The world is filled with different styles of living, religion, schooling, etc. So it’s no surprise that there are a lot of different ways to parent. Even within each parenting style each family is going to interpret that style to fit their family. While there are no “rules” to how to be an Attachment Parent there are some great principles to follow. While most families will adapt the La Leche League philosophy of Take What Works For Your Family and leave the rest, others strive to live closely by the AP principles when raising their children. The goal of AP is to raise children with a deep connection to their parents, in a non-violent environment, using our interactions with them as an example to follow, that will nurture our children into empathetic adults.
1) Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about routine newborn care. Continuously educate yourself about developmental stages of childhood, setting realistic expectations and remaining flexible.
2) Feed with Love and Respect
Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy an infant’s nutritional and emotional needs. “Bottle Nursing” adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior.
3) Respond with Sensitivity
Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.
4) Use Nurturing Touch
Touch meets a baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.
5) Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.
6) Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose an alternate caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations.
7) Practice Positive Discipline
Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone’s dignity intact.
8) Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life
It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.
How We Implement AP in Our Household
For sure parenting has been a step by step process in our family. While some things were automatic for us there were outside influences that had us try other things. Some things stuck and others didn’t. Our parenting is still constantly evolving. We are far from perfect but in striving for perfection we will always be improving. For me it all started when we discovered we were pregnant with our first child. I began my research journey that has become a passion. I have never liked hospitals and so birthing in a hospital just seemed wrong. I wasn’t sick and I believe that God created my body with the ability to give birth. So I started looking for alternatives to birthing in a hospital. At that time there was only one birth center in my area and it wasn’t close enough to me so I didn’t consider it. I found a homebirth midwife online and started my AP journey. Thankfully I met some wonderful parents in our childbirth education class and was introduced to a local online AP forum of mamas. From there I was introduced to so many aspects of AP that my journey has been a string of dominoes.
Principle 1: I did a lot of research on natural birth, eventually becoming a childbirth educator professionally. This research journey continues beyond the baby years, as I strive to raise children. Looking to the future and what information I will need in guiding my children.
Principle 2: We breastfed from the beginning but I didn’t have the self confidence with my first baby. I hid under blankets and in private rooms to nurse. I didn’t understand the nutritional value that breastmilk has or that my child could survive solely on breastmilk past 6 months old. I weaned my first child at 11 months when I became pregnant and supplemented with formula for a few more months. That is one of the things I regret most. I wish I had nursed him longer. But I learned. I joined La Leche League and started attending monthly meetings. I researched and became a La Leche League Leader by the time my third baby was born. I learned to ignore insecurities about my supply. I figured out that my supply had to do with demand and that nursing my baby as often as he/she pleased was key. I learned the medicinal value of breastmilk and that it’s one of the best things to give when baby is sick. It’s even great for pink eye and ear aches.
As we evolve past breastfeeding I am on a new adventure of eating organic whole foods in our household. We’ve been eating more healthfully each year but these changes have happened at a gradual pace for us. Currently I’m striving to make dairy products from scratch and grow our own organic vegetables. Someday I will be much better at natural eating but we are still in the learning phase. For now I’ve almost eliminated sugar from our house, reduced gluten, and introduced living foods. I’m watching the changes in my family(hopefully healthy), striving to find balance(choosing the right foods), and long term health.
Principle 3: I’ve learned through four children that an infant cries for a reason. If their needs are met they won’t cry. Being an intuitive parent meant that our fourth infant cried minimally. As our children grew we introduced sign language to help with the language barrier a 1 year old has. And now we are striving to continue that intuitive parenting with our children into their childhood. At each age we find ourselves in new territory, and we stumble and fall a lot, but other times we do okay. It’s a step by step learning process that requires our awareness, attention, and action.
Principle 4: When our children were born they were placed on mama’s bare chest. I held them skin to skin as we met them for the first time and then dad held them skin to skin soon after. We spend the first two weeks of their life in bed nursing with a lot of skin to skin contact. Breastfeeding gives babe a lot of skin to skin contact as well. We babywear our children too. Mostly in public but occasionally a fussy day will call for a sling around the house. My husbands favorite carrier is a Moby Wrap because it comfortably distributes the weigh all over his body and doesn’t strain his back. I love my Beco Gemini. It’s comfortable to wear for mom and baby can be forward facing or mama facing with a wide bottom support(important for their spine).
