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Psychology
Published: June 06, 2017

Why Attachment Parenting Is About Nurturing, Not Spoiling

If you have had a baby, you know that babies are a lot of work. Not just a little bit of work. They require round the clock care and they will take over your life as you know it. No joke, a tiny human being can turn your life upside down in a heartbeat. It’s not just that they need constant physical care, but they need emotional care too. Physically they cry, poop themselves, need constant changing, and they need to be fed every couple of hours, even during the night! That is just a normal baby. Imagine a baby with reflux or colic that cries for hours on end. It happens.

Babies require an enormous amount of physical care, but their physical care affects their emotional well being for a lifetime. An entire body of work on Attachment Parenting, also know as AP, has proven that the level of care for a baby affects their social, emotional, intellectual, and mental abilities for the rest of their life.

If care for an infant does not involve the appropriate care required for attachment to happen with a caregiver, then the rest of that baby’s life can forever be affected. It is a huge responsibility for parents and caregivers. Attachment and creating a bond between a baby and a caregiver is just as important to a baby as providing food for that baby. The attachment and efforts to bond come from the caregiver, as babies are helpless. However, babies are born with an innate need to bond and attach to someone, typically the person who is the primary caregiver.

Babies are born to emotionally and physically attached to someone in order to survive.

John Bowlby is the developmental researcher and theorist who coined the term “attachment theory” back in the 1960’s. This theory proposes that a baby must be emotionally and physically attached to at least one care giver in order to develop normally. The theory, which has been heavily researched by thousands over the years, has overwhelmingly pointed to the overall benefits of Attachment Parenting practices. These benefits go far beyond infancy and childhood. A child who is “attached” will benefit from their early care for a lifetime.

The Aha! Parenting Website provided some great commentary on this body of research on the Attachment Parenting theory:1

Is “Attachment Parenting” a science? Yes. Decades of research, including longitudinal studies, shows that as securely attached babies get older, they form better relationships with others, have higher self esteem, are more flexible and resilient under stress, and perform better in every aspect of life, from schoolwork to peer interactions..

Please don’t panic and worry if you don’t know about the theory and you assume because you don’t know what it is that you didn’t practice Attachment Parenting methods. Many parents use attachment practices and don’t know about the theory at all.

It is important to understand that these methods are not only helpful, but essential to creating well adjusted children and adults. Infancy is such an important phase of development and the level of care of an infant should not be taken lighly.

Without significant attachment, babies have social connection problems later in life.

There is plenty of research that has proven Attachment Parenting to be effective in helping babies become more well adjusted, emotionally stable adults. There is also a down side for those babies who do not attach to a caregiver. There are extreme cases such as babies in orphanages who are not held in infancy who end up very detached and have serious emotional and social connection problems later in life. That is an extreme example, but babies in regular households can experience problems if attachment is not made with a parent or caregiver. The practices and patterns of Attachment Parenting are essential for normal childhood development.

New York Magazine has a great piece on the Attachment Parenting theory.2 Here is a quote from that article about how a lack of Attachment Parenting practices can cause major problems:

Researchers believe this pattern of attachment, assessed as early as one year, is more important than temperament, IQ, social class, and parenting style to a person’s development. A boom in attachment research now links adult attachment insecurity with a host of problems, from sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety to a decreased concern with moral injustice and less likelihood of being seen as a “natural leader.”

Obviously, there are clear benefits to practicing Attachment Parenting methods. The sake of the development of all humans is dependent on it. It is up to parents and caregivers to provide the proper care of their infant in order to ensure that attachment happens.

Attachment parenting is one way to ensure that attachment happens.

Researchers have been trying to pin down the exact methods of proper Attachment Parenting practices. Here are six of the most widely accepted and research proven Attachment Parenting practices for infants. Keep in mind that researchers have shown that you do not need to do all of these in order for a baby to attach. Just doing several of these practices is enough for a baby to attach to their caregiver.

There is no such thing as spoiling a baby. That has been proven to be a myth. Therefore, the more of the Attachment Parenting practices you utilize, the better it is for the attachment and overall development of the child. You are not spoiling a child by doing these things. You are creating a well adjusted human being by utilizing these Attachment Parenting practices.

1. Sleep near the baby

Safety is foremost in the care of an infant, but sleeping near a baby is possible with safe methods. There are co-sleeping units on the market that allow parents to sleep near their child and touch the child as they both sleep. Sleeping near the infant allows the caregiver to easily feed the baby at night and also soothe the infant when he or she cries. The Mother How Website has some practical tips for safely co-sleeping with an infant.3

2. Feed on demand

Back in the 1950’s the primary theory regarding baby feedings was that you put the baby on a strict feeding schedule according to a timed schedule. Babies were only to be fed at the scheduled feeding times, regardless of the babies crying or hunger cues. The Attachment Parenting theory proposes that babies are to be fed on demand. When they cry or indicate they are hungry their care giver is to feed them. Schedule or timing does not matter, it is more important that the baby’s needs are met.

Attachment Parenting International also specifies that breastfeeding is the best way for a baby to attach to the Mother.4 If breastfeeding is not possible, or does not work out for one reason or another for some moms, just always try to create a physical bond with the babies. The Attachment Parenting theory is all about physical bond which creates an emotional connection between Mom and baby.

3. Practice empathetic care

Babies do not need scolding or harsh treatment. In fact those things have been proven to be detrimental to their development. Babies need sensitive care and love. It is essential to healthy development. Attachment Parenting International provides specifics on this topic of treating infants with sensitivity.5

4. Ensure physical closeness with touch

Keeping baby close by physically touching and holding the infant are essential to Attachment Parenting practices. Babies need to be held and cuddled. A practical way for busy Moms to do this consistently is by baby wearing. Using a sling or baby carrier to attach baby to Mom (or caregiver) is a great way to create physical closeness between Mom and baby.

5. Be attentive to baby’s needs

Good Attachment Parenting practices include being attentive to the baby’s needs. If the baby is crying the caregiver needs to be prompt in trying to assess why the crying is happening and to remedy the problem. It’s about meeting the needs of the baby in a timely fashion. Baby’s needs come before all else. It is detrimental to babies, especially in early infancy, to be left to cry. When a baby cries and someone repeatedly ignores those cries, chemical brain activity is altered and can have long term damaging effects.

This is tough for many families, as both parents are working and child care is needed. However, consistent care means that the primary care giver, typically a parent, does most of the care for the baby. This gives the opportunity for that baby to then attach. If the baby is cared for by a multitude of people on a regular basis, it becomes more difficult for the baby to attach to at least one person. If at all possible, it is best for a parent to stay home and take time off work, ideally at least six months, for the benefit of the child. Attachment is much more likely to be successful when their primary caregiver is there during the day and night, especially in early infancy.

Babies are only babies once. There are no do-overs.

The time goes by so quickly and those first months of life affect the entire rest of their life, as major mental and emotional developments happen in the first year of life. The primary care giver of an infant has a huge responsibility. It’s possible that some working moms face challenges in being around their babies every single minute, and it’s okay because the main point is to maintain the bonding with their babies no matter what.

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