What is Attachment Parenting, Anyway? : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Monday May 28 | BY |
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The recent “Time Magazine” cover shocked a lot of people, but attachment parenting involves a lot more than breastfeeding.

After the divisive article, “Are You Mom Enough?” appeared in Time Magazine on May 21, 2012, a lot of people started asking: “What is attachment parenting, anyway?”

We got a lot of you talking when we asked for your opinions on the cover shot, which showed a mom breastfeeding a boy of about four years old. Thanks for your responses! Whatever your thoughts on the cover, let’s talk about this concept, where it came from, and what it means for a lot of parents and children.

The Foundation of Attachment Parenting
The term “attachment parenting” was coined by Dr. Bill Sears in his book, The Baby Book, about 20 years ago. According to Dr. Sears’ own website, attachment parenting is “a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents.”

Since “the best” is obviously a subjective term, what does this actually mean? Apparently Dr. Sears bases his parenting philosophy on the principles of the “attachment theory” in developmental psychology, which asserts that a child forms a strong emotional bond with caregivers during childhood with lifelong consequences. Parenting that is sensitive and emotionally available helps the child better form a secure attachment, which theoretically supports his emotional development and well being.

Though some studies show that mothers are are more sensitive to their infant’s needs raise children with a higher level of attachment security, there doesn’t seem to be any conclusive scientific evidence on the outcomes of Sears’ attachment parenting.

The Principles of Attachment Parenting

According to Dr. Sears, there are “7 Baby B’s,” that can help parents form a more secure attachment with their infants:

  1. Birth Bonding: A close attachment after birth and beyond allows the natural for mother and baby to come together.
  2. Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding helps mothers read their baby’s cues, and promotes the “right chemistry” between mom and baby by stimulating attachment hormones.
  3. Babywearing: Carried babies fuss less and spend more time in a state of “quiet alertness,” which helps them learn about their environment. Closeness also promotes familiarity.
  4. Bedding Close to Baby: Co-sleeping helps busy daytime parents reconnect with their infants at night, and decreases nighttime separation anxiety.
  5. Belief in the Value of the Baby’s Cry: Responding sensitively to the baby’s cry builds trust, and improves parent-child communication.
  6. Beware of Baby Trainers: Attachment parenting helps teach parents to be discerning of advice, especially about “rigid and extreme” parenting styles that teach you to watch a clock or a schedule instead of your baby.
  7. Balance: The key to putting balance in your parenting is being “appropriately” responsive to your baby, and having the wisdom to tend to your own needs when necessary.

In addition to these 7 guidelines, Dr. Sears add that attachment parenting is “an approach,” not a strict set of rules, and advises parents to find their own way for themselves and their babies.

In Comes Attachment Parenting International
Building on Dr. Sears’ ideas, the non-profit group “Attachment Parenting International (API)” created their own guidelines. Founded in 1994, API “promotes parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents.” To meet their mission, the organization created their own set of attachment parenting guidelines, and are now considered to be the foundation of the attachment parenting “movement,” so to speak.

API states that attachment parenting isn’t new, but rather, is a return to the instinctual behaviors of our ancestors. Co-founders Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson wrote a book entitled Attached at the Heart, which delves more deeply into the group’s eight principles of parenting. Here’s a brief introduction:

  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting: This involves things like emotionally and physically preparing, finding the right doctors and birthing environments, educating yourself about the states of childhood, etc.
  2. Feed with Love and Respect: Though they advocate breastfeeding, API also notes that bottle nurses can adapt breastfeeding behaviors to help secure a strong attachment. This step also involves learning the feeding cues for infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity: This is about responding to the baby—tuning into what he or she is trying to communicate, and responding in kind.
  4. Use Nurturing Touch: API encourages skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage, and states that carrying or babywearing helps to meet the need for touch while on the go.
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: API encourages co-sleeping, stating that it helps quell fear, loneliness, and hunger during the night.
  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care: This step is about time spent in the child’s presence—the need for a “consistent, loving, responsive caregiver,”—and about minimizing stress and fear during short separations.
  7. Practice Positive Discipline: Empathetic, loving, and respectful discipline strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to the behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior.
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life: Parents have needs too, and API encourages them to create a support network, set realistic goals, and say “no” when needed to encourage balance in life and maintain parental health and well being.

