What Is Attachment Parenting?
The Roots of Attachment Parenting
At the root of attachment parenting lies attachment theory. Attachment theory stems from psychologist John Bowlby's studies of maternal deprivation and animal behavior research in the early 1950s.
Attachment theory says an infant instinctively seeks closeness to a secure "attachment figure." This closeness is necessary for the infant to feel safe emotionally as well as for food and survival. Early animal studies found that baby primates preferred a warm, terry-cloth "mother" doll over a wire doll that dispensed food but lacked warmth.
Attachment parenting is based on the idea that babies learn to trust and thrive when their needs are consistently met by a caregiver early in life. Children who never experience this secure attachment early in life, according to proponents, don't learn to form healthy attachments later in life. They suffer from insecurity, lack of empathy, and, in extreme cases, anger and attachment disorders.
More recent attachment theory is based on research into different styles of attachment in both children and adult romantic relationships. This includes secure, avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized attachment.
Early attachment theory proposed a finite "critical period" from six months to two or three years. During this critical period, children need to form secure attachments with a parent or other consistent caregiver. Prior to six months, most infants respond equally happily to well-meaning strangers as to their parents. At six or seven months, babies begin showing signs of separation anxiety when parents leave them. The specific behaviors at being "abandoned" are thought to indicate the child's attachment style.
An Updated Look at Attachment Parenting
Sears is the pediatrician who popularized attachment parenting. He has streamlined its principles into what he calls the "7 Baby B's" or "Attachment Tools":
Birth bonding. Sears acknowledges that the now-or-never idea of attachment doesn't hold true. Adopted children, foster kids, and infants in intensive care can all learn to form healthy relationships as adults later in life.
Breastfeeding. While still advocated, breastfeeding is now understood to benefit a mother as well as a baby. It does this by producing increased levels of her "bonding" hormones, prolactin and oxytocin.
Baby-wearing. Sears focuses on "baby-wearing" to promote attachment, frequent touch, and parents' sensitivity to an infant's cues of needs.
Bedding close to baby. While Sears still advises sleeping close to babies, his attachment parenting model more fully acknowledges the need for parents to get a good night's sleep.
Belief in the language-value of your baby's cry. Sears' attachment parenting model strongly advises parents to respond to their babies' cries and not let babies "cry it out."
Beware of baby trainers. Sears continues to discredit what he calls "convenience" parenting. Convenience parenting, he says, puts a parent's ease and convenience above an infant's feeding cues or emotional bonding needs. An example might be parent-scheduled feedings.
Balance. Sears' advice on attachment parenting still includes strong advice to parents to balance parenting, marriage, and their own health and emotional needs.