Attachment Parenting

Exactly what is Attachment Parenting?

I've often been asked, "So what IS attachment parenting". After long winded explanations, for ME,  it boiled down to this:

"In a practical sense AP is unconditionally nurturing your child's cues for nourishment, touch and interaction."
You do not force your child to:
  • Drink formula (if possible)
  • Feed at scheduled times
  • Cry-it-out (controlled-crying)
  • Sleep on their own
  • Sit in a stroller or capsule
  • Be separated from you for extended periods
  • Be spanked
  • Be independent from you

You allow your child to:
  • Breastfeed (if possible)
  • Feed whenever they need to (on demand)
  • Sleep with you (co-sleep)
  • Be carried in a babycarrier (baby-wear)
  • Stay with you throughout the day and night
  • Be taught with gentle discipline
  • Be dependent on you when they need to

Why go to all this effort to nurture your child?
During the first 3 years of life a child's brain is almost entirely hardwired (80%). Experiences during this period of massive brain growth will shape the child's personality for the rest of their life. Severe neglect or abuse will cause mental retardation. More info here.

Why focus on having a strong attachment with your child?
Babies who have strong attachments to their mothers are more empathetic, confident, sociable, relaxed, happy and intelligent – and these effects will last a lifetime. The relationship a baby forms with the mother, will be the basis for all other subsequent relationships in the baby's life. More info here.

This is why AP strives to form strong, trusting, loving bonds between mother and child. AP provides mum and baby a lifestyle with the least amount of stress possible – no schedules or spanking, and lots of love and cuddles. Baby's brain is able to flourish in a loving environment during the critical period of growth.

What's wrong with controlled crying?
Infants who experience chronic stress – like that experienced in 'controlled crying' – are 10 times more likely to have ADHD, poor school performance, poor fine motor development, antisocial behaviour, increased aggression, impulsivity, emotional unattachment, and violence later in life. More info here.

I'm hesitant to call controlled crying neglect or abuse, because I know most parents who use this practice deeply care for their children and believe whole heartedly it is safe to do. But it doesn't detract from the brain damage an infant suffers, and is left with for the remainder of their life.

What's wrong with spanking?
Physical punishment is consistently related to poor mental health including: depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, relationship problems, increased levels of aggression, anti-social behaviour, raised thresholds for defining an act as violent, and perpetration of violence as an adult, including abuse of one's family members. More info here.

Why carry baby all the time?
Touch is also a crucial element during baby's first three years of life, it is literally a trigger that turns on mental and physical growth. Lack of touch will cause mental and physical growth retardation. A mother's presence near the baby alone does not have much effect on growth, and nor does trying to shovel excessive amounts of food into baby's mouth - it is when the baby perceives warm, physical touch that growth is triggered.

Babies who experience a high level of loving touch gain weight faster, sleep better, are more alert, relaxed, and begin developmental milestones like crawling and walking earlier. Touch de-stresses baby and helps build a strong attachment between mum and baby. More info here.

Why breastfeed?
Human breastmilk is specifically designed to nourish and protect human babies. Breast milk passes on a myriad of antibodies the mother has accumulated over her lifetime (no vaccine can claim that). This symbiotic immunity is put to use everyday – when a mother kisses her child she ingests the germs present on babies skin, creates antibodies to it, then passes the antibodies on to baby through her breastmilk. Perfect! All the more reason to breastfeed and smother our babies in kisses. Breastmilk provides the perfect skin-to-skin contact that is so essential to babies' mental and physical development. More info here.

Why feed on demand?
Babies' breastfed on demand receive more milk than babies fed on schedule. It's important to recognise a newborns stomach capacity is only about 60-80ml (from the third day onwards, before that it's much smaller), or a size of a large chicken egg. Babies fed on demand also obviously cry much less, and the attachment between mum and baby is enhanced as mum responds lovingly to baby's cues. More info here.

What's wrong with formula?
Formula-fed babies tend to spit up more, be constipated more, have more gas, be more colicky and have more intestinal illnesses. Formula fed babies are 5 time more likely to need hospitalization before the age of one. More info here.

AP is normal
Attachment Parenting is not a new thing, AP style parenting was the norm for our ancestors, and is still the norm in many non-westernized countries. Other cultures instinctively still understand that infants need to be loved, nurtured, cherished and enjoyed – they don't need to be ignored, controlled and punished. AP is normal, it's natural, it's logical, it's healthy. More info here.

