If you’re a new or expectant parent, we understand how important it is to you to get your little one off to the right start. However, it’s very easy to get bogged down in parenting books and philosophy around the best way to parent your child.
We’re here to put your mind at ease. Do you need to practice attachment parenting to ensure your baby is securely attached? Does formula feeding vs breastfeeding leave your baby open to attachment disorders, and is the Cry It Out Method so bad? Read on to find out!
In this post, we look at Attachment parenting, its pros and cons and how Attachment Parenting relates to Attachment theory
What is Attachment Parenting?
The term Attachment parenting is certainly not a new concept, with it popping up in literature as early as the 1980s. However, it was William Sears and Martha Sears that brought attachment parenting into the spotlight.
Husband and wife Dr William Sears and Registered Nurse Martha Sears put to use their personal experience raising their own eight children, extensive paediatric experience, and inspiration from the works of psychologist John Bowlby- who we will discuss later- to author more than 40 books.
Attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy which prescribes physical proximity, responsive parenting and emotional responsiveness in the parent in order to raise a child who is ultimately independent, confident and securely attached.
The resulting healthy early attachment is said to set the child up for happier and better relationships in adulthood and greater autonomy, ultimately furthering child development.
According to Sears, these fantastic, alleged benefits to the cognitive development of baby can be achieved by following the “Baby Bs” outlined in the Attachment Parenting Book by Sears & Sears.
The 7 Bs of Attachment Parenting- Unrealistic Expectations?
Sears outlines the seven baby Bs as crucial elements of attachment parenting, stating that a secure attachment with a primary caregiver sets a blueprint for that child’s ability to self-regulate, develop autonomy and navigate loving healthy relationships.
These claims are backed by research by Bowlby and Ainsworth et al (The Strange Situation/ Attachment Theory).
Sears cites the moments after birth as crucial for birth bonding; the infant is in a “quiet alert” state. Sears advises that attachment parents should avoid analgesics during labour, arguing that this effectively drugs the baby as well as mom, potentially creating a barrier for uninterrupted skin to skin contact.
It’s not surprising that Sears promotes breastfeeding to AP parents- breastfeeding encourages constant physical closeness, close attention to baby’s signals and responsive comforting to help with baby’s emotion regulation.
In line with recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), Sears advises that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, with complimentary breastfeeding continuing to the age of two years and beyond.
Like breastfeeding, baby-wearing ensures proximity to the primary caregiver, close secure contact and a constant attention to the needs of your baby.
Sears recommends that moms wear baby as much as possible, using a baby carrier or a sling. This allows her to involve the baby in everything she does, it’s believed that this contributes to high quality attachment as well as speech and language development.
Research does suggest that newborns who are worn by their caregiver cry significantly less than their peers, supporting the idea that baby wearing promotes parental responsiveness and contentedness in the infant.
Bedding close to Baby
While Sears advocates for families sleeping their baby in whatever way suits them, he strongly believes that the infant should sleep as close as possible to the mother, preferably cosleeping.
Co sleeping is thought to help both mom and baby get more sleep, facilitate breastfeeding and also be a protective measure against SIDS.
The concept is far from new- however the American Academy of Paediatrics opposes bed sharing, recommending that infants sleep in a cot instead.
Belief in Baby’s cry
Balance & Boundaries
Beware Baby Trainers
Sears believes that the baby’s cry is a key means of communication. The caregiver should strive to prevent crying- through breastfeeding, cosleeping and babywearing- and also to respond intuitively when crying does occur. The idea is that the infant will ultimately learn to self-regulate, while allowing a child to cry will cause long term damage
Sears recognises the huge burden that attachment parenting places on parents, most often on mothers, and suggests that parents learn to streamline their daily routines, delegate tasks where possible and set in place firm support networks in order to facilitate attachment parenting.
The idea is that the advanced communicative skills, mutual respect and loving parent-child relationship enjoyed by children of AP parents means that formal discipline is often un-necessary.
Sears warns that sleep training desensitises the mother to the needs of her infant, and also makes infants apathetic, stunting child development. He argues that this is traumatic and that there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of sleep training techniques
What are the Benefits of Attachment Parenting?
From a common sense point of view, its natural to presume that raising a child with emotional responsiveness and a close, loving bond will lead to better outcomes for that child. Sears outlines amazing benefits to his parenting style:
Pros of Attachment Parenting
- Healthy Brain development of the infant
- Reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Better awareness of the mental and emotional state of your baby
- Long term benefits and a positive blueprint for relationships that your child will carry into adulthood
There are certainly studies that support the notion that baby’s who are constantly attended to through baby wearing and co-sleeping cry a lot less than their peers. Furthermore, research also makes clear that breastmilk carries huge immunological benefits and is protective against SIDS.
Attachment parenting parents do claim to enjoy deep, loving and trusting relationships with their children, which we know to be protective against behavioural problems, becoming a victim of abuse, and poor mental health.
Official organisations such as API (Attachment Parenting International) and APUK (Attachment Parenting UK)have been set up to offer a supportive network for attachment parents.
