Attachment parenting (often known as AP) has received a lot of attention in the wake of May 2012 article in Time Magazine, which featured a controversial cover shot of a 4-year old breastfeeding. Lots of people have seen the cover, but many less have read the articles in the magazine related to attachment parenting, leaving the impression that AP is simply extended breastfeeding, which is untrue.
Some of the practices often associated with attachment parenting include breastfeeding, including extended breastfeeding (beyond one year), babywearing, positive discipline, co-sleeping or bedsharing, focus on bonding, and balance in family life. AP parents are often thought to represent many “natural” and “sustainable” practices like natural birth, cloth diapering, anti-consumerism, organic and homegrown foods and others, but these are hardly “requirements” of any particular AP family and some AP families represent none of these. At its core, AP is about being responsive to the needs of your child, while also being in tune with the needs of the family as a whole.
Breastfeeding is an important part of attachment parenting, though there are plenty of AP parents who didn’t or don’t breastfeed. What makes breastfeeding significant to AP is that it is often the first AP practice for many parents. In my article “Breastfeeding and Conscious Parenting,” I discuss how breastfeeding is a sort of “gateway drug” to parenting in a child-centered manner.
In particular, breastfeeding is often associated with co-sleeping (co-sleeping safely while breastfeeding is a great way to increase sleep when children as still nursing through the night). The bonding is also built in! As such, breastfeeding mothers are often practicing attachment parenting before they may have even heard the term.
Not breastfeeding does not preclude being an “attachment parent.” Just as any other aspect of attachment parenting might be practiced or not by a particular family, it is the core principals of AP that outlive any particular choice. Eventually we are all done with breastfeeding – be it from the start, or years after birth. As our children age, it is the lessons from breastfeeding – meeting needs on-cue, recognizing children’s signals, finding balance, confidence in our ability to nourish our children (figuratively as well as literally) that remains. Parents who don’t breastfeed, or who don’t breastfeed for long may take a different path to this philosophy, but this path is no less valid. It is important for breastfeeding mothers, who often come to feel passionate about breastfeeding, that nursing is not a “membership card” to AP.
As a parent who identifies as AP, breastfeeding was certainly an important part of my personal journey. For those wanting to further explore the principles of attachment parenting, or wants to pass along the principles of AP to a pregnant friend, consider these two excellent resources: