What is attachment parenting?

When babies are born, they leave the warm cradle of the womb where food and security are automatically provided. Parents must learn the subtle—and sometimes not-so-subtle—cues that their babies are sending them.

Subtle cues of need and distress are easier to overlook the greater the separation between parent and child. For example, parents are more likely to miss a baby smacking her lips (an early sign of hunger) if she’s in a stroller or in a crib down the hall. A close physical connection between parent and child, leading to emotional attunement as well, is advocated in attachment parenting.

What is “attachment parenting”? 

Attachment parenting is a style of child-rearing characterized by responsiveness to a child’s needs, nurturing of strong connections with the child, and modeling of appropriate social behavior. Advocates of this parenting style believe that it teaches children to be both secure and sympathetic.

The term “attachment parenting” was coined by pediatrician William Sears, MD, in the 1980s. It was linked to ideas of attachment theory that had existed from the 1950s to the 1970s. Today, Dr. Sears and his wife, Martha Sears, RN, serve on the board of the organization Attachment Parenting International (API).

The close physical connection encouraged in attachment parenting is believed to foster a close emotional connection. It’s that close emotional connection that experts say is the foundation of healthy adult relationships, also affecting how children will later parent their own sons and daughters.

How is attachment parenting practiced? 

API identifies 8 Principles of Parenting:

  • Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting. The more knowledge expectant parents have about birth and child development, the better equipped they can be to understand the needs of their baby.
  • Feed with love and respect. The easiest way to accomplish this? Breastfeeding. But bottle-feeding parents can also practice attachment parenting; API encourages bottle-feeding parents to mimic the closeness of breastfeeding as much as possible.
  • Respond with sensitivity. With attachment parenting, parents tune in to their baby’s needs and respond to them quickly. Frequent interactions help develop awareness of needs.
  • Use nurturing touch. Babies thrive on caring touch. Babywearing and massage are ways of maintaining a close physical connection.
  • Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally. Babies have needs 24/7, and as much as parents might look forward to their baby “sleeping through the night,” the reality is that parents need to be available to their baby during the night. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants sleep in the same bedroom as their parents but on a separate surface.)
  • Provide consistent and loving care. The ideal caregiver for a baby is a parent. For working parents, API encourages finding a trusted caregiver who will provide the closeness and interaction babies need.
  • Practice positive discipline. Positive discipline refers to using methods like distraction and substitution to guide children toward desired behaviors.
  • Strive for balance in your personal and family life. Attachment parenting doesn’t require parents to abandon their own needs. Instead, parents should strike a balance between meeting their own needs and meeting those of their child.

API encourages parents to take these eight principles and adapt them to their personal preferences, situations, and family needs. The ultimate goal of attachment parenting is for children to grow up with strong, healthy attachments to adults important in their lives, and through these attachments learn to form close connections throughout their lives.

Last updated February 12, 2021

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