Attachment parenting sounds like a relatively new concept, but it’s actually been around for centuries—and even longer. Attachment parenting is basically parenting intuitively: paying attention to babies’ (and children’s, as they grow) needs, listening to what biology suggest parents do, and letting nature do what nature does best.
But there are some tenets of attachment parenting that some moms and pops tend to take too far. After all, too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing at all. And though the benefits of attachment parenting are pretty clear—better and healthier attachment to caregivers, increased independence at a younger age, and the ability to learn to self-soothe, to name a few—there are ways for the practice to go awry. After all, no parenting method is fool-proof, and every child is different. In addition to that, some parents simply don’t understand what true AP looks like.
Well-meaning parents might think they’re “attachment parenting” properly, but in many cases, they’re simply not. After all, AP doesn’t involve becoming unhealthily focused on one’s kids, or being attached to their tots 24/7. That said, here are 10 AP practices that are good for the baby, along with 10 that really aren’t.
20 Co-Sleeping (Safely)
Co-sleeping has been argued about so often in parenting circles, but the truth is that when done right, it’s perfectly safe. Co-sleeping with your infant in a designated co-sleeper is one form of sharing sleep that’s totally attachment-parenting-approved and also safe. But having your baby in his own crib or bassinet in your room is also co-sleeping, it’s just not bed sharing.
Both concepts can be part of AP, but mostly it’s just sleeping near your tot that qualifies as officially attachment parenting through the night. Benefits of co-sleeping include mom being able to get more rest—she’s not traipsing to and from the crib down the hall to feed or change the baby—plus baby knowing that mom and pop are nearby to take care of his needs.
19 Couch Napping
Co-sleeping becomes unhealthy and basically diverges from attachment parenting territory when you and the baby are sleeping somewhere unsafe. That includes napping on the couch, sleeping in a recliner, or having your baby in your arms while you’re sleeping anywhere else that’s not a firm, smooth surface that’s free of fluffy blankets and pillows.
Co-sleeping in these scenarios isn’t just unsafe for baby—it’s also not really attachment parenting. The AP concept is intentional and falling asleep in your chair out of pure exhaustion while holding the baby is definitely not a parenting tactic. For that reason, couch napping is not a good way to implement attachment practices.
18 Carried By Mom (Or Dad)
Wrapping a baby up in your arms is one of the best feelings when you’re a parent (or even a babysitter). But mamas (and papas and everyone else) have to get things done—which is why the attachment parenting practice of wearing the baby has gained momentum in recent years. And it’s totally beneficial for little ones, too! Wearing your baby in a supportive wrap or carrier ensures that they’re close to you and feel cozy, which promotes bonding and also helps regulate newborns’ vital signs. Just make sure you’re supporting your baby’s little bum—hip placement is important when putting your baby in the carrier.
17 Carried The Wrong Way
Although there are a ton of baby carriers out there that are inexpensive and even stylish, that doesn’t mean they’re safe or appropriate for attachment parenting moms and dads. For example, wearing your baby in one of those framed hiking carriers (on your back) doesn’t exactly keep your infant close to your body or your heart. Putting your tot in one of those sling carriers can also be a bad idea, especially when they’re small and need to be positioned properly to breathe adequately.
And finally, hip problems can be an issue when your baby isn’t worn in a “seated” position—many carriers “hang” babies by their bottoms rather than cradling their bums, a decidedly uncomfortable way to ride.
16 Swaddling To Soothe
Swaddling has seen a resurgence lately, even though it’s been a parenting practice for eons already. And it’s an important part of the attachment parenting portfolio: swaddling can help babies feel like they’re still bundled in the womb, which can help them to feel soothed and sleepy.
It doesn’t work for all babies, of course, but most of the time, AP parents turn to swaddling to try and help improve their babies’ (and let’s be honest, their own) sleep. It’s helpful for babies and parents, so what’s not to love? Not much—except for a swaddling technique that causes more harm than help.
