What’s Attachment Parenting?
Pediatrician William Sears and Martha Sears (a registered nurse) coined the term “attachment parenting” as a parenting approach based on:
- The attachment theory in psychology
- Their pediatric practice
- Their experience as parents of eight children
They wrote about this parenting style” in “The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby.” (1)
This modern parenting philosophy is based on the scientific concept that a parent’s responsiveness to their baby’s needs can have a lifelong effect on their baby’s future:
Attachment parenting isn’t just for moms. Your baby’s attachment figures can also include:
- Babysitters and primary caregivers
- Older siblings
Babies can develop a secure attachment when they experience warmth and love, and feel that these other figures are emotionally available.
They can feel free to openly express their feelings, positive and negative, without developing defenses.
What’s An Example Of Attachment Parenting?
- Frequent baby-wearing (carrying your baby in a front-facing sling during the day)
- View negative deeds (tantrums, hitting, etc.) as forms of communication instead of behavioral problems
- Positive reinforcement instead of strict punishment
- Weaning from breastfeeding only when your child is ready (even past their first year)
What Are The Eight Principles Of Attachment Parenting?
These are the eight principles by the API (Attachment Parenting International):
Preparing For Pregnancy, Birth, & Parenting
Even during pregnancy, it’s important to eliminate negative thoughts and feelings to be ready for the emotionally and physically demanding work of being a mom.
This makes sense, especially because postpartum depression, anxiety, rage, and other mood disorders or mental health concerns are affected by stress and fatigue from motherhood changes to meet your child’s needs.
Feeding With Love & Respect
Breastfeeding promotes secure attachment and teaches babies that their moms listen to their cues to fulfill their needs.
Plus, you and your baby can enjoy the other benefits of breastfeeding while you bond.
Child health benefits of breastfeeding: (2)
- Promotes well-being
- Stronger immune systems
- Better brain development and maturation
- Less prone to illnesses like diarrhea, pneumonia, and ear infection
- Fewer instances of asthma, allergies, and eczema (an inflammatory skin condition)
- Reduced SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) risks
Benefits for moms: (2)
- Promotes faster weight loss (because breastfeeding burns calories)
- May reduce the risk of postpartum depression and other mood disorders
- May reduce the risk of postpartum hemorrhage (because it stimulates uterine contractions)
Maximum skin-to-skin contact can help in nurturing your baby.
This parenting approach includes baby-wearing and joint baths.
Responding With Sensitivity
All expressions of emotions, including repeated tantrums, are considered real efforts at communication in attachment parenting.
So, these should be taken seriously and understood instead of dismissed or punished.
Providing Constant & Loving Care
Constant parent presence and childcare involvement are important.
Co-sleeping (baby sleeps near you in the same room, may or may not be on the same bed) lets you feed or soothe your baby easily during the night.
Some parents also practice bed-sharing (babies and parents sleep in the same bed).
IMPORTANT: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against bed-sharing with infants in their first year because this can increase the risk of SIDS. (3)
In attachment parenting, parents are encouraged to understand what a child’s negative behavior is actually communicating.
Instead of punishing them, you can work with your child in finding a solution together.
Personal & Family Life Balance
“Baby Reading”: What Are The Seven Baby Bs Of Attachment Parenting?
Sears and Sears detailed the following “Baby Bs” in their book: (1)
Sears explains that birth parents aren’t the only new parents nowadays. So, while birth bonding is important, it’s not the only way for babies to form healthy relationships.
Foster kids, adopted children, and babies in intensive care can also experience it.
Breastfeeding isn’t just about meeting your children’s needs: bonding and feel-good hormones prolactin and oxytocin (produced in a feeding session) can benefit you and your baby.
Baby-wearing helps promote attachment. Frequent skin-to-skin contact with your baby can increase your sensitivity to their cues.
Belief In Your Baby’s Cry & Its Language Value
Sears advocates responding to your babies’ cries and trying to understand what these mean instead of just letting them “cry it out.”
