Attachment Parenting is Gentle, Conscious Parenting

Attachment parenting is a method of parenting which strives to ensure that the family unit provides loving, careful, respectful support to all of its members.

The goal is to raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection. It eliminates violence from the raising of children and ultimately aims to prevent violence as a way of life.

Attachment parenting challenges us to model our behaviour and interaction with our children on the way we would like them to interact with others.

Attachment parenting isn’t new, it’s the way children have been raised for thousands of years, prior to modern ideas of child-rearing and is still practised today among the tribes of the Amazon and other increasing limited places which are beyond modern living.  In the last 60 years or so, the behaviours of attachment have been studied extensively by psychologists and child development researchers.

“The Continuum Concept” shows, in-depth, the personal research conducted into tribes in the Amazon by Jean Liedloff who lived with them for some time. She found that the people raised happy delightful and well adjusted children by following the simple principle of providing reassuring human touch to babies from the time of birth. They treated all of the children with dignity and never raised their voices or hit them. Whenever the child was upset (which was infrequent) they were cuddled or breastfed until the child was asleep or happy again. The babies were worn in a sling close to the mothers body and beating heart and when that wasn’t possible, they were given to another pair of loving arms to hold. As the children grew they were not told what they shouldn’t do, they were told what they should do. This gave them a safe boundary and reduced any confusion in their minds.

Research has shown that our unconscious brain cannot differentiate between  negative and positive. When we are told not to do something, for example “don’t go too near the water” our brain interprets this as “go near the water”. This is why we have so many rule breakers in modern society. Imagine now that a toddler is told this same thing. He will go near the water. Instead tell him to stay close to you. Try to minimise the negative statements.

Attachment parenting is comprised of principles that aim to bring you and your child closer together. To attach emotionally to each other. When we are attached we want to make to other person happy, we want to do what’s right for them, and more we see things from their point of view. Imagine your teenager growing up to feel that way about you. It starts with these principles.

Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenthood- Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Sign up for natural, calm  birth classes. Look into hiring a doula. Research peaceful parenting methods. Learn about the best nutrition for your pregnant body, growing baby and to support breastfeeding long-term. If possible plan to breastfeed long-term, at least 2 years. Continuously educate yourself about your child’s stage of development and parenting. Make sure you have realistic expectations and remain intuitive to the needs of your child.

Feed with love and respect- Breastfeeding is the optimal way to ensure your child’s nutritional needs. If necessary, research support for breastfeeding so that you can give yourself  the best chance to breastfeed your baby. If you have to bottle feed, use the “bottle nursing” method where you adapt breastfeeding behaviours to bottle feeding to initiate secure attachment such as: feeding when hungry and avoiding schedules, hold the baby while feeding and talk softly and lovingly with eye contact, switch positions each feed, associate the bottle with being held and undivided attention, wean from the bottle as if from the breast. Feed them your own milk, if possible, second best is donor breastmilk, and third organic goats milk formula, as it is easier on the babies stomach. For both babies and older children follow cues for feeding, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, rather than follow a schedule. Feeding is an act of love, so much more than simply providing nutrition. Food should be prepared and served with love, in a non-hurried fashion. Toddlers often eat more throughout the day rather than a big meal in the evening, and they shouldn’t be expected to sit at the table for too long. Never force a child to eat. Avoid using food as reward or punishment. Have only healthy options of food in the home and then give your child a choice.

Respond with sensitivity-  You build the foundation of trust and empathy by understanding and responding appropriately to your child’s needs.  Babies communicate their needs in many ways including body movements, facial expressions and crying.  They learn to trust when their needs are consistently responded to with sensitivity. Building strong attachment means not only responding sensitively to your child’s physical needs, but also enjoying time interacting  with them, thus fulfilling his emotional needs as well. Babies brains are undeveloped at birth and they are unable to soothe themselves, but through the consistent responsiveness of a compassionate adult they learn to soothe themselves. Some babies seem more sensitive to the environment and stimulation. Understand your child’s inner rhythms and try to schedule around them. It’s perfectly normal for a baby to want physical contact in order to soothe stress. High levels of stress, such as prolonged crying can cause the chemical state of the baby’s brain to become unbalanced and can place them at risk for physical and emotional problems later. If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, such as being unable to cope with your child’s needs, this is a sign that you may need extra support and help.         Tantrums are a sign of real emotions and must be taken seriously. Some emotions are too powerful for a young child to manage in a socially acceptable manner. The parents role is to comfort the child, and change the circumstances which prompted the outburst, not to punish or get scold. Nurture a close connection as the child grows, by respecting his feelings and trying to understand the underlying needs causing outward behaviour. Provide a safe environment  for exploration and discovery which helps the brain to develop. Show interest in the child’s activities and participate in child directed play.