It seems attachment parenting involves a lot more than simply breastfeeding kids until they’re four years old. In fact, according to the API website, there is no specific guideline for how long a mother should breastfeed. Of course, a shocking cover attracts readers and sparks conversation. But upon further investigation, this parenting style is more about helping children to grow up feeling secure and loved. Whether or not it actually produces such children we still don’t know, but wherever you stand on the issue, you have to admit that’s a worthwhile goal.

Have you employed an attachment parenting style? Please share your experience.

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Photo courtesy Wyldeskye via Flickr.com.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. Brooke says:

    I essentially followed the 7 Baby Bs to the letter which I admit became a challenge when I became a single parent, but also a gift. A gift in that by continuing to nurse and co-sleep with my daughter through her fathers and I separating we were able to transition into our new surroundings much easier. Despite having a tough childhood my daughter remains healthy, confident and happy. I can’t help but assume that attachment parenting is largely responsible for that. I’m also jealous at the ease with which my daughter can navigate the world.

  2. As a child psychologist and a mom, one of the things that is so misleading about attachment parenting is the name. It is only called attachment parenting because of the theory it was based upon. It is not called this because it is the only form of parenting which allows parents to develop a secure attachment relationship with their children. There are numerous ways to develop a secure attachment relationship with our kids. I explore more of this myth here for anyone who is interested:

  3. michelle says:

    thank you for this clear and concise article on attachment parenting,as the mother of 3 girls,whom I birthed at home ,breastfed long term,co-slept with and carried in a sling (I had not heard of the term Attachment parenting with my first )it strikes me that this is a natural,instinctual way of mothering however in our culture there is such an emphasis on handing our power over to the professionals all the time that we lose touch with our bodies ,our instincts that say of course I am going to have as much skin contact and physical contact with this little being who has grown inside me and I am going to meet their needs as best I can.I find it interesting that on a website so focused on optimum health and nutrition that you have appeared to shy away from the indesputable facts that breastmilk is the natural and superior food for a baby,I only recently read an article speaking about the language around breastfeeding and how instead of parents being advised on the benefits of breastfeeding ,health professionals need to be giving the information on the possible risks of artificial infant formula-this is challenging(even for myself ) as there is such a fear in making formula feeding parents feel guilty,of course there is alse the bonding skin to skin aspect to breastfeeding as well as the developmental aspects with the activation of the jaws and spine and of course health benefits to baby and mother …and such a comfort to baby. Anyhow thanks again for bringing in this topic.

  4. Michelle says:

    I am a mother to seven children, ages 4 to 18. I instinctively chose this style of parenting before ever reading this book. Attachment parenting is more about forming a trusting relationship with your child than any set of rules. I fed my kids when they were hungry, let them sleep with me (one still does), breastfed until they were two and ALWAYS listened to them. Now that I have children entering adulthood, I am so incredibly grateful for this close relationship I have with them. We never seemed to go through any difficult teen years. My older kids are always willing to talk to me and share their lives with me. I am very thankful that I was bold enough to follow my instincts and not listen to some people around me telling me that I was spoiling my children.

  5. Michelle says:

    Wow. A lot of “Michelle” responders, of which I am one. . . Thank you for bringing light to this subject. I too had natural childbirth, co-slept with my daughter, and breastfed her until her third birthday. However, because of much negative stigma attached to this, I did not nurse her publicly after age 2 (even with a cover-up). She is such a happy, healthy and well adjusted 4 year old now, and I would not have had it any other way. Of course she has not been vaccinated and eats a healthy diet with lots of superfoods to boot. She is very loving and tuned in to people around her. I sincerely hope you two will find similar results with your soon-to-be bundle of joy. Blessings.

  6. Juanita says:

    When I had my baby I knew I wanted to breast feed him but I had no idea how long I wanted to breast-feed. He is three and a half now and I still breast feed him daily. I am moving into the time based on his age that strangers might begin to judge me. Yesterday I had a discussion with a pregnant family member about the practices within attachment parenting, she completely rejected the information. I feel sad she may not use these practices because my son has benefitted so much from co-sleeping, being carried and breast fed. Now that I rediscovered positive discipline, I have seen such a positive change in how he is expressing himself. Why is it shocking to see a four year old being fed by his mother at her breast? It is shocking to me that some babies never enjoy their natural food as infants. The more I learn about breast feeding the longer I am inclined to nurse my son. Catherine Detwyler found out the natural age of weening for humans is when their second teeth emerge. As well, a child’s chakras are not fully developed intel he is seven. Nursing provides not only physical nutrition. There is a small chakra just below the nipples and energy is transfered from the Mom to the child while nursing which benefits his human energy field. Read Hands of Light by Barbara Brennan for that info.