Bedding Near Your Baby
In Sears’ parenting practice, parents are advised to sleep close to their babies, but he also acknowledges the parents’ need to get a good night’s sleep.
Beware Of Baby Trainers
Sears discourages baby trainers as practices for “convenience” parenting which puts a parent’s convenience above their infant’s needs and feeding cues.
Examples can include:
- Parent-scheduled feedings
- Sleep training (putting young children in a crib and leaving the room, only checking back from time to time but letting them sleep alone)
Sears advises parents to balance parenting with marriage, their own health, and emotional needs to make attachment parenting work.
Four Different Attachment Styles
- Secure – the child feels loved and protected
- Avoidant (insecure) – withdrawal from relationships out of fear of rejection
- Resistant (insecure) – child signals distress, but caregiver can’t understand cues
- Disorganized attachment (insecure) – child struggles to form secure bonds because of repeated failure by caregivers to understand their cues
Importance Of Secure Attachment
Studies show that secure attachment in young children can lead to better independence later in life, while children who experience insecure attachment might become more dependent. (4)
Attachment can also affect: (4)
- School achievements and educational attainment
- Social relationships from preschool play partners to adult romantic relationships
Secure Attachment: History & Scientific View
Attachment parenting is loosely based on the attachment theories by two renowned psychologists:
- John Bowlby – a psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, known for his work in child development and pioneering the attachment theory
- Mary Ainsworth – is known for developing the attachment theory published in her book, “Patterns of Attachment” (5)
The Science Of Attachment & Your Child’s Optimal Development
Brain development in the social and emotional areas happens within the first 18 months of life. Because babies don’t know how to talk yet, they learn to communicate using their emotions. (6)
Input from your child’s primary relationships is important in creating brain connections and specific patterns. (6)
During this stage, infants also learn about stress and find ways to regulate it, depending on environmental input or how their parents respond to their cues. (7)
A caregiver’s consistent and soothing response to the child’s emotions develops into attachment to this person (usually the mother but can also be another primary caregiver). (6)
This secured attachment lays the foundation of a child’s security. It also develops self-esteem, emotional regulation, and self-control skills. (6)
Parents try to understand their baby’s cues to meet their needs in attachment parenting. However, some studies show that parents might miss or misinterpret their babies’ cues about 70% of the time. (7)
What Secure Attachment Is Like
- Physical bonding and skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby immediately after birth
- Hold your new baby often (also applies to dads)
- Start breastfeeding after birth or as soon as possible
- Breastfeed on demand rather than imposing your feeding schedule
- Consider your baby’s cries as signals and learn from these cues to meet their needs, whether it’s comforting, food, or other things
- Avoid offering pacifiers
- Baby-wearing (front-facing) with a safe baby carrier
- Continue to let your baby direct their feedings (breastfeeding and baby-led weaning when they’re ready for solid foods)
- Attend to your baby’s cries quickly and with sensitivity
- Study your baby’s facial expressions, behavior, and patterns so you can build intuitive knowledge about their needs, health, and temperament
- Co-sleeping or bed-sharing – Note that this is discouraged by the AAP due to SIDS risks (3)
- Try to understand your baby’s outbursts and negative emotions instead of punishing them for behavior problems
- Continue to avoid pacifiers
- You can continue breastfeeding even past the first year
- Wean slowly, following your child’s cues
- Respond to your child’s needs with empathy
- Validate (don’t scold or brush off) your child’s negative emotions (anger, fear, or frustration), which can be tied to what others might see as “bad behavior” (tantrums, crying, hitting, throwing, etc.).
- Continue co-sleeping until your child is ready for independent sleeping
- Continue baby-wearing, cuddling, and physical, skin-to-skin closeness
- Encourage independence by letting your child make decisions (as long as safe and appropriate)
- Positive forms of discipline through gentle guidance and positive reinforcement instead of harsh or strict punishment
Attachment Parenting: A Mentality (It Isn’t A Method)
This parenting approach encourages emotional connection with your young children, but the practices are still open for interpretation.
Is Bottle-Feeding OK in Attachment Parenting?
