Attachment Parenting Style: What Is It And What Are the Benefits?

What You Need to Know About Attachment Parenting

June 1, 2020 Updated September 23, 2020

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Jenna Christina/Unsplash

There’s a lot to think about when you become a parent: What am I going to name the baby that won’t make them hate me when they’re older? How can I be — in the words of Fräulein Maria — firm, but kind? When should I start potty training? But there’s something else to consider: your parenting style. Though people wonder what kind of parent they’re going to be, it’s actually something we have more control over than we think.

Parenting may seem daunting (because it definitely is), but keep in mind that millions (billions!) of people have done this before you, and some of them have learned from the process and written about their experiences. That’s where parenting styles come in. There are several types — like helicopter, permissive, and free-range — but here, we’re going to focus on attachment parenting. Here’s what you need to know about attachment parenting, what it involves, and how it’ll impact your kids.

What Is Attachment Parenting?

If you hear the phrase “attachment parenting” and automatically think of a mother breastfeeding a three-year-old child, that’s because that was the image on a 2012 cover of an issue of Time Magazine. And the headline — “Are You Mom Enough?” — only added to the controversy surrounding attachment parenting. But there’s a lot more to attachment parenting than breastfeeding a child who is able to use words to ask for it.

Though attachment parenting has been around for decades, it became more well-known after Dr. Daniel Sears, a pediatrician and Martha Sears, a registered nurse, wrote about this parenting style in their 2001 book, Attachment Parenting. In it, they recommend what they call the “Baby Bs”: “birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding close to the baby, belief in the baby’s cry, balance and boundaries, and beware of baby trainers.”

What’s an Example of Attachment Parenting?

The basic idea behind attachment parenting is that parents should respond sensitively to the needs of babies and children. This starts when they’re infants, and can involve the following examples:

  • Co-sleeping: either in the same room as parents or (with appropriate safety precautions) in the same bed. This may involve having bedtime occur on the child’s, not the parent’s, schedule.
  • Feeding on demand: allowing the child to set the timing of feeding (whether breast- or bottle-fed), along with self-weaning.
  • Holding and touching: keeping the child physically near, whether through cuddling and cradling, or by wearing on a front- or backpack arrangement.
  • Responsiveness to crying: not letting the child “cry it out,” but instead intervening early in the crying bout, reacting to the child’s distress before it gets out of control.

After that, attachment parenting adapts to the developmental stage of the child — which doesn’t mean a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, parents “need to find the balance between encouraging independence and autonomy while still allowing their child to feel safe and secure,” Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes at Psychology Today.

What Are the Benefits of Attachment Parenting?

According to Krauss, there is research suggesting a range of benefits for children raised via attachment parenting. These include infants having lower stress levels, crying less often, and feeling more connected to other people as they get older, as well as showing higher levels of empathy.

Similarly, Dr. Daniel Sears and Martha sum up the benefits of attachment parenting for both children and parents:

Baby

  • is more trusting
  • feels more competent
  • grows better
  • feels right, acts right
  • is better organized
  • learns language more easily
  • establishes healthy independence
  • learns intimacy
  • learns to give and receive love

Parents

  • become more confident
  • are more sensitive
  • can read baby’s cues
  • respond intuitively
  • flow with baby’s temperament
  • find discipline easier
  • become keen observers
  • know baby’s competencies and preferences
  • know which advice to take and which to disregard

Parents and baby experience:

  • mutual sensitivity
  • mutual giving
  • mutual shaping of behavior
  • mutual trust
  • feelings of connectedness
  • more flexibility
  • more lively interactions
  • brings out the best in each other

Having said that, there is plenty out there on the potential drawbacks of attachment parenting. This includes parents being prone to self-judgment if they don’t feel as though they’re doing everything perfectly. Attachment parenting has also been criticized for being fear-based, anti-sleep-training, anti-formula, and, in some cases, anti-feminist (because some believe it requires mothers to be in constant contact with their child, which makes it hard to do anything else). But because parenting is such a personal decision, it’s up to you to determine which style works best for you at this point in your life.

Quotes about attachment parenting and parenthood

“The word on the street was that I had two options when it came to caring for my future baby: I could either eat, sleep, drink, bathe, walk, and work with my baby permanently affixed to my body until the two of us meld into one, or I could leave my baby out naked on a cold millstone to cry, refusing to hold or feed her until the schedule allowed. Apparently, there was no in between.” ― Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“There are two philosophies when it comes to getting young children to sleep. There is ‘sleep training,’ which basically involves putting your kids to bed and listening to them scream all night; or there is ‘attachment parenting,’ which essentially involves lying down with your kids, cuddling them, and then listening to them scream all night.” ― Jim Gaffigan

“There are many different ways of approaching parenting as there are cultures. However, in non-industrialized cultures, the similarities are also striking. Extended nursing, co-sleeping, carrying the baby in close physical contact, responding promptly to cries or distress, never leaving a baby alone, are all virtually universal in traditional societies that have not become overly “westernized”.” ― Ingrid Bauer

“In between every action and reaction, there is a space. Usually the space is extremely small because we react so quickly, but take notice of that space and expand it. Be aware in that space that you have a choice to make. You can choose how to respond, and choose wisely, because the next step you take will teach your child how to handle anger and could either strengthen or damage your relationship.” ― Rebecca Eanes

“Motherwhelm isn’t a problem, it’s a rite of passage. Once we recognize it as such and honor these intense times (and intense seasons of our lives) for the potential they have to help us get clear on what we want and what no longer serves us, we can use that intensity to our advantage. We can learn to direct our energy toward choices that create the connections, experiences, and ways of life we most deeply desire. We can learn to cultivate healthier, kinder relationships with ourselves and, in doing so, model healing and health and empowerment for generations to come.”
― Beth Berry

“In the first several months of life, a baby’s wants are a baby’s needs.” ― William Sears, The Attachment Parenting Book : A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby

“If baby is thriving, but Mom is completely burned out because she is not getting the help she needs, something has to change.” ― William Sears, The Attachment Parenting Book : A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” – L.R. Knost