Attachment parenting, also known as natural parenting or instinctive parenting, is a parenting approach that aims to build a strong relationship between parent and child.
The basic principles of attachment parenting include understanding and being responsive to your children’s emotional and physical needs, and keeping your children physically close to you, where appropriate. So attachment parenting encourages:
- Breastfeeding on demand instead of timed breastfeeding. Many mums who follow this approach also breastfeed for an extended period, often until the child is ready to wean themselves.
- Responding sensitively to your baby’s cues and cries.
- Wearing your baby close to your body in a carrier or pouch.
- Co-sleeping (either in the same bed or next to your bed), thereby minimising separation from your baby during the first few years of their life. (If you plan to do this, please read the National Childbirth Trust’s safety advice on co-sleeping.)
For some, instinctive parenting comes so naturally to them that they didn’t even realise they were even doing it. Sam Johnson discovered she was a natural parent by following her intuition.
“I didn't know that it was called attachment parenting when I had my first child. Keeping him close and responding to his cues felt instinctive. I could never have left him to cry himself to sleep,” says Sam.
“My second was a very unsettled baby, he woke frequently through the night. I would not have functioned to look after a toddler, if I had to get up to see him in another room.”
“As I learnt more about attachment parenting, it resonated with me. And as they have got older, I see the benefits. My boys are really independent and outgoing, and I think this in part is down to the way we parented them when they were little,” she says.
Attachment parenting doesn’t finish when the child is no longer a baby, it continues through gentle discipline as they grow. Instead of judging behaviour as good or bad, natural parents instead try to working out why a child is behaving a certain way.
They also don’t project adult expectations on their children, and instead try and remember that they are only small with developing brains; sometimes easier said than done in the heat of the moment!
“It can be hard to respond with patience now they are older, but I want to model respectful behaviour,” says Sam.
For some, attachment parenting can promote a more ‘intuitive’ way of parenting, instead of following routines or rules, with the belief that the benefits of this are far-reaching. Such benefits are thought to include helping the child to become confident in themselves, and form strong relationships with others and improve their physical and intellectual development.
But remember attachment parenting is just one way of raising your baby, and it is definitely not for everyone. It’s not to suggest that if you don’t follow this parenting philosophy that your child will miss out on the benefits. It’s simply another way to do things.
As with all parenting advice, it’s often best to take the bits that resonate with you, and leave the bits that don’t.