No matter the reason why our culture veered away from the AP style of parenting, the fact remains we have sacrificed our mental wellbeing because of it. And because of that, even forming close attachments with our own children can be daunting territory for many parents. Many parents were raised with an unattached style of parenting, or their lives are devoid of any strong attachment. For these parents, developing an attachment with their child may be more challenging.

For any parent, it's a major lifestyle transition to change from being a completely independent human being, to spending the majority of your time caring for your dependent wee one.

Some parents struggle with the concept of control – they don't want to be controlled by their baby, and they don't want to raise a spoiled child. Learning to trust your baby can be a big step for some, especially when parenting methods and medical professionals publicize that babies cries for nourishment, touch or interaction are manipulative and not to be taken seriously.

But a child wanting nourishment, touch or interaction is not selfish, greedy, or intentionally trying to control your life. Their cues for these basic needs are instinctive survival mechanisms that ensure a child will develop normally and healthy. These instincts have been developed over millennia – our hunter-gatherer ancestors constantly held babies and nursed them as frequently as four times per hour, and many hunter-gatherer style cultures still do today. And as we know, unconditionally nurturing your child's cues for nourishment, touch and interaction does the very opposite of creating a manipulative child – it produces trusting, caring, compassionate, empathetic and intelligent little human beings.

The trick with forming attachment, is that even if it seems foreign to you in the beginning, the more experiences you and your child have together, the stronger the attachment between you both grows, and the easier, more enjoyable, motivating, and loving the relationship becomes.


Cue Feeding: Wisdom and Science
Lisa Marasco, BA, IBCLC, Santa Maria, California
Jan Barger, MA, RC, IBCLC, Wheaton, Illinois

Science Says: Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful To Babies

Nature, Nurture and Early Brain Development
Sara Gable, State Extension Specialist, Human Development
Melissa Hunting, Undergraduate Intern

General Brain Development

Against Corporal Punishment – Moving Toward Constructive Child Discipline

How to Prevent VIOLENT CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR in the Next Generation
Jordan Riak

Corporal punishment of adolescents by parents:
a risk factor in the epidemiology of depression, suicide, alcohol abuse, child abuse, and wife beating

Murray A. Straus, Glenda Kaufman Kantor

The Experience of Touch: Research Points to a Critical Role
Daniel Goleman

How Important Is Physical Contact with Your Infant?
Katherine Harmon

The science of attachment parenting
Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.

How Breastfeeding Transfers Immunity To Babies
Brigham Young University

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  1. Attachment Parenting is also unschooling or alternative ed. It means NOT putting children in traditional school.

  2. Another great post.
    I've become increasingly AP over the journey of parenting three children, without intending to. I now have an almost 6-month-old who sleeps in my bed every night, and who I feed to sleep during the day. This started because I have low milk supply, and it was the only way I could get him to feed off me as well as taking donor milk from a bottle. I'm still breastfeeding him, while both my older children had weaned themselves before 4 months on a more regimented feeding schedule that didn't include feeding overnight.
    My baby is the happiest baby ever. I often take him in the Ergo when we are out and about and it's like a big cuddle. Baby is so content, and I feel really close to him. I LOVE all my children so much, but I'm convinced AP leads to closer relationships.

  3. "Infants who experience chronic stress – like that experienced in 'controlled crying' – are 10 times more likely to have ADHD, poor school performance, poor fine motor development, antisocial behaviour, increased aggression, impulsivity, emotional unattachment, and violence later in life"..

    This statement is simply false, and the authors of the studies that Sears quotes to support this have directly said so. The studies that supposedly back this up show that if you engage in extreme emotional or physical abuse, yes, of course you can produce these awful results. Going from that to concluding that controlled crying can produce "ADHD, poor school performance, poor fine motor development, antisocial behaviour, increased aggression, impulsivity, emotional unattachment, and violence later in life" is simply garbage. To use an analogy: it's like saying that because prolonged exposure to extremely loud noises can produce deafness, any exposure to noise is bad and therefore children should be raised in silence. Reductio ad absurdum.

    1. Hi Dan, thanks for your interesting comment. I'd be really interested to see the statements from these authors about controlled crying you mention. For newborns, being close to a parent is a finely honed survival instinct, it's been developed because being away from a parent at that age can mean life or death. So it is totally understandable that a newborn's fight or flight response would kick in in a controlled crying situation. Make no mistake, the stress a newborn displays when they are left to scream is ALL real. Parents downplay it at their own risk.