As the kids are getting older I’m finding that they need individualized cuddle time. My oldest son especially likes to be cuddled at bedtime prayers. My second son will come sit on my lap in the day periodically. My third child, daughter, still sleeps with us and gets her touch time all night. And of course the baby is held all day and closely snuggled between mama and daddy at night. When the kids get hurt or upset we hold them close. We like to give hugs throughout the day too. I want to start giving them massages as another way to incorporate individual touch. Oh we also playfully wrestle with them and they love that. Dog pile!
Principle 5: We co-sleep with our children from birth. Our sons both slept with us until my second son turned two and then the boys moved into their own bed to co-sleep together. For several months we laid down with them until they fell asleep. Often we still wake up with them in our bed. Both our girls are co-sleeping with us now. Dad’s on the edge, then baby, then mama, and our 3 year old is by the wall. We have a king size bed. The boys will come in and sleep at the foot of the bed, especially our 5 year old son. I wish I would have co-slept with him a little longer. But with a third baby arriving we didn’t have enough room and I didn’t want to put our oldest in a bed by himself. I remember being a kid and feeling lonely in my bed. Now the boys have a bedtime routine of bathroom, vitamins, story, prayers, and we sing to them. After that they are pretty good about going to sleep. Some nights we hear them talking to each other, and other times they goof off. But I’m glad they have each other. The girls cuddle close to mama and sleep soundly when I’m in bed with them. When I get up and take my laptop to the couch in the night it won’t be long until one of them wakes up.
Principle 6: I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job in this area. My husband and I are almost always with the children. When we are not they are either with one of their grandmothers or with my cousin who has been a nanny off and on for us for years. The children are very comfortable with her and love her dearly. She also parents them like we ask. We do our best not to interrupt the children’s day with our hectic work endeavors.
Principle 7: This has probably been the hardest principle to follow for us. All the voices from society have preached crying it out, spanking, time outs, etc. Society doesn’t teach you successful alternatives for gentle disciplining. While we did try crying it out with our first child, it was horrible for mom and baby and just didn’t make sense. It wasn’t for us and thankfully we knew that immediately. We have implemented time outs but it’s always in the room where we are and not separated. I can’t say that they are effective for disciplining. Usually they accomplish removing the child from the offense and giving mom time to clean up, calm down, soothe hurt sibling, etc. I find that I rarely use time outs anymore and will send the child to take a nap or burn energy jumping on the trampoline. Some days mom looses it and yells and no one is happy about that.
What I’ve found is that when a child is misbehaving at a younger age(well really any age, even adults) there is almost always an underlying issue. Usually the child is hungry, tired, or both. Once fed and rested they are usually back to their happy selves. They could also be sick or hurting. Teething is a trying time with a baby/toddler. With older children I’ve found the most effective thing is talking to them about the offense. We do count down from 5 with our kids. Usually we will ask them to do something or not do something. We give them a chance to follow instructions before we have a talk with them. For example if they are running around in a store I will ask them to come to me, if they continue to goof off running down the aisle I will count, usually they return to me. If not then I stop my shopping, go to them, and talk to them(on their level) about appropriate behavior in a store(again). Counting is effective but I sure wish they would just listen the first time I ask something.
I’ve been reading several books in an attempt to really understand my active boys and I will continue to research as I try to navigate this area. I will also be reaching out to some local mamas who are embracing an AP style of disciple so that I can get more perspective on this principle.
Principle 8: With owning two businesses along with all the things I’m involved with it has been a struggle to find balance. So that is a big part of what I am doing right now. I’m trying to finally balance our lives after years of chaos. For us adults more so than for the kids. I think we’ve done okay with the children having calm, dependable day to day. But especially for mama it has been chaos and I’m worn out. Also after having to close my store there are a lot of emotional things that I’m sifting through and trying to heal from. So in my search for a simple life I’m embracing the AP’s eighth principle. This search includes all areas of home life, parenting, social involvement, religion, profession, etc.
Most of attachment parenting comes naturally for us. It just makes the most sense. Moms are equipped to breastfeed, it’s convenient, easy to do in the middle of the night or out and about, soothes babies quickly, and it’s health benefits are exponential. Each area of AP seems to be this way, although sometimes society’s voice or the examples we’ve had can overcloud our natural instinct. This attachment parenting journey, for us, has been step by step. Some things we did by nature but over time we became aware of why we chose those things. We became more conscious of our parenting style and our convictions. Other parts of AP we are learning, becoming more aware, and finding that they work for us. We are Attachment Parents making conscious efforts to raise whole and complete children. Many people parent this way and most don’t even know that it has been classified as Attachment Parenting. With or without the title these principles help to improve us as parents, bring comfort & support to children, and create empathetic adults.