Use nurturing touch- Human babies are born with an urgent and intense need for human contact. Having been inside the womb for the whole pregnancy and thus emerging into the world, they have a real need to be in contact with their mother. Nurturing touch helps meet the need for physical contact, affection, security and stimulation. With babies nurturing touch is always gentle and can include holding, stroking, massage, breastfeeding, gentle patting, kissing, carrying in a sling etc. As the child grows bigger that touches change to hugs and cuddles during story time etc. Nurturing touch stimulates growth promoting hormones, improving intellectual and motor development, regulating the temperature, heart-rate and sleep/wake patterns. Babies who receive nurturing touch sleep better, gain weight faster, nurse better, cry less, are calmer. Cultures high in physical affection, touch, carrying or holding, have lower rates of adult physical violence. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as bathing together or during feeding. Massage soothes colic, helps a child unwind before bedtime and provides opportunity for playful interaction. Be conscious to avoid the overuse of devices designed to keep the baby away from physical contact such as swings, strollers, carriers and car-seats.    With older children touch can be frequent hugs, snuggling, massages, back rubs and physical play such as wrestling and gentle tickling instigated by the child. All humans thrive on touch.

Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally- newborn babies do not sleep through the night, they cat-nap. They go through sleep cycles which include waking every couple of hours to feed. This is the time of their lives where they are growing the fastest and they need almost constant feeding. During this time they also use their mothers heart rate and breathing patterns to regulate their own. The best sleeping solution for this time of life is co-sleeping. Solitary sleeping for infants is a relatively new practice introduced in the western world in the last 100 years, and coincided with a rise in SIDS(sudden infant death syndrome). In cultures where shared sleeping is the norm, the rates of SIDS is low or non-existent. For more information see the page on Co-sleeping.

Provide consistent and loving care- Babies and children have a need for the physical presence of a consistent,  loving responsive caregiver. Daily care and playful, loving interaction builds strong bonds, this is the basis of building attachment. If neither parent is available, then the child needs someone to whom they can become attached who supports attachment parenting and provides consistent loving care. Create routines and schedules around the needs of your child. When planning short separations such as evenings out, use a trusted caregiver who is well versed in attachment parenting principles, respect the child’s feelings, use creativity to avoid unnecessary anxiety, accept that all children will at times have difficulty with separation, avoid using shame or threats to force the separation or to stop a child from crying. Different children are ready for separation at different ages. Day care that exceeds 20 hours a week for a child under 30 months can be extremely stressful and  detrimental to the long term health of children. In-home care is preferable, either by a parent or trusted caregiver. Explore a variety of work arrangements to ensure that your child is cared for by a parent at all times except for short separations.  A trusted care-giver should form a bond with the child in their care, its important that there is continuity of care. Make the transition to a caregiver well in advance of a separation so that it is gradual and comfortable for the child. Hold an cuddle the child after separation as a way to reconnect after being apart. Include the child in day to day tasks and spend non-work time with family.

Practice positive discipline- Parents should treat their children the way they would want to be treated, that is the “golden rule” of attachment parenting. Positive discipline is a philosophy that helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child, while harsh or overly punishing discipline weakens the connection. Instilling fear and shame in the child may lead to increased anti-social behaviour including crime and substance abuse. Studies show that spanking and other physical discipline techniques create ongoing behavioural and emotional problems. Harsh physical discipline teaches children that violence is the only way to solve problems. Controlling and manipulative discipline harms the trust and bond between parent and child. It is a sign of strength and growth to examine ones own childhood experiences and seek help to develop good parenting habits. Positive discipline involves techniques such as distraction, prevention, and substitution to gently guide the child away from harm. Try to understand what need a child’s behaviour is communicating. Look for the underlying cause. Understand developmentally appropriate behaviour and tailor loving guidance to the needs and temperament of the child.       Positive discipline begins at birth with the bonds of attachment which are formed when a child is nurtured by parents who consistently and compassionately respond to the infants needs. Children learn by imitating, so model positive interactions within the family and with others. If you slip up and behave badly, you can repair your relationship with your child by apologizing and reconnecting again.

