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Child and Adolescent Counseling Blog for Lisa Klipfel, MFT
Is attachment parenting helpful or harmful?

Attachment parenting attention has gone through the roof with the release of Time magazine's article and cover today. The cover shows a 3 year old standing up breastfeeding, and the country is all a buzz about the implications of breastfeeding for such a long period of time. Attachment parenting, also called responsive parenting, advocates breastfeeding, "baby wearing", co-sleeping, and bonding.

The concept of attachment parenting whereby the relationship of parent and child is getting close and bonding reaches most parents as a good idea, but how to do that is where the controversy begins, and very heated at that. Let's look at each area of attachment parenting.

Responsiveness to baby is the concept that when a baby cries they need to be attended to. A baby's way of communicating is through cries. It is logical that a parent wants to know what a baby wants or needs when they cry. Where things diverge is when the baby gets older and during the middle of the night. A baby does need a lot of attention, as well as lots of feeding, changes and holding. For some reason the word attention has become a bad word. There is positive attention and there is negative attention. A baby has not had enough experiences in their life to demand negative attention. Their attention is mostly need based, and the need to be close is a human social need.

Baby wearing is the concept of holding a baby close to a parent's body. It is the idea of slings, baby bjorns, and mayan wraps. A baby does not have a separate sense of self until about 3 months old. Holding a baby close to the parent helps the child feel protected and increases bonding. Granted this option really can only go on until it's physically healthy for the parent.

Co-sleeping is another highly controversial area in our society. There is a lot of anxiety for children and parents around sleeping. For babies and children it is a time of separation from their parents, while parents are dreaming of the night they themselves can sleep through the night. There are also medical concerns of SIDS, babies sleeping on their backs, bed coverings, and so much more. The idea behind co-sleeping, or sleeping in the same bed, is that it eliminates the night time anxiety for the children, and increases bonding. The opposing view is the "crying it out" method advocated by Dr. Richard Ferber, advising to let the child cry themselves to sleep so to speak. The Ferber method teaches a child (and the parent) to ignore the natural cues of anxiety, and puts a wedge in the parent-child trust at such a very early age. Is it possible to regain this trust? Perhaps, but it is the complete opposite to responsive parenting.

Lastly, is the ever so controversial breastfeeding. The American Pediatric Association recommends breastfeeding to mothers who are able to breastfeed. Breastfeeding has long been touted for increasing immunity and bonding. I don't think that is ever in dispute. The area of dispute and discomfort is the age to cease breastfeeding. After one year of age, the nutritional value of the breast milk is no longer necessary. After one year of age, breastfeeding is essentially a connection, bonding, and soothing between mother and child. The APA does not recommend an age in which breastfeeding should cease, and the general public seems to start shaming mothers who breastfeed beyond about 18 months old. A mother who has made that personal choice often avoids the public when breastfeeding, or connects with other mother's through attachment parenting groups.

Attachment parenting can be done with just one of these aspects, or partially with all of these concepts. It is possible to utilize the concepts of responsive parenting in many ways. The benefits of attachment parenting is absolutely phenomenal. It increases independence, decreases behavioral problems, improves development, increases self esteem and develops intuitiveness. I believe that attachment parenting can guard against some mental health stumbling blocks later in life, because the bonding that is created in the first 5 years of life is just so important.

If you would like more information about attachment parenting, here are some internet resources.
Attachment Parenting Basics by Dr. Sears
Benefits of Attachment Parenting by Dr. Sears
Attachment Parenting International
Are You Mom Enough? Times article on attachment parenting

If you would like to learn how you can adopt some attachment parenting techniques into your parenting, call me to make an appointment at (949) 891-2127.

Lisa Klipfel, MFT

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