There was a time when I thought Attachment Parenting (AP) was stupid. Yep, I did. I bought into the mainstream ideas spewed by parenting magazines, mommy forums, and pediatricians. I agreed with the idea that AP makes babies clingy, less independent, spoiled, and fussy, even though I was a first time mom with zero experience in any form of parenting style. Boy was I wrong! I raised my first two babies very mainstream. I used disposable diapers, bottles, formula supplementation, a nursery with a crib, cry it out (CIO), strict feeding schedule, and strollers. Hear me now. . .this is is important: I am not saying there is anything wrong with any of these things. What I want to do is tell you how my life has changed since become an AP mom.
Attachment Parenting, simply put, is a parenting style that focuses on the bonding experience between mother and baby. If you’d like to really understand more about AP, I suggest reading this post by Dr. Sears. In short, it is a lifestyle that includes things such as breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, and paying attention to your baby’s cues, just to name a few. I converted to AP while pregnant with my 3rd child, who, as of this posting, is almost 6 months old now. When my oldest child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I began my journey of discovering more natural alternatives to the way I did things. While at first I only researched vaccines, chemicals in foods and household products, and diet, it didn’t take long for one thing to lead to another. Pretty soon I was researching birth interventions, breastfeeding, and overuse of antibiotics and medications. And the more blogs and websites I found that were devoted to these natural ways of birthing, eating, and living, the more I realized that most of them also subscribed to a rather natural form of parenting as well, which included AP. I prayed. I prayed a lot. I wanted God to show me what He wanted for our family. I asked Him, literally out loud, “God, you made us so perfectly, how did you intend for us to do this?” I started to think about native cultures, both of the past and of the present, who don’t have the modern conveniences that we do in America. Yet God made us wonderfully and fearfully before the invention of formula, strollers, and all that other baby gear. So how did people do it? How did women who had responsibilities to carry out daily, such as tending to crops and cooking everything by scratch, care for a baby? They carried them on their backs and kept them close, and even slept with the baby next to them or in the same bed. And were the babies spoilt? Of course not.
Think about it. . .a baby spends nine months in his mother’s womb, and then when he is born he is surrounded by loud noises and bright lights and taken immediately to get a bath, and since he is now cold he is wrapped up in a blanket and laid under a warmer in his own little bassinet. What a shock! Babies want to be with their mothers. They feel safe, secure, and comforted by her touch. When he is placed on her breast, he hears her heartbeat and her steady breath, and feels her warmth. Her body regulates his; breathing, heartbeat, temperature. He is calm. This is natural, this is normal. It’s not spoiling your baby. And this is how I’ve chosen to parent my baby. ***AP and NP (Natural Parenting) aren’t the same, but they have some overlap. For example, I cloth diaper, which is a very NP thing to do, but AP wouldn’t have a stance on cloth diapering.***
There are some stark differences in the way my first two kids were as babies and how my last one is. I see the difference mostly between my 1st and 3rd, because they are so similar. My oldest, Caleb, and my youngest, Joshua, were both very much the same when it came to falling asleep eating. I remember breastfeeding Caleb when he woke up at night, and he would eat for around 30-45 minutes and fall asleep at the breast. I would wait, sitting in the rocking chair until he was good and asleep. Then I would carefully rise and try to gently lay him in his crib in his nursery. And then he would wake up and we would have to start all over again. When all else failed, we did cry it out. It broke my heart. He would cry for so long, I just couldn’t stand it. And I would cry, too. My pediatrician warned me that it was deadly to sleep with a baby in your bed, and not to do it under any circumstances. I believed her. So I kept him in his own room and I never slept. He would wake up 3 or 4 times at night, I’d feed him for awhile, and pray he didn’t wake up when I laid him back down. Sometime I even fell asleep in the rocking chair. It’s a miracle he didn’t roll off the boppy pillow! There were times, especially during naps when my husband wasn’t in the bed, that I would bring Caleb to my bed and fall asleep with him. I was so nervous, because I wanted to be a good mom (who wants to be the mom who is potentially putting her kid’s life at risk?), but I needed sleep! It was such a relief, but I always felt guilty. This happened a few times, and it was one of the only ways I could get sleep. It was few and far between, only when I was desperate. I never dared to tell my pediatrician that I had done it. And cleaning up around the house? Forget it. He was always fussy. He wanted to be held or breastfed all the time. When I finally would get him down for a nap, I usually was taking a nap myself.
