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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Attachment Parenting

On Facebook I was recently asked: "I'm curious if you would mind sharing what you find problematic with attachment parenting?"

My answer is too long to put there, so I will put it here!

First: I think Attachment Parenting is better than Standard American Parenting. That being said, if you are going to switch from one person's How To Parent List to anther's, I think RIE is a lot better than AP. But AP is the popular one, and RIE is the one no one has ever heard of. That kills me.

Second: My first exposure to AP was the horrific Continuum Concept. This emotionally manipulative, factually inaccurate book was traumatizing to ME--and I have studied hunter gatherers and could scoff at the writer's constant claims that All Humans In History were parented (and meant to be parented) This One Way. Moreover I have studied nutrition and could scoff at the writer's claim that babies spit up out of the "stress of not being carried" rather than modern diet. My biggest issue was her claim that baby-wearing solves all problems.

First the facts: baby wearing was not practiced by all hunter gatherers. Far from it. It was practiced by tribes who lived in places where putting the baby down involved the baby getting bit by something and dying. Like the jungle, for example. And even in the tribes where babies had to be carried, the mother didn't single-handedly carry her baby all day. Carried babies spent an average of 4 hours a day in the arms of someone else. In some tribes it was 8 hours.

Now my issue: Tribal people who have perfect posture and beautiful bodies and straight teeth with no braces--their bodies can handle carrying babies all day every day. Likewise, their healthy babies can be carried for the first two years of their lives, and still go on to develop healthy bodies due to their fabulous nutritional status, and their exercise-plentiful and furniture free lifestyle.

I think baby-wearing is a tragedy when it comes to the physical development of babies from mothers who show signs of physical degeneration (crooked teeth, deviated septum, poor posture, cavities). Dr. Emmi Pikler's research about proper body development (see a tiny book called Bulletin #14) is far more relevant and important for current American babies. A mother could follow RIE principles for her baby's physical development and baby wear, but only if the mother's body is capable of doing so without being damaged.

Today, especially in America, we have seen a lot of physical degeneration. Most women I see carrying their babies look like they are hurting their bodies. Only mothers who have straight teeth without ever having had braces and perfect posture, who eat a WAPF diet or something similar, and feel little to no physical discomfort while baby wearing, should even consider carrying their babies the way AP advocates.

For babies the first two years of their physical development are crucial, especially if they are Western babies suffering from physical degeneration due to Western eating habits. Dr. Emmi Pickler shows that babies should never be propped, never be put into a position they can get themselves into. No belly time ever. No sitting until they can get themselves into a seated position. No holding baby's hands and helping him to walk. No walkers or bouncers. Flat strollers and carseats. Back problems start in infancy because our parenting methods prevent our babies from developing their cores. Many physical development issues (irregular head shapes, one leg longer than the other, weak hips) are actually parenting-method issues. Her report is only 30 or 40 pages long and is one of the most important things any Western parent can read. Moreover, there are many books written about the proper carrying of babies so as to encourage healthy spine and core development. As far as I know, AP does not talk about this. They simply instruct: carry, carry, carry, without the warning that carrying, done incorrectly, is damaging for both mother and baby.

It saddens me that AP mothers believe they will hurt their babies if they do not wear them! So not true! Baby-wearing is irrelevant to developing secure attachment! There are so many ways to meet an infant's needs and to raise a securely attached infant! Children need a happy mom and connection with their mom far more than they need to be carried. Moreover, I have seen many miserable babies forced into being carried when they wanted to roam. I have seen babies struggle to get free and then resign themselves to their fate of captivity. This is very against my ideas about respectful parenting. Carrying should only happen by mutual consent.

Third: The main issue I have with AP is a focus on rules rather than authenticity. I have met too many miserable AP moms. AP moms, in my experience, tend to be very passionate Good Moms who are Doing It Right but who are miserable. This has led me to the conclusion that AP focuses too much on meeting the child's needs and not enough on finding ways for both the parent and child to get their needs met.

Fourth: The emphasis in AP is responding quickly to a crying baby. Not connecting with the child. Not being present with him when he is happy and sad. Nope, just make sure you drop everything every time he is sad. Again I will add here that Dear Parents: Caring for Infants with Respect does a way better job of describing respectful parent-infant interaction AND focuses on how both baby and mom can get their needs met, rather than just baby.

Fifth: AP demands that you breastfeed. I can get behind this one! Unless you don't want to. Because I can't get behind ever making yourself miserable to be someone else's idea of good. For sure it is healthier for your baby to breastfeed. And you--you will be less likely to get breast cancer. But otherwise, out with the rules. Ditto with their prescribed hours of bonding after the baby is born and co-sleeping. I love sleeping with my son. And a recent study showed that it is good for his heart. But it was also best for me as I could not sleep with him in the other room--I woke up all night to check on him. It worked much better for me to have him close. And like I said, I looooooove sleeping with him. It brings me so much joy! But if it didn't bring me joy, if it caused strife in my marriage, if he were a kicker or a snorer--I wouldn't hesitate to request that he move into the other room. And I wouldn't think for an instant that this would harm our relationship. We have a very secure relationship--not because I ever wore him and not because he is near me while I am sleeping, but because of how we interact when we are awake.

It is absolutely possible to create a secure attachment with a baby who is not carried, not breastfed, sleeps in his own room, and who spent his first hours of life alone and miserable. Therefore AP drives me crazy! Secure attachment is created by respect for one another's needs and sensitivity to one another's needs.

The point is to have an amazing life. Children need happy parents! They need people to model how to get their needs met. And by making sure you get your needs met, you model for your child how to assert his own needs.

Anyway, I am glad that AP moms are breastfeeding, co-sleeping, bonding, and responding to their babies when they cry. I just wish the focus were on authenticity and mutual respect rather than a new definition of Good Mom.


  1. I'm interested in your comment that baby wearing was not practiced by many hunter-gatherers. I was under the impression that it was common practice among all hunter-gatherers. Do you remember where you learned this or which groups don't/didn't practice it?