Tools for positive discipline-

-Maintain a positive relationship-Use empathy and respect-Research positive discipline-Understand the unmet need-Work out a solution together-Be proactive-Understand the child’s developmental abilities-Create a “yes” environment-Discipline through play-State facts rather than making demands-Avoid labelling-Make requests in the affirmative-Allow natural consequences-Use care when offering praise-Use time in rather than time out-Talk to a child before intervening-Don’t force apologies-Comfort the hurt child first-Offer choices-Be sensitive to strong emotions-Consider carefully before imposing the parents will- Use logical consequences sparingly and with compassion-Use incentives sparingly with older children.

Strive for balance in your personal and family life-This means making sure that everyone’s needs are met, not just the child’s. Balance is the foundation on which attachment grows. When in balance family members are more able to be emotionally responsive. Although the child’s needs come first, especially when they are young, the child’s needs are still only a piece of the whole, which includes the parents as individuals and as a couple, siblings and the family as a whole.

Practical Tips for Maintaining Balance-

-Enjoy today and accept that a child changes things-Set realistic goals-Put people before things-Don’t be afraid to say “no”-Turn unpleasant parental duties into easier, enjoyable ones-Be creative in finding ways to spend couple time-Take time for yourself-Eat healthy and exercise regularly-Avoid over-scheduling-Get out of the house

Tips for Supporting New Mothers-

-Be patient and sensitive-Say something appreciative every day-Be grateful-Be an empathetic listener

Tips for Balance with the Older Sibling-

-Bring a helper to activities-Spend individual time with each child-Develop family traditions-Create family nights-Rekindle hobbies to share with an older child

Avoid “burn out”-

-Regain balance today-Cultivate friendships with other AP parents-Simplify and let go of unnecessary things-Use yoga, visualization, meditation-Enjoy the momen

Conscious Co-sleeping

What is Co-Sleeping?

Co-sleeping is the practice of having your baby sleep in your bed or in a bed that is adjacent to your bed. The practice of “separate surface” co-sleeping provides many of the same benefits.

Co-sleeping, when done correctly, is safer than having your baby sleep in a separate room. Co-sleeping promotes bonding, and makes breastfeeding a more easily achieved practice.

In writing this I hope to address some frequently asked questions that concerned parents often have about co-sleeping. The answers are from my personal experience as well as the research of Dr. James McKenna of the Mother-Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory of the University of Notre Dame.

Why co-sleep in “western” cultures which often do not approve of the practice?

The short answer to this is because it is safer and healthier for your baby. Being within close reach during sleep enables the mother and baby to each respond to the cues of the other (smells whispering, touch, heat, breathing patterns).

Co-sleeping is a cross-cultural, species-wide practice which is a behaviour designed to maximise infant survival rates.  It is humankind’s oldest and most successful mother-baby sleeping and breastfeeding arrangement.

Apart from the obvious convenience of breastfeeding, are there any other health benefits to co-sleeping?

When a baby sleeps close to their mother or another adult caregiver, where they periodically exchange sensory stimuli and share touch, vision, sounds, smells, movement cues, breathing sounds, CO2 gas, as well as breast-milk, it cuts the chance of the baby dying from SIDS (about a third to half).

A newborn baby’s respiratory system is not fully developed, they benefit from hearing the pattern of the parents breathing as they sleep. As they hear the pattern they naturally copy it preventing breathing abnormalities.  As with the breathing, the baby’s internal heating regulation is not fully developed either and when sleeping use the parent’s body heat to keep warm in a way that works better than heavy blankets which can be a SIDS risk.

The frequency with which the baby is touched is also of great value to the baby’s developing immune system and growth. Being in arms reach for a pat or cuddle helps to promote the release of  growth hormones and promotes elasticity in the intestines to help the baby’s absorption of nutrients.

In addition to the above, sleeping in the shelter of the parent promotes neural and psychological development.  Remember, most mammals are born ready to walk, but ours are born when they are still 1 year away from walking. Our evolutionary design has us birthing our babies early so that we can walk upright and be better able to run from predators, but in order to develop properly our babies need more time in our arms.

