I feel for us raising kids in this decade! There is an information overload and overshare out there with what is "best" for your child. How to do this, how to do that, don't do this, do that, this worked for me, that didn't work for me-- it's all day from all angles!
One misconception taking over right now is the confusion between attachment parenting and attachment theory. They are not the same concept and one does not necessarily lead to the other.
Here are a few confusing topics out there that I wanted to provide some clarity on.
Attachment Parenting and Seure Attachment are the same thing.
False. A secure attachment is what the majority of children have with their primary caregivers. Secure attachments are based on the principles that the child has a warm, loving, and emotionally available primary caregiver that provides security and safety. With this, the child is able to test and experiment with independence when in the presence of the caregiver. Attachment helps regulate the child's emotions and makes them feel secure to explore and develop into their own independent being over time!
Attachment parenting on the other hand is a style of parenting made popular by Dr. Sears and his family, as it was the way he raised all 8 of his children with his wife. It focuses on home birth, breastfeeding, bonding, baby wearing, bedding close to baby, and belief in baby’s cry. I have no judgement towards any parenting style, however many new moms may have their heart set on this style of parenting and when it does not go as planned, it spirals into feelings of sadness and failure. This combined with postpartum emotions can land a new mom in a sticky place. If a mom is set on a home birth and breastfeeding, but that plan is ruined by an emergency c-section and breastfeeding struggles, that can be extremely disheartening and lead to sadness and trouble forming a secure attachment with your baby.
Some practices of attachment parenting are obviously great to use during the first few months of a baby's life and will promote bonding and closeness with your baby. Crying peaks around 6 weeks-3 months and then tapers off, so contact naps and baby wearing are so helpful during the newborn days! Breastfeeding is so awesome for you and baby, if you are able. But it's not the whole picture. You, mama, have to be in the right mindset to be able to provide emotional regulation to your new baby.
As your baby gets older, everything becomes a balance. We want them to have developed trust that we are their role model and they can look to us for support and confidence. This allows them to have confidence to explore on their own and gain some independence, it’s all a process! When talking about teaching independent sleep skills, we do not even think about formal sleep training until 4 months. At this time your baby is out of the 4th trimester, sleep is organized, and baby will thrive off a biologically appropriate sleep routine.
It’s is 100 percent A-OK to want to parent via attachment parenting, but it should be known that this is not the end all be all to having a secure attachment with your child. If a parent is not getting sleep themselves and is stressed, anxious, exhausted and overwhelmed, it is going to be tougher to stay attuned and be a confident figure for their child to form a secure attachment with.
Remember, it is not a style of parenting that leads to a secure attachment with your baby.
Take care of yourselves, mama, so you can take care of your baby!
Breastfeeding leads to a strong attachment with your baby.
False. You do not have to breastfeed or co-sleep to have a secure attachment with your baby. This is where the lines gets crossed with attachment parenting. Attachment parenting focuses on home birth, breastfeeding, bonding, baby wearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cry; in summary a very natural approach to parenting. Totally fine, not for everyone. Nothing is for everyone. Parts might be for some, it's your parenting journey- do what is right and works for your family.
Secure attachments are developed when you give your baby a sense of security and safety by being attuned to their needs and regulating their emotions. The baby feels a secure connection with their caretaker and this leads to a secure attachment. Simply put, if you are taking care of your baby's needs and providing them with a loving, secure, and safe home & environment, you are likely going to end up with a secure attachment. A happy family does the trick!
Babies will have the same attachment with all caregivers.
False. Babies usually develop a hierarchy of attachments and usually have the strongest, most secure one with their mother or primary caregiver (mother-figure). Babies form different attachments with different caretakers based on the interactions with that person. It also depends on the baby's age. As they get older, they will develop strong relationships with close family and caregivers other than the mother and father figures. In the beginning, they may only feel secure with mom.
Attachment forms with caregivers based on the emotional regulation that person provides to the baby. If a caregiver is extremely sensitive and on edge, stressed, or overbearing it could be too much for the child. If the emotional state of the caregiver is too "blah" and lacks emotion, it is not good either. Generally speaking, if the caregiver can balance their emotions and provide consistent positive and responsive emotional connections to the child, the attachment will be secure. I talk about this ALOT, but babies can totally sense your emotional state. Instead of feeling dread and stress around an interaction with your baby, try to make the interaction positive and loving.
Bonding and attachment mean the same thing.
False. Bonding implies closeness related to contact, but does not determine attachment. These words are often used to describe the same thing, however they are very different and bonding doesn't mean you will automatically have a secure attachment.
Attachment is how a relationship builds over time. Bonding is more centered around the thoughts and feeling of interactions.
Attachment is a process that grows over time. Bonding is more relevant in the first hours, days, and months of baby's life.
Attachment refers more to the concept of the caregiver being in close proximity. Bonding implies touching, skin to skin, or closeness.
You can sleep train and have a secure attachment with your child.
True. There is no research that show that methods of controlled crying will cause long term damage or impact attachment, behavior, or cause neurological damage to the child. When these claims are made, unfortunately it is referring to maltreated, neglected, or at risk children in abusive relationships. Children in these situations do not have a secure attachment with anyone and therefore may have long term consequences from that when they grow up. Maternal depression can also lead to a lack of attachment as the child does not have the mother as the emotional regulator he/she needs to form a secure relationship and feel safe and cared for. It's common that the lack of sleep as a mother can lead to depression, withdraw, and disconnection.
This is also where attachment parenting and secure attachments might get mixed up for some! In attachment parenting, sleep training might not be in the cards for those families because they chose a style of parenting where breastfeeding on demand whenever needed and co-sleeping until the child is done with it is acceptable and thats 100% OK! I'd also like for attachment parenting families to know that if these arrangement are not working or stop working, it ok to get help with your child's sleep and there are methods to help them gain independent sleep skills.
Securely attached babies and children are better able to self regulate their emotions. Over time, with consistency from the caregiver, they have gained the confidence to become an independent being. Provide your child with love, attention, joy, calm, and quality time when together and they will be able to use their own self and mind to soothe when needed. More emotional availability at bedtime has been shown to have better sleep outcomes for infants. They are reliant on you to set them up for success to do so.
In summary, attachment parenting does not determine a secure attachment with your child. Secure attachments are developed when a child has a primary caregiver that provides consistent care, love, and stability so they can develop the confidence and security to become their own independent self over time. Studies have shown that sleep training does not threaten attachment. Sleep training is proven to improve baby's sleep, maternal mood and sleep, has no long term stress(cortisol levels), no long term effects on the child's behavior or emotions and is not linked to attachment. Getting the sleep that a mother needs not only has great benefits to her own health, but it also will allow the mother to provide the emotional regulation and security to develop a secure attachment with her child.
If you or someone you know is struggling with sleep or any part of raising a baby, offer help in terms of an expert. Parents feel overwhelmed by the mixed advice of their parents, friends, and family. Sometimes it's truly best to have an unbiased party support them through!
Nichole @ Little Peach Sleep
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