Yes. Although attachment parenting advocates breastfeeding, it’s also alright to bottle-feed your baby as long as you do it in response to your baby’s cues.
- Feed on cue instead of imposing a schedule that doesn’t match their hunger
- Hold your baby close, using the crook of one elbow while the bottle is alongside your chest
- Maintain eye contact and talk softly to your baby
- Occasionally switch to the other side, similar to what you do when breastfeeding
Kids come first, and tantrums or negative acts are viewed as a communication effort, not behavior problems. But you can still practice authoritative parenting through positive discipline.
Pros & Cons
Pros: Benefits Of Attachment Parenting
Possible benefits to babies: (6)(7)(8)
- Optimal growth and development
- Promotes brain development
- More trusting
- Fosters healthy independence
- Feels more confident and competent
- Feels right and acts right
- Sound mental health
- Learns to talk more easily
- Learns to receive and give love
- Fewer incidence of risky adolescent behaviors and health problems later in life
- More sensitive to baby’s cues
- Can respond intuitively to baby’s needs
- Develop a positive discipline method
- More confident in parenting skills
- Flow with your baby’s temperament
- Become keen observers
- Understands baby’s preferences and competencies
- Learns to decipher which advice to take or disregard
Benefits that affect relationships with your child: (9)
- Mutual giving
- Mutual sensitivity
- Better connection
- More flexibility
- Livelier interactions
- Mutual behavior shaping
- Mutual trust
- Bring out the best in each other
Cons: Criticisms & Controversies
What’s Wrong With Attachment Parenting?
Criticisms can include the following:
- The AAP doesn’t support co-sleeping (baby sleeps with parents) but strongly encourages room-sharing due to the risk of SIDS or infant death. (3)
- Attachment parenting is unnecessary. Studies show that children can form healthy relationships based on other factors, including their preschool or early childhood experience, school relationships, and even peer pressure. (10)
- Critics argue that the attachment theory began in the 1950s when moms were expected to stay at home to care for their children. But babies these days might have multiple primary caregivers, which can make attachment parenting difficult. (11)
- Because negative behavior is viewed as a communication issue that shouldn’t be ignored or punished, critics believe this can lead to disciplinary problems (e.g., kids controlling their parents, bullying other children, or constant tantrums and demands).
- “Time” magazine cover picture and article about a 4-year-old child still breastfeeding – many people believe that the child is too old to be breastfeeding (12)
- Culture of total motherhood – moms might believe that they have to constantly attend to their children’s needs, even if these are just whims, just to have the “perfect child” (13)
- Parental tribalism or “just a fad” (14)
- Some critics view these child-rearing practices or lifestyle preferences as “intensive, obsessive mothering” (14)
Other Forms Of Parenting
What’s Helicopter Parenting?
“Helicopter parenting” is used for overly-intrusive parents who are constantly hovering over their kids and possibly meddling with their academic studies, social relationships, and decision-making. (15)
Helicopter Parenting Vs. Attachment Parenting
Helicopter parenting is hovering over your child, trying to ensure their lives follow your ideals, while attachment parenting is about forming a secure bond with your children early in life.
What’s A Dragon Parent?
It’s someone, usually a mom, who grieves over a dead or terminally ill child by being fierce and loyal. They live for the moment.
(1) Sears, Bill; Sears, Martha (2001). The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby. New York, Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 17–21, 29. ISBN 978-0-316-77809-1.
(5) Ainsworth, M.D.S., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E., & Wall, S.N. (2015). Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation (1st ed.). Psychology Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203758045
(6) Malik F, Marwaha R. Developmental Stages of Social Emotional Development In Children. 2022 Feb 7. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–. PMID: 30521240.
(8) Winston, R., & Chicot, R. (2016). The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children. London journal of primary care, 8(1), 12–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/17571472.2015.1133012
(9) Karakaş, N. M., & Dağlı, F. Ş. (2019). The importance of attachment in infant and influencing factors. Turk pediatri arsivi, 54(2), 76–81. https://doi.org/10.14744/TurkPediatriArs.2018.80269