When someone mentions Attachment Parenting, the thing that pops into most people's minds first are breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedsharing. However, as Valerie has pointed out before... AP is more then just breasts, beds, and babyslings! You can do all of those things and not think of yourself as AP, or do none while proudly wearing the label. Not to mention, that while the years when those three things are even an option are fleeting, being AP is something most people can continue for the duration of your baby's childhood, and can even be carried over into the rest of your life. Basically, those particular actions are not the core of AP, nor are they the most lasting of its principles! I do all three, proudly wear the AP label, but see myself as an AP mom for the long haul, and not just until our boob, bed, and babysling days are over! Let's review the 8 principles*:
1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about routine newborn care. Continuously educate yourself about developmental stages of childhood, setting realistic expectations and remaining flexible.
2. Feed with Love and Respect
Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy an infant's nutritional and emotional needs. "Bottle Nursing" adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior.
3. Respond with Sensitivity
Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.
One of my favorite quotes about responding to your child is from Catherine M. Wallace, and it says, "Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff."
4. Use Nurturing Touch
Touch meets a baby's needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.
5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.
On a personal note, Gwen was not a great sleeper for a very long time. She bedshared with us for the first few months, then transitioned to her crib for most of the night followed by a few hours with us in the morning. We needed that transition, as much as I love sleeping next to my baby, we all (Gwen included) sleep BIG! Moving, and taking up a lot of room, and it was leading us all to get less then stellar sleep. But she transitioned easily. It was all going pretty well when we went away on vacation at 6 months and her sleep went straight to hell! We were told we had to sleep train her, or she would "never sleep through the night." I'm a firm believer that her need for me, her need for consistent loving response, does not end just because the sun goes down. So, we did not sleep train. I followed her lead, listened to her needs, and gave her gentle direction when the opportunity arose. She now sleeps very well, and she still enjoys an hour or so of sleep in the "big bed" in the mornings.
Arguably, this is the shortest lasting of the principles. However its importance in the beginning is so big, and can be very long lasting.
6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose an alternate caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations.
Now obviously babies and toddlers do not offer the same consistency to us that you offered to your boss in that scenario; but ideally, we would all rather be boss #2 then boss #1! Be consistent in your actions towards your child, and when leaving them with someone else, be sure that they will be consistent with their care as well. As your toddler learns and grows, repetition and consistency are the key to encouraging them to grow in ways that work for everyone. This applies to every age though. If you child knows what to expect from you, there will be less need to push boundaries, or test limits (note I said less, not none!). While the practice of it evolves and changes, the principles stay the same. Act consistently, and act with love.
7. Practice Positive Discipline
Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone's dignity intact.
8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don't be afraid to say "no". Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.
Finding balance doesn't mean you have to go out, but it does involve looking at what makes you tick as a person outside of your attachments to your little ones, and making time for those passions. This is a principle that applies whether you are AP or not, whether you are a parent or not! Everyone needs to find balance in their life, fulfillment in multiple areas, and it is something that can be so hard to come by. But especially when you are working to pour so much of yourself into your babies, it is essential to find time to refuel.
Gwen is getting bigger and bigger everyday. We already babywear less and less, now only pulling the Mei Tai or the wraps out for things like hiking or long walks with a tired girl. Breastfeeding is only 2x a day now, and sometimes even less then that, and I know that soon enough she won't need that anymore. But I am an AP Mama now, and an AP Mama I'll remain. When she is 5, or 15, or 25, I will still seek to parent Gwen in a gentle way that respects her individuality and adjusts to her current stage of development.
* As taken from Attachment Parenting International.
** Rachelle gave a great overview of the difference between bedsharing and cosleeping, here.