15 Binding The Hips
Swaddling might have saved many mamas’ sanity when it comes to ending sleepless nights. But not all swaddles are created equal in the attachment parenting world! Not only do AP parents want to soothe their babies to sleep, but they also want to make sure their little ones are safe and healthy. But some swaddling practices aren’t exactly optimal for babies’ development.
Wrapping their hips to where their legs are extended, for example, can cause hip issues. It’s always ideal to let your baby’s legs stay in their normal “froggy” bend—that way you’re not putting them in an unnatural and potentially uncomfortable position.
14 Nursing As Necessary
Part of attachment parenting involves responding to your baby’s cues, whenever they might happen. So for many families, that might mean getting up a few times per night to feed the baby, even if she’s nearing three or four months old when Billy down the street is already sleeping through the night. But babies who nurse typically eat more often than bottle-fed babies anyhow, and it’s a positive practice to nurse whenever the baby wants to as it boosts mom’s milk supply and gets the baby the calories she needs. Contrary to popular belief, feeding the baby when she “demands” it doesn’t make her spoiled—it makes her happy and healthy!
13 Topping Off
While feeding your baby is always a must, there are some practices that aren’t exactly AP-approved when it comes to infant mealtimes. For one, topping off a breastfed baby with a bottle is not an attachment parenting move that’s usually good for the baby. Giving a baby a bottle after they nurse not only has the potential to overfill them, but it can also mess with mom’s milk supply. After all, nothing is more effective than a baby at getting the milk out—and the less often a baby nurses, the less milk will be made. And although supplementation is sometimes truly necessary, it’s not an everyday thing with attachment parenting.
12 Staying Close
Part of this parenting philosophy is found in its name: attachment. And a healthy and secure attachment is crucial for kids’ development. So it makes sense that being near to your baby will foster that type of attachment. Being near your little one and meeting all his needs in his early days, weeks, and months of life is probably the cornerstone of attachment parenting. After all, when you’re attentive and stay nearby, your kiddo learns to rely on you and depend on you to help him out when he needs it. And although naysayers think this means the kid will never go to college, it actually fosters independence.
11 Splitting Too Soon
Although attachment parenting involves babies developing a secure attachment with caregivers, some parents assume that since they’ve bonded with their babes, that means they can split and come back without it affecting that bond. However, since babies have somewhat limited short-term memories, being consistent is key when trying to truly parent from an attached perspective.
After all, splitting too soon can make your baby think you’re not going to be there when she needs you. It’s often best to wait to be separated from your little one—especially if they nurse—until they can at least be distracted for a bit without getting too upset.
10 Staying In A Bit
While parents who don’t follow attachment parenting may appreciate their “me time” right after the baby is born—after all, parenting a newborn can be exhausting and draining—most dedicated AP parents don’t get a break for a few months at least. That’s because attachment parenting benefits from a lie-in period when the new baby comes.
This way, the mom and baby duo get to grow their bond and get the whole feeding and sleeping thing figured out. You also avoid germs by staying home in the early weeks, something most new mamas can relate to wanting to achieve!
9 Never Going Out
So staying in for a bit is perfectly understandable and even a crucial part of attachment parenting. Bonding without outside influences or stressors is a good move. But staying in too much can be detrimental to your wellbeing, including your mental health, and it’s also not ideal for the baby to never get any fresh air!
While attachment parenting and having one-on-one time with your little bub for the first few weeks or months is ideal, staying home for months on end—or just staying indoors—isn’t helpful for developmentally beneficial for anyone. Besides, you can still be attached while getting some fresh air.
8 Strong Bonds With Mom
Babies bonding with their mamas is the main motivation of attachment parenting. After all, moms who nurse their babies will often need them nearby to feed them anyhow, and mamas who bottle feed also want their little ones close to them for snuggles and bonding. And this is great for newborns, who are born with the biological motivation to get near and stay close to their mamas, both for nutritive purposes and for long-term survival.
