The one and only reason we even knew about attachment parenting in those early days was exposure to these ideas through the Couple to Couple League, the organization that taught us Natural Family Planning. Although CCL has changed, at that time, it was heavily influenced by La Leche League and its teachings about "natural mothering." While CCL wasn't the only voice promoting 'natural mothering,' it was the only one in our circles.
While the Couple to Couple League may have distanced itself from "natural mothering," there are now many other voices advocating attachment parenting in general, or aspects of it: notably, Dr. William and Martha Sears, Mothering.com, Dr. James McKenna, the La Leche League, Attachment Parenting International, Dr. Nils Bergman, and Dr. Jack Newman. Notice all the doctors in there? Attachment parenting is no longer the exclusive territory of hippie housewives. (Maybe it never was, but it is good to see all the amazing docs out there finding the research and doing the writing and promoting to support the fact that mothers and babies are meant to be together.)
I'm a firm believer that parents have been given, by God, the right and the responsibility to raise their children in the way that seems best to them, in their circumstances, with their unique mix of personalities, resources, community and culture. It saddens me just as much now as it did back then, that simply because I might choose to parent my child a bit differently than someone else, this may somehow be perceived as a judgment against them. I believe that most parents are doing the best they can raising their children, using the information and resources they have.
The Searses teach what they call the seven "b's" of attachment parenting: birth bonding; breastfeeding; babywearing; bedding close to baby; belief in the signal value of baby's cry; beware of baby trainers; and balance. If you are curious about any of these aspects of attachment parenting (or all of it!), what follows is my review of attachment parenting, as used within our family for the past thirteen years.
Birth bonding? I've done it six times! This one is pretty well accepted in American society, at least for vaginal births. But in case you've just emerged from subterranean life, bonding at birth makes breastfeeding easier and positively impacts the relationship between mother and baby for years to come, as well as helping to prepare your baby for healthy relationships with others. Having a doula present at your birth and after can be a great resource in helping you bond with baby, both because she can give you helpful bonding tips, as well as run errands so you and your spouse can focus on getting to know your baby.
Most articles about birth bonding are quick to point out that missing bonding at birth doesn't doom you to a distant relationship with your child or curse your child to become the next dictator. So what to do if you miss that early bonding? Well, besides this little hug, pictured at the left, I missed early bonding with my little son, who had serious complications at birth and spent his first fifteen days in the NICU, only able to nurse for the first time about a week after birth. I am delighted to say that we both persevered and he's a happy, healthy, exclusively breastfed baby today. The keys to bonding with your baby, despite a delay, are to touch or be near your baby consistently, to talk with your baby, to be responsive to baby's cues, to get good support when your baby is ready to try breastfeeding, and to negotiate with your baby's health care providers for what's important to you, if need be.
Speaking of breastfeeding, yeah; it's amazing! I LOVE it and have breastfed six babies (in staggered shifts--not all at once!) for over 13 years, with only two breaks of about six weeks each when two of my children weaned at the end of a couple of my pregnancies. Pacifiers have been unnecessary, although I would admit that we've discovered their usefulness in the car with our sixth baby. ;)
On the topic of pacifiers, It was the Couple to Couple League who first introduced us to "ecological breastfeeding," or what I call "natural breastfeeding." In a nutshell, natural breastfeeding is nursing your baby without the use of artificial nipples, with responsiveness to baby's cues, day and night. There are advantages to natural breastfeeding, as well as some cons, and this important, neglected topic is one I will address soon in another blog post. If you want tips for getting a good start or need help, attending a local La Leche League meeting is a great idea. I am also available as a peer counselor and experienced nursing mom!
Babywearing? I can't get enough. I have worn my babies in backpacks, slings, frontpacks, and now, my brand new soft structured Boba. It's not only cuddly and sweet to wear your baby, it's the only way a busy mom can get things done, if you choose not to use swings or other baby gear! Here a shout-out to Baby Wearing International is appropriate. BWI has local chapters, including one in the Twin Cities area, where you can go and try on and even check out carriers before investing in them. What works for another mom and baby may not work for you at all, depending on body sizes, baby's age and stage of development and the reason you need or choose to babywear at any particular moment. BWI meetings are also a great opportunity to meet other AP moms, especially if you live in an area where attachment parenting isn't common.
Bedding in? I adore cuddling with my sleeping baby or toddler. Our children have been and continue to be consistently great sleepers at night, unless they are sick. Thus far, among our six kids, we have had no bed wetting and no night terrors, including our kids who have graduated from the family bed. And to clear things up--no; we don't continue to sleep with our children forever! The exact age of weaning from the family bed has been different with our various children, but regardless of age, we take as much pride in our children developing night-time independence as we do when they take their first steps, or say their first sentence, or paint their first piece of art.... Night-time independence happens gradually and naturally. Just as a child doesn't go from crawling to walking flawlessly in one day, night-time independence is a gradual process, as the child learns to sleep more deeply, to hold his bladder, how to cope with scary dreams, how to cope with the different sights and sounds of night, etc. It's a lot to learn and we as parents need to be patient and trusting as our children move through this process. Safety concerns? Click on the Dr. McKenna link above. While we do practice the family bed, safe bed sharing is important; and bed sharing is not for everyone. Many people find sleeping with baby in a sidecar arrangement (with a co-sleeper) works better for their family than bed sharing. Concerns about intimacy? We have six kids, people. Need I say more?
Responsiveness to baby's cry? Yep. With our first, I responded at the first teeny whimper. Demands on my time are a lot more now than they were then, so it's true that I am not as much of a helicopter mom now as I was then. Yet if I do fail to reach the baby before he is crying, I like to hold him and validate his feelings of fear or sorrow, with words, sounds and body language meant to convey, 'I am here now; you are safe.'
'Beware of baby trainers.' This is simply the old old idea of letting the baby cry it out to train the baby to either stop using crying as a method of communication altogether because nobody is ever going to come, or, more commonly, letting the baby cry it out to train the baby to sleep through the night. Either way, the idea is to let the baby cry without picking up or sometimes even going to the baby. Keeping in mind my statement above about the fact that I truly believe that God gives a particular child to a particular family, and parents need to decide what type of parenting is best for their family, I do take issue with the cry it out strategy because it is rude. I wouldn't simply stand there while an older friend or family member were crying. I would at least attempt to help them or comfort them in some way. I fail to see how ignoring the tears of a very young person is any less rude. Enough said.
Finally, balance. This one eluded me till I was debilitated by postpartum anxiety, when we only had little ones in the house. It is hard for us perfectionistic moms to realize the following:
With my baby and my preschooler asleep on either side, I am grateful especially to Sheila Kippley, one of the founders of CCL, now of Natural Family Planning International, for this quiet moment of beauty. It wouldn't have happened without her. It is my hope that I too can leave a legacy of quiet moments of beauty in the lives of my own children, and in the lives of other families I have been given the privilege to touch, whether in person or through the written word. I would love to hear how AP has influenced your life; contribute to the conversation by making a comment!
The St. Croix