I have long believed, and often tell the couples that I work with, that infants are amazingly well organized and sensible creatures. They tell us everything we need to know, IF only we listen. The problem is, we rarely listen. We are busy reading books, watching videos, and asking professionals how to be better parents, without getting to the business of parenting. As a parenting and relationship expert what I see in my practice and with my friends is that a high percentage of parents today practice some form or variation of attachment parenting. Every parent has a sling or Bjorn to carry their baby, most parents, even at least for the first months, has their newborn in their bedroom in a bassinet or co-sleeper, and as far as nursing mothers the stats (2006) on breast fed infants are as follows:
- 73.9% were ever breastfed
- 43.4% were still breastfeeding at 6 months of age
- 22.7% were breastfeeding at 1 year of age
- 33.1% were exclusively breastfed through 3 months of age
- 13.6% were exclusively breastfed through 6 months of age
So many of us, moms and dads alike, are happily and at times unhappily exhausted from all of this wonderful attachment parenting stuff! But let me break it down for you so you can see why it is worth the backache, sore nipples and blazing red eyes from lack of sleep at times.
Humor me and pretend we are back in college in psychology 101…. Attachment theory is the school of Psychology that posits that the framework for adult intimate relationships is developed through early infant/ caregiver bonds. The amount and level of attunement offered in those early experiences helps us develop a capacity for trust and the ability to emotionally connect to another person. Attachment is dependent on four things: desire for closeness, the ability to turn to an attachment figure for safety, the ability to depend on the security of the attachment figure as a base from which to explore a surrounding environment, and the confidence with which one can separate from and return to their attachment figure.
Okay, school’s out, what does it all mean? In simple terms, attachment theory states that our early infant and childhood experiences set the tone for our later ability to be emotionally available. It also sets the tone for our ability to develop as individuals, because a secure attachment allows us to feel confident and safe as we explore our world. The goal is that as “healthy good mirrors” for our children and their internal experience and physical and psychological wants and needs, we help them to internalize a sense of self and reality. This awareness is reflected in their thoughts and feelings, which hopefully (okay mostly but not always) are addressed by us as parents in the most appropriate and healthy of ways.
So attachment parenting is based on that theory and aims to create a secure attachment through such techniques as breast-feeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping or family beds. Does it require breast-feeding until age four? Maybe, maybe not. Does it require giving up on your romantic relationship with your partner as you turn your life into a full time baby-raising adventure? Definitely not. Attachment parenting is about listening, tuning in to your baby, and responding to your baby’s individual needs.
My son Asher nursed until he was almost three. (I must admit there is a video of a toddler aged Asher walking up to me and asking to nurse) My friend’s baby did not want anything to do with the breast after fourteen months. One of my best friends could not breast feed at all; her baby struggled as much as she did. Are Asher and I more attached because I breast-fed longer or even at all? I don’t believe so, but what does matter is how we feel about our personal choices as well as how attuned we feel to our kids, not just when they are infants, but, as they get older as well. Being in attunement is a life-long experience with our children.
That’s it class! When we listen and respond to what our children are telling us, we will raise healthy, confident people. When we tune into our children, they grow up feeling secure and valued, knowing where they came from and feeling safe about where they are going. All of the other stuff is minutia. If you and your baby enjoy the healthy bond that nursing provides, even into the pre-school years, go for it. If you and your partner determine that you want to have a family bed for a while, enjoy those times of closeness. But please take the “shoulds” out of parenting and put the books away, sometimes. Listen to yourself, your partner and your child, and you will generate the attachments from those already developing and ever unfolding relationships that will literally last a lifetime. Remember attachment parenting is NOT just attachment mothering, it involves and is only as healthy as the father or co-parent is involved in the process and parenting decisions. Happy wearing, sleeping and nursing!