career out of childcare. Alternatively, see whether a family member is keen to commit to taking the baby on a regular basis.

One of the most appealing aspects of attachment parenting for us was the fact that were no fancy rules, strict routines, or expensive equipment. We chose what worked for us and didn’t stress about ticking all the boxes. All that was really required was for us to just be close to the baby—something which came naturally, anyway! We held our babies while they slept, kept them close while they played, and comforted them when they cried. Attachment parenting was, and still is, simply an instinctive way of caring for our babies, and as our oldest ‘babies’ are now well into primary school and growing up very quickly, I’m sure that their independence and confidence is due in no small part to the bonds forged in the first hours, days, weeks, and months.

Interested in finding out more about Attachment Parenting? Here’s some other sites with further information:

Ask Dr Sears (an overview of the AP style) (a non-profit organisation based on promoting and helping parents understand AP)
Psychology Today: The 4 Principles of Attachment Parenting and Why they work (a psychologist’s analysis of the benefits of AP)

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