  7. sue says:

    I don’t find the word ‘attachment’ enlighteniing or helpful at all. How about respectful parenting? I think the worst thing is setting up an adversarial relationship with the child because the parent has a great need to have ‘power’. I have seen the consequential failure of that approach many times. Children are small people. Sometimes they do not act like adults. Still they do reserve respect.
    I raised my children in the hippie days in the sixties. The pattern then was predominantly laissez-faire: let the children do what they want (safety warnings were still there). It seems those children have turned out quite well in all cases.

  8. kat says:

    Excellent article! I don’t recall hearing the term attachment parenting 30 plus years ago; but that’s essentially how my children were raised. There was some flak, but it didn’t keep me from honoring my inner knowing. They were fed when hungry, breastfeed until they weaned themselves,and slept with us or in our room as babies. As they grew older some mornings we would wake up and discover all three of them had crawled into bed with us! [in a double bed no less] When I was told I was “spoiling” them my reply was, “You can’t spoil a baby.” I knew intuitively their disapproval was about them, not me.

  9. W. says:

    “Don’t expect to learn everything at once. Parenting is a learn-as-you-go profession. It takes hands-on experience. Our suggestions are just starter tips. From these basics you will grow and develop your own style, one that best fits your baby’s temperment and your personality.” “The easy baby you are expecting may not be the baby you get. Stay open to new ideas, and then select what best fits your family. In return, be assured that everything we discussed has been well researched.”(page 4, the Baby Book, Sears)

    As a mother of 4, ages 8-2, I began the journey of motherhood commited to doing Everthing suggested and doing it well (according to this book). This information from attatchment parenting and my sweet son, who had other ideas than his mother, sure helped me develop a style that works for our family. All 4 of our children have very different personalities and temperments, some I held/wore most days and one I was not allowed to hold. 🙂 All were nursed for 12-13 mos. but each has very different eating solid food habits. More times than not I went back to the quotes above, develope your own style- use the starter tips to help. When I did that, stress was lower and momma was happier.

    And just a side note- Time mag. should be ashamed for taking such a personal and important issue (parenting, feeding, nurturing) and making it such a topic for sensationalism. Thanks for asking- and may your parenting journey be blessed!

  10. esther says:

    great article folks and i admire your contribution to the subject – when my children were born in 1970 and 1980 there was a whole different list of experts (and nearly not as many)- recently i have been tuning into the conscious parenting summit and learned of so many more people, techniques, approachs, ideas etc not available back then, but basically an expanded version of the tried, true and natural ways – educating oneself, raising awareness and tuning in to what is natural, global, instinctual, loving, & caring with respect and intuitive attentiveness to one’s newborn – one thing i learned on this summit is that einstein was 9 or 10 years old and still had snacks at the breast – my own children weaned on their own, one at 14 months the other at 3 and half yrs –
    thank you for your contribution to our growing thirst and hunger in evolution

  11. Bryan says:

    It seems like the real challenge is to overcome the good opinions of others and trust in ones self….if having a child is what you intended to do in the first place. My wife followed much of the “attachment” suggestions and I as well where the male parent was appropriate, including skin to skin contact when our kids were baby-toddler age. My kids had a real eye opener about the parenting they received when we moved from Nevada to North Carolina and they found that many of their new friends spoke openly about physical punishment and sibling hitting. We have never physically punished our children, though I have to admit there were times that I lost control of my speaking volume and moved more in to rant mode…. Hopefully every parent is doing the best they can with what they have, and learning from the ‘mistakes’ their parents made when they have their own children.

  12. zyxomma says:

    Reading the above, I suppose my mother (RIP) practiced detachment parenting. Since I never had children, I’ve never practiced any kind of parenting. Let’s hear it for healthy babies growing into healthy adults.

