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Attachment Parenting 101

You’ve probably heard about attachment parenting (and the celebs who practice it), but what’s it really all about? And who’s right -- those who think it’s the path to peaceful families, or those who think it produces self-centered children? You be the judge.

Photo: Veer

Attachment parenting is about having plenty of close contact and responding to baby’s cues -- the idea is that that all that bonding creates a secure and healthy attachment between a parent and child, helping her flourish emotionally and physically.

You can’t mention attachment parenting without mentioning the husband-wife pediatrician-and-nurse team, Dr. William and Martha Sears, who coined the phrase in 1982. “They saw a lot of parents in their practice who practiced this gentle style of parenting, and their kids were doing great,” explains Lysa Parker, co-founder of Attachment Parenting International and author of Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children.

The seven Bs

Attachment parenting is best known for three Bs -- breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing. But the Sears family actually developed a list of seven attachment tools they call the “7 Baby Bs”:

Birth bonding, which emphasizes the important of spending quality time with your baby as soon as possible after birth.

Breastfeeding. Breast milk is undisputedly the best nutrition for babies, but Sears says the actual act of breastfeeding promotes attachment between mom and baby.

Babywearing. Babies need lots of human touch after birth. “Wearing” baby in a carrier or a sling promotes closeness and touch.

Bedding close to baby. Sleeping near (or next to) your baby makes middle-of-the-night feedings easier, and helps you better soothe baby’s fears and anxieties.

Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry. Infant cries, Sears says, are meant to communicate something and should not be ignored. (No cry-it-out for attachment parents!)

Beware of baby trainers. Sears warns parents away from one-size-fits-all parenting experts, and encourages parents to become experts on their own baby.

Balance. Being a good parent is a lot of work! You can’t devote all of your time and energy toward your children; you need balance in your life.

Attachment parenting now

Attachment Parenting International, an organization established in 1994, boils down attachment parenting into eight guiding principles that are a slightly more modern version of the Sears’ basics:

Prepare for pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Think about the kind of parent you want to be, and discuss your parenting choices and philosophy with your partner.

Feed with love and respect. “We’re not saying you have to breastfeed; we’re saying the way you feed your baby is more than nutrition. It’s part of the attachment process,” Parker says. “So feed your baby in a loving way -- hold, gaze at and talk to your baby.”

Respond with sensitivity. “The key is to be as responsive as you can, most of the time,” Parker says.

Provide nurturing touch. Babywearing and baby holding count. So do hugs and kisses and snuggles on the couch.

Ensure safe sleep. Where parents and children sleep doesn’t matter; what’s most important, Parker says, is being responsive to your child, even at nighttime.

Use consistent and loving care. Consistency promotes attachment.

Practice positive discipline. Parents are encouraged to use “non-punitive discipline techniques such as substitution, distraction, problem solving, and playful parenting,” instead of punishment.

Strive for personal and family balance. Focus on the entire family. One family member’s needs shouldn’t dominate the others’.

Both Dr. Sears and Attachment Parenting International are quick to point out that their lists are not checklists. “We’re not saying you have to have your baby in your bed, you have to wear your baby,” Parker says. “As Dr. Sears says, ‘these are tools; not rules.’ Our principles are guideposts, not standards of perfection.”

For and against attachment parenting

For some parents, attachment parenting comes naturally. “AP because it feels right – almost instinctive,” says Lisa Coffman, a Wisconsin-based mother of two. “When my baby cries, my body reacts. I can’t concentrate on anything else, I cannot have a conversation with another person, my milk ducts react. I don’t let her cry if I can help it. I pick her up, keep her close to me. I feed her, sometimes because she’s hungry and sometimes for comfort. The oxytocin calms both of us.”

Other parents worry that practicing attachment parenting may cause some unintended problems. “I see where many of the guidelines mean having a child-centered home,” says Martie Spurgeon, a North Carolina mom of six. “I don’t believe that’s healthy for kids. They may start to feel that the world should center around and cater to them. It could be bad for the parents’ marriage, too, because the child is the center of attention and they won’t be able to focus on their husband-wife relationship.”

Is AP for you?

Only you can decide. Every family, every child is different. Our guess is, that if you like this style, you’ll probably pick and choose the principles that work for you. Through trial, error and experimentation, you’ll make parenting choices that fit your family.

Plus, More from The Bump:

Co-sleeping With Baby

Best and Worst Things About Having a Newborn

How to Read Your Baby's Mind

-- Jennifer L.W. Fink

See More: Newborn Basics , Baby Basics