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attachment parenting

noun [uncountable]

an approach to caring for babies and infants which involves breastfeeding, physical closeness and giving a lot of attention when babies cry or have other needs

attached parent also attachment parent

noun [countable]

'Attachment parenting method works, fans insist… Couples sharing a bed with their children? Lara Kretler used to think it was "weird", something done in Third World countries out of necessity, but not here, not in the land of gorgeous nurseries. And then came Zoe. She's now 2 and hasn't spent a single night in her own room.'

Columbus Dispatch 12th May 2012

'Rosser calls herself an attached parent, and so does her friend, who breastfeeds her children until age two.'

ABC2 News 11th May 2012

In the UK, Mother's Day usually falls in March, but in North America, Australia and some other countries in the world, it is celebrated in May. In 2012, an appropriately topical 'motherly' feature in the May issue of Time Magazine sparked a controversy that brought a concept known as attachment parenting well and truly into the spotlight.

the magazine's particularly provocative cover photograph featured a young woman standing up and breastfeeding her 3 year old son, who is looking directly at the camera

This sudden flurry of comment in relation to parenting methods was primarily a reaction to the magazine's particularly provocative cover photograph, which featured a young woman standing up and breastfeeding her 3 year old son, who is perched on a chair and looking directly at the camera as he sucks at her partially exposed chest. This attention-grabbing cover, criticized by some as needless sensationalism, was in fact related to an article on the principles of attachment parenting, an infant-rearing philosophy which centres on physical closeness and sensitive, immediate reaction to cries for attention.

Attachment parenting, sometimes abbreviated to AP, is based on a set of fundamental principles adopted from birth. Initially, it emphasizes the idea of what it refers to as bonding, where a close relationship develops between a vulnerable infant and a mother who has the natural urge to nurture it. Breastfeeding is of course a key element in this relationship, but so too is the principle of very close physical contact in order to foster a feeling of security. AP therefore recommends that babies be kept next to their Mums (or Dads) as much as possible, often by being carried in a sling, a concept sometimes described as babywearing. Also crucial is what happens at night-time, so that rather than being popped in a cot or any separate space, babies and infants sleep right next to their parents in their bed, a practice called co-sleeping. Another important premise of AP is the idea that babies cry to communicate, not to manipulate, so that parents should respond sensitively to their babies' cries, which builds trust and good communication. Ultimately, it is argued, such practices will enable a parent and child to become better connected, making discipline and other interactions more effective later in life.

Predictably, the philosophy of attached parenting is not without its critics. Arguments levelled against it include the strain it puts on parents, the possibility of children becoming over-dependent and developing what some would consider to be 'unnatural' habits, like breastfeeding beyond babyhood, and the actual physical dangers of sleeping with a young child (e.g. suffocation).

Background – attachment parenting

The term attachment parenting was coined by American paediatrician William Sears. His parenting philosophy is based on the principles of a concept which is known in developmental psychology as attachment theory, which describes the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans. According to the theory, an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one main caregiver for normal social and emotional development to take place.

The concept of parenthood seems to throw up many new words and expressions, though this is perhaps unsurprising when you consider the major impact it has on so many of our lives. Other expressions coined in the last couple of decades which continue the theme of zealous parenting include the metaphorical terms helicopter/lawnmower parents, who 'hover' over their child's every move or 'mow down' each obstacle in their path, and the concept of overparenting, in which Mums and Dads are so worried about the success of their kids that they prevent them from becoming independent.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 25th June 2012.

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