What are the Criticisms of Attachment Parenting?
The biggest criticisms of attachment parenting relate to the arduousness of this style of parenting, and additionally, how much pressure Sears places on the mother specifically.
Additionally, there is research that counters the proclaimed benefits of attachment parenting:
While research has shown that while highly sensitive mothers are more likely to breastfeed than their less sensitive counterparts, this research did not link feeding method to attachment quality (Britton, 2006)
Critics feel that Sears technique places additional shame and guilt on mothers, and that his technique is unsupportive of women who wish to, or have to, return to work after the birth of their children. Mothers can be left fearing their child be left at risk of reactive attachment disorder if they are not constantly together.
[Some] mothers choose to go back to their jobs quickly simply because they don’t understand how disruptive that is to the well-being of their babies. So many babies in our culture are not being cared for in the way God designed, and we as a nation are paying the price.
— William Sears, The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Child Care (1997)
What is Attachment Theory
It’s important not to mistake Attachment Parenting for Attachment theory.
Attachment Theory was formulated by John Bowlby and then studied further by Mary Ainsworth in the 1960s. The basics of the theory is that a loving, secure relationship with a primary caregiver is key for the social and emotional development of the child.
For Bowlby, the first three years are crucial, and that primary caregiver will ideally be the mother.
Ainsworth studied Attachment through her experiment The Strange Situation, which monitored how infants aged 2-3 reacted to a stranger while with their mother, when separated and then when reunited.
Ainsworth used these observations to classify children as one of three attachment types, later adding a 4th disorganized attachment type.
Type A- Anxious Avoidant
Children with this attachment style were unlikely to explore the room, nor did they express much emotion upon either separation or reunion with the primary caregiver.
Ainsworth felt that this behaviour was due to unresponsive caregiving, whereby the child has resigned to the fact that the parent will not respond to their emotional needs and so does not express distress.
Type B- Secure
Securely attached infants will feel free to explore in the presence of their primary caregiver, because they see this caregiver as a secure base. They will likely become upset when the caregiver leaves and will be happy when they return.
This attachment type is associated with loving, emotionally available and responsive parenting, which in turn makes a child feel safe to explore and trusting that the parent will return.
Type C- Anxious Ambivalent
This child will be wary of the stranger, so will explore very little, even in the presence of their caregiver. They will show distress when the caregiver leaves, and will likely express ambivalence upon reunion.
This style is thought to erupt from inconsistent parenting; the child is both resistant to the parent but highly distressed on separation.
What are the Signs of Secure Attachment?
A child who is securely attached will consider their primary caregiver to be a secure base; this allows them to explore their environment and build relationships with new people.
The securely attached child will strive to be with their primary caregiver, turning to them for comfort and reassurance. However, as the child leaves toddlerhood, he will display growing desire for independence, secure in the knowledge that the primary caregiver will always be there for him.
Overall, a securely attached child will exhibit happiness, kindness, empathy and trust.
Does Attachment Parenting Guarantee Secure Attachment?
Crucially, Attachment Parenting is not the same as Attachment Theory, nor does following the rules of attachment parenting guarantee secure attachment in the infant.
Since Sears & Sears were inspired by the research into attachment parenting, it’s easy to see why the confusion exists, however, it’s important to note that you don’t need to practice attachment parenting to have a securely attached child.
“I realized we needed to change the term to something more positive, so we came up with AP, since the Attachment Theory literature was so well researched and documented, by John Bowlby and others.”
— Martha Sears
Parenting doesn’t always go smoothly, and attachment parenting doesn’t allow for the baby who doesn’t like the restriction of a baby sling or the mom who develops a breast infection and struggles with breastfeeding.
In fact, the anxiety caused by trying to stick to a strict box of rules can get in the way of secure attachment. The mom who is burned out from never spending a moment away from her baby may develop postnatal depression.
Take breastfeeding; we know that mom and baby can enjoy eye to eye contact and physical and emotional closeness while nursing. However, this same closeness can be achieved while holding a baby close to bottle feed.
Developing secure attachment early is important for sure, but secure attachments do not specifically require any of the seven baby bs.
What Parenting Style Causes Secure Attachment?
The parenting journey rarely gives us hard and fast rules. However, in our twenty years of personal parenting, supporting parents in natural parenting and in formal education in the field of psychology, the advice we would give is to parent instinctively.
This means following your intuition. We believe passionately in the benefits of babywearing, breastfeeding and co-sleeping, however, we also believe that parents know best.
We believe that responding to your Childrens’ needs is crucial but that it’s also crucially important to meet your own needs too. The truth is that you can be fully sensitive and responsive to your infants needs even if you choose not to, or are unable, to do some of the things on the list.
Conclusion and final thoughts 💭
Attachment parenting prescribes the seven baby bs in order to raise your child successfully, and we strongly believe that these practices have huge benefits for child development. However, first and foremost, parent instinctively.
The key is to parent your way- pick and choose the techniques that work for your family to ensure your baby’s secure attachment.
We wish you luck on your parenting journey- be sure to keep an eye on our blog for the top natural parenting tips.