The upside to this bonding is that it will help with the baby’s later development, too, as having a strong and healthy relationship with their mama serves as a foundation for kiddos’ other relationships in life.
7 No Bonds With Dad
While attachment parenting rightfully focuses on birth and the mom’s bonding with the baby, it can also kind of neglect the dad’s contributions to the process! After all, daddies often want to be there when their babies are born, and they want to be just as hands-on with the baby as the mom is. And when moms are breastfeeding, dads might feel even more pushed out of the picture.
But healthy bonds with dad are crucial for babies as well, so attachment parenting with only mom in mind isn’t helpful. Making sure the baby bonds with dad, even if it’s outside feeding time, is important for cementing everyone’s roles—and importance—in the family.
6 Deep Attachment Stuff
Attachment parenting in general is hailed as the kind of parenting method that guarantees healthy and well-adjusted babies. But of course, no parent is perfect—it’s just impossible! The thing is, parents can tell when their babies have secure and healthy attachment to them. One sign is that your baby becomes upset when you leave, but then he or she calms after a time.
When you return, the baby will be happy to see you and will often immediately get to you, if they’re able. This is a good thing—even if your baby gets upset when you leave, they recognize you when you come back and through this experience, they learn that you always return.
5 Emotional Reactive Stuff
Attachment parenting can kind of be a downer when your baby has a certain personality type, or when there’s some kind of trauma in their lives that makes them insecure about mom or dad not being there. Babies with emotional reactive attachment may not really care what you’re doing—until you leave.
Then when you’re gone, things hit the fan and they get upset. But when you come back? If your baby ignores you or gets upset when you return to them, that’s not a sign of positive attachment parenting in action. In reality, that suggests there are other attachment issues happening that aren’t healthy.
4 Elimination Communication
One component of attachment parenting that isn’t exactly for everyone but is still good for babies is elimination communication. This is the practice of not using diapers with your baby, but instead learning their cues and being able to tell when they need to go potty. When you realize they need to go, you hold them over a tiny tot toilet or other “container” and avoid the whole sitting in a messy diaper thing.
You also save money on disposal diapers and save the hassle of washing cloth diapers. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but it can be a super positive thing for parents who have the time and inclination to keep up with EC!
3 Expecting Toilet Training In Tots
On the flip side of elimination communication, it’s not a healthy thing for babies to be expected to use the toilet on their own at a young age. Of course, no one is assuming a newborn can “hold it” until they get to the toilet. But parents expecting that their babies who started out with elimination communication will somehow toilet train years sooner than average? That’s not a great side effect of this attachment parenting perspective.
Sure, babies who use EC tend to recognize their bodily functions sooner and will probably go potty on their own a bit before “normal.” Then again, all toddlers go through phases of wanting to be in control, so you’ll be hard pressed to get them to sit on the potty if they don’t want to once they pass infancy.
2 Giving Attention & Affection
Part of attachment parenting is developing a bond with your baby, and for that to happen, they’ll need unconditional love and affection. Babies need our attention, and they also need consistent reinforcement that’s positive. These are great things, and part of why attachment parenting is so popular.
Reinforcing that our babies are tiny humans that just need help and guidance to grow is the bottom line in attachment parenting. We need to talk gently, react positively, and help our babies to figure things out for themselves and work toward independence. It’s a big win-win-win all the way around, right?
1 Helicoptering Instead Of Helping
While AP in general is a great way to approach parenting, there are ways to overdo it. And one thing that parents often misconstrue as attachment parenting but is really just helicoptering is being there every single moment before our kids even need us. It’s hovering and butting in and just generally being “extra” and somewhat obnoxious.
After all, babies need to learn from their parents, but they also need to learn from having life experiences—however insignificant they seem to the grownups in the room. That means letting babies try things that are challenging without being dangerous, and giving them a bit of space to explore.