What makes the safest possible bed-sharing environment?

There is no one risk or benefit factor which guarantees the safety of the bed, but a combination of factors.

To begin with, a safe bed-sharing environment is when the bed is shared with non-smoking, responsible, committed and sober parents or close family members.  An emotional bond is very important as well. Tobacco or other substances should not be smoked anywhere in a house where children are living. The dangers of second hand smoke should not be underestimated.

The baby should sleep on their back on a clean, flat firm surface, unencumbered by pillows, sheepskins, bean bags, fluffy materials  and toys that can smother the face. The baby should have light blanketing , kept away from the face. Use sleep suits to keep warm in colder weather.

The baby should never be left on a bed alone but should be between the two adults, or in a crib next to the bed. Breastfeeding mothers tend to fall asleep with the baby cradled between her arm and body. This is one of the safest positions for baby.

It goes without saying that a baby should never be left to sleep on a couch or sofa or on any other surface where they can become lodged between the cushions or fall into a crevice, or roll off onto the floor. Babies can roll from the time they are born.  Waterbeds are not safe for family bed-sharing.

I am concerned about the possibility of SIDS and I have heard that a baby can be smothered if they sleep in bed with the parents.  How can SIDS be prevented and still gain the benefits of co-sleeping?

Babies are not smothered if they sleep with emotionally attuned, healthy, non-smoking and sober parents. The parent adjusts their sleeping space to protect the baby. It goes without saying that this includes never taking desensitising medications when sleeping in bed with your child.

If you feel insecure about having the baby in your actual bed, you could invest in a crib such as the Arms Reach which is a cot/crib which can be attached to the side of the parent’s bed.

I have heard some experienced mothers say that if I allow my baby to sleep in my room or bed then they will not develop independence and my baby will grow up to be emotionally clingy and won’t be able to sleep in their own room when they get older. Is this true?

Interestingly, when a child’s inherent need for reassurance contact and proximity to the parent is met, the child grows up more self-assured and independent than those who are supposedly “trained” to sleep in their own rooms and “self-soothe” as infants.

Some parents confuse the ability of an infant to “soothe” themselves back to sleep with independence, autonomy and a lifelong sense of confidence.  The age at which a child learns to put itself back to sleep has little to do with its eventual confidence I itself as a human being. All children eventually learn to go to sleep by themselves, but the ones who have a sense of trust from knowing that you will be there when they need you, will have the confidence to later spread their wings at the appropriate time.

Unfortunately parents often feel pushed into going against their instincts by societal pressures which have their basis in false claims which suggest that if a child cannot put themselves back to sleep or “self-soothe” by a certain age then something is wrong with them or wrong with the parents.

No other cultures in the world, aside from the “western” cultures worry about such “milestones”.

Western culture has constructed a version of “normal”, in which there is an assumption that a baby sleeps in their own room and “self-soothes” so that the parents can keep to a rigid schedule and normal sleep pattern.

As most parents can attest, leaving a baby to cry it out in his/her room until they give up and fall asleep from exhaustion is not soothing to anyone. It goes against everything that your parental nature tells you to do.

Psychologists Keller and Goldberg from the University of California found that the capacity for self-sufficiency as well as the capacity for full engagement with others and “problem solving skills” were enhanced by routinely co-sleeping from birth. Keller and Goldberg(2004) conducted the first systematic studies of “independence”  starting out with a definition of what they meant by “independence” which was the first of its kind. Their study found that non-bed sharing toddlers were the ones less likely to be able to be alone, and less able to solve the problems presented to them while alone. The opposite of what is frequently assumed.

Does sleeping arrangement alone determine a child’s level of independence?

Human beings are complex creatures, so it seems obvious that sleeping arrangements are only a part of the bigger picture. A co-sleeping arrangement likely enhances the positive personality attributes of the child as well as enhancing the psychological and social skills acquired from the child’s relationship with his or her parents and other social experiences and relationships.  But it will be the relationship that child and parents develop with each other over the 24 hours of each day that plays an important role in the child’s development of independence. Is the child loved and cared for emotionally all of the time, including the night time hours of sleep? The sleeping time is only part of the give and take interactions which develop the child’s character in the long-term.

