I have been parenting for over thirteen years. Before I even had my first child I was an attachment parenting advocate. At that point of course it was all theoretical. At the time and in the place I had my first few children, attachment parenting was counter-cultural. Babies were transported in infant carriers and strollers; the sight of my baby in my arms at church seemed somehow old-fashioned. When about town with my baby in a sling, I had to explain more than once what it was! Yes, other mothers nursed (...I'm not THAT old...), but breastmilk fed by bottle was the common way babies were fed (at least in public). Every expectant family had its nursery and every nursery had its crib. The family bed was something for weak-brained parents who wanted no intimacy and maybe didn't even want their baby to survive. And pacifiers were a given.
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.
That being said, I love to share attachment parenting/ natural mothering with others. This manner of parenting our infants has been everything CCL cracked it up to be. It just feels right, for me, in the short term and definitely in the long term. So what IS attachment parenting? There are no doubt as many different definitions of attachment parenting as there are attachment parents; however, in general, attachment parenting stresses...you guessed it...attachment!
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.
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!
'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.
- You will never be the all-sufficient mom. You cannot meet all of the needs that your children have. They will need others: their dad, grandparents, others in your family, doctors, teachers, mentors, their friends, etc. It's normal and healthy to let someone else meet their needs too.
- You will have to break your own rules sometimes. Yes, even THAT one (whatever it may be). If you make any rule of parenting more important than the members of your family, it has become an idol. At various points, I have broken every one of these AP rules, especially in situations of severe illness or a time of unusual activity in the family such as a move to a new house. It's important to remember that your relationship with your child is made up of years of interactions, and the few exceptions you make for good reasons will not harm your baby. For example, despite my knowledge, hard work, and help from lactation counselors, our hospitalized baby needed to be fed by bottle for a period of time because of his health condition. I knew it was necessary, so I didn't sweat it, and I vowed inwardly to work on nursing when we got him home. As a parent, you have to know when it's time to bend some rules for the greater good.
- You absolutely need time for yourself: to eat well, drink water, exercise regularly, spend time with friends (even if it's just on the phone), rest and sleep. Make a little time for recreation too.
- You absolutely need time alone with your spouse.
- You absolutely need to make time to pray and for your other spiritual needs.