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What is Attachment Parenting?

Attachment parenting, a term made famous by a pediatrician named Dr. Sears, describes a parenting philosophy that is highly responsive and promotes a special emotional bond between a parent and child. This type of parenting doesn’t put as much stock in following schedules and listening to the parenting advice of others. Instead, it involves staying physically close to one’s child and developing an intuitive sense of how to respond to his needs. It is said to lead to a bond that allows a parent to know instinctively when her child is ready to eat, sleep, cuddle, sleep alone, have an alternate caregiver, understand verbal discipline, and recognize physical boundaries, without following typical parenting method guidelines.

Breastfeeding is a natural part of attachment parenting. While many parents understand that breastfeeding offers many nutritional benefits, an attachment parent also recognizes breastfeeding as a way to keep the baby close to his mother. Typically, these parents believe that closeness between a mom and baby is critical to the earliest stages of development, and breastfeeding accomplishes this. With this level of care, it is nearly impossible for the mom to miss cues from the baby that will let her know when he needs to eat, sleep, play, or be changed.

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Co-sleeping is also a part of attachment parenting. Many parents choose to share a bed with their babies in order to foster closeness and bonding. Co-sleeping can have many different looks. It could mean having the baby in the bed with the parents or it could mean joining a co-sleeper crib or bassinet attachment to the side of the bed, so that the baby has a space of its own but is still with his parents. For some, attachment parenting means putting a mattress on the floor and sleeping on it with the baby, so that there's little risk of the baby falling during the night. Still, others may start the baby off in his crib and put the baby in their bed once he cries during the night.

Baby wearing also complements this type of parenting. Parents may choose to wear their babies in slings in order to keep them close during the day as they go about their activities. This not only encourages bonding, but it may also help to keep baby more content, as resting against a warm body may be far more appealing than sitting in a baby chair, high chair, swing, or crib as the parent does chores or other activities. However, since attachment parenting does involve learning to recognize baby’s cues, it doesn't always mean baby wearing. Parents also develop a sense of when the baby is interested in playing on his own on a floor mat, for example, or riding in a stroller.

It is a misconception that this type of parenting means no discipline. These parents eventually incorporate discipline into their parenting styles as their children grow older. However, they may be more likely to issue time outs or take away privileges than use physical forms of punishment. They also tend to focus on age-appropriate discipline. For example, placing a cookie jar out of reach of a toddler may be more appropriate than giving him a time out for attempting to get a cookie without permission. For a school-age child, however, these parents may use reasoning and privilege suspension to keep that same child away from the cookies.

There are no set rules for attachment parenting. Each parent may choose to handle it a bit differently, and breastfeeding, baby wearing, and co-sleeping are not requirements. Instead, they are simply some of the ways parents may use to encourage the natural trust and bonding between infants and their parents.

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