Why is it less safe for bottle-fed babies to bed-share?

Bottle-fed babies and their mothers engage in different behaviours from those who breastfeed. This can lead to risk factors being introduced. A breastfeeding mother will naturally keep her baby under her arm and close to the chest area, and the baby will gravitate towards that area also to look for the nipple and because they like the good smell of mothers milk. By contrast a bottle feeding mother may not have a habit of holding her baby this way and the baby may gravitate higher in the bed towards the pillows. Breastfeeding changes the mothers sleep physiology also making them awaken when the baby stirs and adjust their sleep pattern to the child’s. This is an added safety factor that may be missing from the bottle feeding mother’s sleep pattern.

While there are concerns about actual bed-sharing with a bottle fed baby that does not mean that you cannot co-sleep in the same room, or using a separate surface co-sleeping crib, so that you and your child can partake of the bonding experience of co-sleeping. For your child’s sake, please consider breastfeeding so that your child can get the full species-specific benefits which come from breastfeeding.

Why do we hear about babies dying from bed-sharing?

Coroners rarely report the cause of the death of a SIDS baby in bed sharing cases.

Bed-sharing deaths are preventable if all the risk factors are removed and only breastfeeding babies share a bed with their breastfeeding mother.

Let’s review the preventative measures for SIDS with bed-sharing:

-share a bed with your small baby only if you are breastfeeding

-be knowledgeable about what the risks are

-do not share a bed if you or your partner have been smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs (including de-sensitising prescription medication)

-never smoke in the house where a child lives

-babies must sleep on their backs not the tummy or sides from which they can roll onto their tummy

-the sleeping surface should be firm, clean and free from sheepskins, pillows, doonas, puffy quilts, fluffy toys and materials

-warmth should be obtained from light blanketing, preferable of breathable material and sleep-suits for the baby

-bed should be low to the ground and in the middle of the room not against the wall

-baby should never be left to sleep alone on the parent’s bed

-other children should not be in the bed with the baby

-never place the baby on top of or in between pillows

-never bed-share in a waterbed

-babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy  or routinely breathed in second-hand smoke are at risk in any situation but a separate surface for sleep is advisable as they may be unable to wake up when they are low on oxygen which may occur because of sleep apnoea (they child stops breathing during deep sleep)

The experts who recommend bed-sharing agree that no two bed-sharing arrangements are alike and it’s up to each set of parents to make sure that all the proper preventatives are practiced.

 

What other baby care practices protect and contribute to their health and well-being including their safety at night?

Hold and respond to the child as much as possible. The overuse of hard surface carriers and plastic car seats, or other carriers contributes to the development of flat head syndrome as well as not allowing the baby to develop neck muscles that are strong enough to move the baby’s face away from a suffocating surface while asleep.  Body to body upright carrying in the arms is excellent for developing the muscles of the neck and spine as well as allowing hand-eye co-ordination to develop as the baby’s head can swivel around and his eyes can track what’s going on.  The next best thing to arm carrying, is carrying the baby in a baby-wearing wrap or with the head free and legs in a frog position so as not to put undue pressure on the spine.

Supervised tummy time on the floor a couple of times a day is also advisable to help the development of the back and neck muscles for sitting, crawling and later walking.

If I begin this practice of co-sleeping when should my child move out of our room and into their own room?

This is a question which should be answered by each parent in their own way. The question which you should ask yourself is this: Is it safe for them to be on their own at this stage of their development?

My six children all moved into another room between the ages of 2-3. I felt they were ready to move out when they could speak to communicate their needs, when they could walk well, and when it seemed like they were giving me cues to indicate that they wanted to have a room of their own (or shared with a sibling, which they were usually excited about). They would still come to my bed if they awake from a nightmare till around 4 years old but we often took them back to their room and re-settled them, so that we could all sleep better. My youngest child continued to fall asleep during story time on our bed till she was 7 years old, and we would transfer her to her bed for the night. She continued this till one day she made up her mind to just go to sleep in her own bed and she has done that ever since.

So it really is a personal decision based on your experience, and what cues your child is giving you. Follow your parental instinct.

Resources on co-sleeping found at:

www.cosleeping.org

www.naturalchild.org/james_mckenna/cosleeping.pdf

 www.cosleeping.nd.edu

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