Fast forward 5 years and now I have Josh. He is exactly the same with nursing to sleep and waking up if you try to move him. I know this because I let him nap in bed while I do other things around the house and tend to my older kids. However, at night you’d never know there was a problem because we co-sleep. In fact, we bed share. Josh sleeps in our bed with my husband and me, and rest assured it can be done safely. Within the first few weeks, he was “sleeping through the night” (STTN) and so was I. However, I don’t have the same definition of STTN as some people do. Around 4 months old, many people will say you should start feeding a baby rice cereal at night so that they will remain full and not wake for night feedings. I see moms rejoice on facebook when their tiny baby finally STTN. . .and I did the same thing with my first. For us, STTN means we both stay asleep all night long, not that he isn’t eating. The reason is because as he starts to stir and root around, I barely wake up and latch him on, and we both drift back to sleep while he eats, neither one of us ever fully arousing. The rest I get now compared to with Caleb is phenomenal! That’s is especially important since I must care for two rambunctious boys on top of taking care of a newborn. As far as wanting to be held, babywearing is a lifesaver! He is content, alert and happy, and will usually eventually fall asleep. I am able to comfort him and still do the things I need to do for my other kids and in my household. And CIO? Yeah, we don’t do that anymore. If he is crying and everything else has been done (fed, clean diaper, etc.), then I will either wrap him up and walk around until he falls asleep, or breastfeed him until he falls asleep. Sometimes he is so tired he won’t even take the breast, he just fusses and pops on and off, on and off. That’s when the babywearing really comes in handy. Usually he’s out within minutes of being wrapped up on my back. It’s like a miracle!
Another difference is my milk supply. With Caleb, I was pumping, but I also had him on a strict eating schedule. Every 3 hours. If he cried before then and wasn’t wet or dirty, I didn’t feed him. My pediatrician told me not to. He seemed hungry, but I was supposed to wait. This was supposed to train him I suppose, but in hindsight I feel it was actually cruel. Not to mention my milk supply was crazy. I went through times of such bad engorgement from too much pumping to barely having anything left, especially if I needed to pump for relief but it wasn’t time to feed him yet. Often times I just ended up giving him a bottle. With Joshua, I feed him on demand. Sometimes it is strictly for food, and sometimes I’m his pacifier. I’m perfectly fine with that. Breastfeeding is not only about sustenance, but also about comfort and security. Babies love it, and so do I! It’s a wonderful way to bond with your baby, and they feel safe and secure when they know that you will meet their emotional needs.
I can’t believe how much easier my life is as an AP mom. Joshua is far less fussy; in fact, he hardly cries at all! As for some anecdotal evidence, I have more than one friend who have several kids (one has ten), and they report to me that the first one or two children who they raised mainstream are far LESS independent, LESS confident, MORE clingy, MORE unsure of themselves, and MORE fussy/whiny. This flies in the face of what people say about AP making kids clingy and dependent. Many parents feel like AP actually builds MORE confidence in kids. When they know that mom will come and pick them up when they cry and comfort them, they learn that they are safe. And the point isn’t to be a helicopter parent and never loosen the apron strings, the point is to give them that sense of security from a young age and gradually let them have a bit of independence, always being there for them when they come back. They will be building the confidence they need to know that they can learn new things and take new chances. As much as I want time to stand still, I also can’t wait to see how Josh will do compared to my other kids when he really gets to the exploring age!