  13. IH says:

    Good article Kevin. FYI, you may want to interview Natalia Rose. She recently had her third child and writes a lot on her blog about parenting, raw and wholesome foods. A lot of people like her approach very much. I don’t know whether she practices the so called “attachment parenting” but her website has interesting information on that subject, very similar to what you just wrote.

  14. Joanne says:

    Hi Kevin,
    Congrats to you and your wife on your first child. I am a wife and mother of 4 and a grandmother of 13. I never heard of this type of parenting but that’s just the style of parenting I did. I can give you hind site. My oldest is 35 and the youngest is 25, 3 girls and 1 boy. My children have all been healthy and happy individuals with active lifestyles. There are no weight problems. The 3 oldest are married with kids, all are socially well adjusted and all have gone on to higher education. Obviously they too, like children and nurture them properly (take a look at that number again LOL). Most of my grandchildren are also breastfed. The oldest grandson was not. In his short life, he has had a broken leg, a broken collarbone and numerous ear infections. Now, I’m not saying that breastfeeding will prevent broken bones, it won’t. I am saying that his body is frail compared to the breastfed children.
    We nursed all our babies until they chose to stop, which was around 1 year or so.
    My experience was that there is no better way to raise a happy, well adjusted, healthy child. We never had a SIDS baby either. I have a hunch that SIDS originates from “the other parenting style”. You know, the one that tells you to never let your child be in your bed. Your baby goes in the nursery with a monitor on another floor sometimes.
    For me, I would wake to a crying baby in the middle of the night, change the diaper (eyes closed), and take the baby back to my waterbed with me. I would lay down and nurse the baby and when done, put the baby back in the crib next to my bed. That’s what a night feeding SHOULD be like.(A breastfeeding Mom needs all the rest she can get!) As they got older, I would even be able to fall asleep for a nap while they nursed. My babies didn’t sleep with me other than that, but I did chuckle when I read someone’s comment that stated they would wake up with their kids in their bed. On rare occasions we would also wake up with 4 kids in our bed.
    I believe this type of parenting should just simply be called NURTURING. When you nurture your children you give them roots. Roots will give them wings.

  15. Cardencopy says:

    As a five-year leader of a chapter of API (and 9-year AP parent), it’s exciting to see these principles moving into the mainstream consciousness. I’m lucky enough to personally know Barbara and Lysa, API founders and authors of ‘Attached at the Heart’, and they are fabulously caring and kind human beings who have the pure heart intention of helping to create more peace on earth. Their work has certainly brought more peace into my own family, and I cry with gratitude that I had this information in time to impact the lives of my own two (home-birthed! full-term breastfed!) children. I see and feel the benefits daily.

  16. Allison says:

    Hello Kevin,

    I think the big deal in regards to the Time cover & article, most of which I heard from other people as being negative/”sick”, is because people view the breast as a sexual object, not the mammary gland whose purpose is to feed offspring.

    Perhaps then, people ought to get their minds out of the gutter & stop making women sexual objects only, when clearly we (women) are considerably much more!

    It’s unfortunate others do not see our profound abilities in many areas, one of which & perhaps the most important is in birthing a child, giving of ourselves in feeding our child & so on. How we choose to do this is really none of anyones business & people can just “get over it”!

  17. Angela says:

    I can recommend an Excellent book on Attachment parenting, not so much in the really baby yrs. but all of the yrs until adolescence. I loved it, I first seen Dr.Gordon Neufeld at a Homeschool Conference in Vancouver in the 90’s when my children were still children, now they are young adults. But it is called Hold On To Your Kids:Why Parents need to matter more than Peers. Any parent with young children will find this a very informative and interesting read. Cheers to All of The Attached Parents, I think It is So Important!!

