By Pamela Kock
Is it possible to breastfeed your baby without
practicing the art of attachment parenting? Sure, but once that
tiny mouth makes contact, you may not want to. Attachment parenting
(AP) encourages and honors the special bond between parent and
child. What is AP, and why should parents follow its guidelines?
Attachment parenting is a concept that is often
controversial, but it shouldn't be. The basic premise is that
you can't "spoil" a baby by holding him too much, carrying
him, feeding him on demand, or with any other form of contact.
Babies ask for what they need, not just what they want; at this
stage, a baby's wants and needs are one and the same. It's true
that a baby who is denied attention when he cries will cry less
often -- but what is he really learning? He is not learning to
"behave"; he is learning that he can't count on having
his needs met when he asks. Attachment parenting builds trust.
Here are some basic guidelines for beginning
as an attached parent:
1. Breastfeed on demand, not according to a schedule,
and practice child-led weaning.
2. Practice "night-time parenting" -- sleep with the
baby, or at least place the crib in your bedroom. Comfort the
baby till he falls asleep rather than forcing him to do it on
3. Practice "baby-wearing" -- use slings and carriers
to hold the baby close during your daily activities.
4. Respond to the baby's cries immediately, and make every effort
to meet his needs.
5. Respect your baby's intuitive skill to know what he needs --
they're smarter than you think!
Following a feeding schedule can be the quickest
way to sabotage a breastfeeding relationship. There will be days
during which the baby's demands to nurse seem endless, but it
happens for a reason. Let the baby be your guide -- with a few
exceptions, healthy babies know when they need to nurse. During
a period of rapid growth, he'll need more milk, and frequent nursing
will increase the supply. It's also possible that the baby simply
needs extra comfort, and this shouldn't be denied. Breastfed babies
cannot be "overfed"; the milk supply adjusts to meet
their requirements. Likewise, don't stop a nursing session because
"time's up." The composition of breast milk changes
throughout the nursing session, and the baby will be satisfied
when he's received enough of the extra-fatty milk that appears
later in the feeding; this extra fat is required for proper growth.
Practice child-led weaning. There is no pre-determined,
one-size-fits-all age when a baby is ready to stop breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for
at least the first twelve months, and as long thereafter as mutually
desired. Nursing till a baby's second birthday is quite common.
Nursing till the third birthday is certainly not unheard of. Does
this seem inconceivable? Most toddlers only nurse one or two times
a day, but still benefit from the additional nutrition and comfort.
Since many toddlers are picky eaters, the small amount of breast
milk they may receive can act as an insurance policy to prevent
malnutrition. And at a time when they're being exposed to other
kids and communicable diseases, the immunity boost may keep them
healthier than they would be otherwise. How can you tell when
your child is ready to wean? Watch his reaction when you say no.
Does he throw a fit in outright panic? Or is his response something
like "well, that's a bummer?" Do it gradually, and expect
regression during times of illness or stress.
Getting baby to sleep at night or during naps
is often a hot topic. Popular advice to let the baby "cry
it out" or otherwise "teach" them to fall asleep
on their own usually goes against a parent's natural impulses,
for good reason! This method may work, or it may not, depending
on how insistent your baby is on having his legitimate needs met.
After several evenings of frazzled nerves, you'll be rewarded
with a quiet, cooperative baby -- but at what cost? He's just
learned that if he cries for help, you won't come. When he goes
to bed without a fuss, it's a sign he's given up. This is an empty
victory. A far better option is to encourage a night-time routine,
and teach your child what to expect after bath, story, and some
time in the rocking chair. He'll still learn to go to bed at night.
It may take extra time to get him to bed, but the time you spend
with the baby can be a very special time. Why would anyone want
to miss that opportunity?
Will the baby learn to go to sleep on his own,
someday, if you're always there to rock him or let him sleep with
you? Yes, when he's ready. He may not be ready for a while. He
may not be ready for five years, or he may be ready as soon as
he weans. The key is to be flexible and compassionate. Your child
may fall asleep on his own every day for a month, but then one
day may need extra help. Or he may sneak into your bed in the
middle of the night, and demand to co-sleep during a thunderstorm.
Don't worry about it. Most parents do this anyway, even if they
"Baby-wearing" -- a hip term for carrying
the baby in a sling or "snuggly" -- is not for everyone,
though it should at least be attempted. There are some beautifully
designed slings and carriers on the market that make it easy to
take the baby on outings, comfort him during ordinary household
routines, and nurse discreetly. Slings and carriers solve many
problems for some parents. A comfortable, happy baby is a quiet
one, and an unobtrusive one in many settings; if you don't mind
carrying the extra weight, slings can solve the problem of getting
the housework done with a demanding infant. Even if you don't
enjoy the baby's presence in a sling while you're doing the housework,
carriers can be a much better option than strollers and prams
while out and about. The baby gets a better view, extra comfort,
and good support for his developing body. It shouldn't be only
an experience for mothers, of course. Fathers can use baby carriers,
too, and the baby will benefit from the variety and additional
What do you do when the baby cries? Pick him
up, of course, and figure out what he needs. This sounds obvious,
but many parents opt to let the baby lie there and fuss for fear
of "spoiling" him. Crying is the only way that an infant
has to communicate a need. For a baby, a "need" and
a "want" are the same thing. You may hear advice to
let the baby cry, that he's "manipulating" you. Wrapping
you around his little finger, he is. Why shouldn't he? His crying
and his engaging behavior are instinctive ways to gain your love,
and your reaction teaches him how to love you back.
Attachment parenting, though it has some very
passionate proponents, is not a religion. You can pick and choose
the parts that fit your preferences and lifestyle, adjusting the
method to your comfort level -- as long as the main concept is
adhered to. For example, you may not be willing to carry the baby
everywhere in a sling, or co-sleep with the baby. But if you respond
to the baby's cries immediately, hold the baby whenever he needs
soothing, and follow most of the other guidelines, you're still
an attached parent, and both parent and baby will reap the rewards.
Pamela Kock is a freelance writer, mother of
two, and editor of IndoorJungle.net,
the Indoor Gardener's Web-zine.