  18. reen says:

    I can relate to Joanne – my brood goes from 39 down to 27. I come from a large family of siblings and to my knowledge my parents NEVER read a book to tell them how to care for us, and I followed suit. We must stop handing over our parental (and all other) responsibilities to any outside power other than God who created us. Do we really think that Jesus ever wore a diaper?? Think about that. We are such a lazy society as far as thinking for ourselves that some third-world countries make us look ignorant as far as raising our own children. No offense to anyone here, but we have got to stop depending on so-called “experts” to tell us how to live our lives. None of us is perfect,but no one knows better than you do how to nurture your children – trust yourself, and “just do it” 🙂

  19. W. says:

    To Reen- I love that you came from a large family and instinctively knew how to mother. I however had a childhood similair to zyxomma and no family support around when I had children. I shudder to think of the mistakes I would have made without a guide. Please don’t judge those of us who came from unhealthy (emotionally) homes and want to do a better job but have no idea how to do that. Especially in today’s world of fast paced, career driven, out of town families; I’m so thankful for the books written, even the ones I read which I chose not to follow. And I might encourage you to find a young new mother who could use your guidance and wisdom and mentor her, a person is always better than a book- but I know few who want to take the time.

  20. W. says:

    To Kevin and Annmarie-
    Parenting and Marriage are my two favorite careers. They have stretched me and grown me in so many wonderful ways. I would like to encourage you to think about the legacy that your families have handed down to you. Think about your grandparents health (mind, body, and spirit)and your parents and siblings health. Of that health what things do you want to share with your children and what would you do differently. Let that be your guide for what resources you choose. 🙂 I hope your journey is full of children and learning!

  21. Jean says:

    It is good to look at various ways to love our little ones, but this just doesn’t fit every parent or every child. No need to feel badly if this doesn’t appeal to you completely. Your babies just need to know, beyond a doubt, that you do love them unconditionally. Do that and they will respond and grow into amazing people!

    The best parents, in my opinion, pay attention to each individual child’s needs. I had one that needed more constant affirmation and attention and one that preferred to take his “blankie” and just go off in a corner alone to take his naps.

    Let your children be who they are.

  22. Satyana Love Lotus says:

    The picture accompanying this article portrays unsafe baby wearing! The sling is worn far too low on the mother and the baby appears to be in a “chin-to-chest” position which can cause suffocation.

    I believe that anyone who parents instinctively will be lead to “attachment parenting”. I had never heard of Dr. Sears or read any parenting books at all before having my daughter, but responding to her needs immediately became second nature. This is why if you look at indigenous cultures world wide, they practice responsiveness with their babies. This almost inevitably manifests as breast feeding, sleep sharing, baby wearing, etc.

  23. mork says:

    I have two older children, ages 7 and 10 and was wondering if anyone knows about attachment parenting at that age? Thanks!

  24. Chris says:

    As a father of 3, ages 3, 5, and 7, based on the parents and kids I’ve witnessed, kids raised in this style appear to be happier. On the other hand, some parents think kids should learn to get their way, that THAT means well-adjusted. I guess you could make the argument that those kids will likely be successful, at least superficially. It’s interesting that my kids tend to veer towards similar kids, and when talking to those kids’ parents, the parents almost always have a similar parenting style that my kids received. So it works out — the parents usually get along when the kids get along. Ultimately, it’s a matter of what kind of people you want to be around, including your kids. Do you want them to be caring, thoughtful people? Then you have to give that through example. If you want them to learn to be “strong” and get their way, then be that way with them. It should be pretty obvious what kind of teenagers they will become. For the most part, they will become similar to their caregivers. When you see them becoming little mirrors, reflecting your behavior, it can be quite fulfilling, and worrisome too, when you’re not at your best.

  25. Violet says:

    There are a lot of circumstances in which many of the AP rules are not attainable. It really is a Best Case Scenario. After 11 months of surgery, illness, no sleep, and beating myself up over a colicky baby, I finally resorted to Weisbluth’s sleep training program. Worked instantly and provided a ton of relief.

  26. Linda says:

    AP principles were definitely the ‘dream’ and the goal when i had my two babies. They had something else in mind. When you factor crippling Postpartum depression on top of colicky babies that were difficult feeders (45 minutes per feeding, every feeding). Oh how I dreamed of just picking up the baby, changing it, nursing it, giving it a quick burp and then back to sleep. 10 to 12 months of dogged, determined nursing, and nothing seemed natural about it! Please, please, don’t make it sound like it is just so easy to listen to what the baby needs and everything will be fine. You never know what it will be like until you are in the middle of it. All I can say is get as much help as you can, and hope and pray that you are like one of the lucky mothers who commented above. Mine are now 7 and 11, and I am greatful that we all made it through their baby times. Best of luck in your parenting adventures!

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