A Style That Works By Dr. William
Each day, expectant couples come
into my office with eager questions. "This
is our first baby. We really want to do right
by our child. Can you give us some tips on
getting a good start?" I answer these
couples by offering a style of parenting that
works for most couples most of the time - attachment
This style of parenting helps a mother and
father achieve two main goals:
1. To know their child.
2. To help their child feel right.
A child who feels right acts
right and is a joy to parent. I want you as
parents to enjoy your child.
What is Attachment Parenting?
One way to tell you more about
attachment parenting is to share with you some
attachment tips. This is the advice I give
new parents in my practice who are eager to
get a good start. These tips can help you know
and understand your child so that you can help
him feel right.
Make a Commitment
Very early in your parenting
career, before the birth of your baby, make
a commitment. Promise your faithful attention
to two relationships: to yourselves as a married
couple and to your child as his parents. One
of the greatest gifts you can give your new
baby is a home built on the foundation of a
stable and fulfilled marriage.
To strengthen these commitments
during pregnancy, I advise couples to follow
a custom we have enjoyed in our own family.
I suggest that each night before going to bed
you as a couple lay your hands on the pregnant
uterus. Talk about your commitment to each
other as a married couple and your commitment
to this tiny life inside. This beautiful nighttime
ritual gets to be a habit that is likely to
continue after your baby arrives. After the
birth of our baby, I had become so accustomed
to laying my hands on my unborn baby that I
couldn't get to sleep at night unless I would
go over and lay my hand on the head of our
little newborn and reaffirm my commitment to
fathering her. I was hooked! I was already
attached before our infant was born.
Create a Peaceful Womb Experience
In the past twenty years there
have been new and exciting discoveries about
the fetus's sensory and emotional awareness.
Mother and her unborn baby share emotions.
When mother is upset, baby may be upset. If
your pregnancy is cluttered with emotional
stress (especially the last three months),
you have a higher risk of having a child who
is anxious, and an anxious child has a high
risk of being a difficult sleeper. By creating
a peaceful pregnancy experience you begin creating
harmony with your baby. This prenatal harmony
may well carry over into the baby's sleep patterns.
Many couples spend a lot of time
and money preparing the properly appointed
nursery. Your baby could care less what his
or her room looks like. He wants you, so prepare
yourselves. Parent support groups can assist
you in this preparation by helping you arrive
at a parenting style that best fits your level
of commitment and your own family situation.
In my opinion, the most effective parent support
organization is La Leche League International,
a worldwide mother-to-mother communication
network. La Leche League is especially effective
in the concept of attachment parenting for
breastfeeding mothers. I advise new mothers
to join this organization early in their parenting
careers, preferably during pregnancy.
An important part of preparing
yourself is to take a good prepared childbirth
class and select your birthing options wisely.
Choose a birthing environment which encourages
you to stay in tune with your body during labour.
Mothers who are properly prepared to decode
their body's signals (for example, when to
move around and when to lie still) and who
give birth in an environment which allows them
the freedom to do so are more likely to become
quickly attached to their babies. Mothers who
have a birthing experience where fear and lack
of control predominate may have more difficulty
forming an immediate attachment. There is also
higher risk of having a difficult sleeper if
you have a difficult labour and delivery.
Breastfeed with Child-Led
Breastfeeding encourages attachment
and helps you take cues from your baby. It
encourages you to watch your baby for signs
of needing food and comfort rather than watching
the clock and counting ounces. You and your
baby will learn to know each other better and
will be more in harmony with one another.
I have a sign in my office that
says, "Early weaning not recommended for
infants." New mothers are vulnerable to
careless comments of well-meaning friends and
relatives who exclaim, "What, you're still
nursing?" Part of understanding the general
philosophy of attachment parenting is understanding
the real meaning of the term weaning. Parents
often think of weaning as a -loss of a relationship,
a detachment. Weaning is really not a negative
term but a very positive one. In ancient writings,
the term weaning meant "to ripen".
It is a feeling of fulfillment and readiness
whereby a child looks up to his mother and
says or feels, "I am filled with this
relationship and ready to pass on to another
Life is a series of weanings
- weaning from the womb, weaning from the breast,
weaning from parents' bed or crib, weaning
from home to school, from school to work. Whenever
a child is weaned from any of these places
of security before he is ready, he is at risk
for developing what I call behaviours of premature
weaning. These stem from an underlying feeling
of "not right" and include anger,
aggression, and moodiness, all of which can
stay with the child through life.
Don't limit your breastfeeding
to a predetermined number of months, what I
call calendar parenting. As long as both parties
of the nursing couple enjoy this relationship,
then nurse until both of you are filled. Calendar
parenting simply does not work, and it often
produces a short-term gain for a long-term
loss. It is much more realistic for parents
to enter their parenting careers without any
pre-conceived expectations of when a child
should give up a certain need. The rate at
which babies develop physically and emotionally
varies tremendously. Having rigid and unrealistic
expectations will only lead to frustration
which can put a damper on your spontaneous
interaction with your child and ultimately
lessen your enjoyment. More importantly, imposing
restraints on your child's source of security
can have longlasting effects on his physical
and mental well-being.
Respond Promptly to your Baby's
Every baby comes wired with an
ability to signal his needs. Adults call this
unique language the cry. Every mother develops
the "wiring" necessary to receive
her baby's signal. This is a special communication
network designed for the survival of the baby
and the development of the mother. Promptly
responding to your baby's cries increases your
sensitivity to your baby. Sensitivity helps
develop your parental intuition.
Be Open to Trying Various
Babies often give their parents
cues as to where they want to sleep. Some babies
sleep best in their own rooms; others sleep
best in a bed in their parent's room; many
babies sleep best in their parents' bed. Parents
have varying preferences as well. The sleeping
arrangement whereby all three of you (mother,
father and baby) sleep best is the right one
for your individual family. Your baby trusts
that you are open and receptive to the cues
that he is giving you about where he needs
to sleep. You are also trusting yourself to
respond to your baby's needs for a certain
sleeping arrangement even though this may not
be in accordance with the norms of your neighbourhood.
One of the most important pieces of baby furniture
I advise new parents to purchase is a kingsize
bed. Welcoming your baby into your bed is just
another part of a parenting style of trust
and openness. If sleeping with your baby feels
right to you and is working, then it is okay.
As with any feature of a parenting style, if
it is not working and does not feel right,
then drop it.
Travel as a Father-Mother-Baby
While traveling on a speaking
tour of Australia I began to appreciate the
" marsupial mothering" style of kangaroos,
whose babies are nearly always in touch with
the mother because they live in a pouch on
the mother's abdomen. I advise couples not
to succumb to the usual outside pressure to
"get away from your baby", but instead
to become accustomed to "wearing"
the baby in an infant sling or baby carrier,
as you get used to being a unit you will feel
right when you are together and not right when
you're apart. Functioning together by day makes
it easier to function together by night.
Beware of Detachment Parenting
This is a restrained style of
parenting that warns parents against taking
cues from their child. The advocates of detachment
parenting preach: "Let the baby cry it
out. He has to learn to sleep through the night."
"Don't be so quick to pick your baby up.
You're spoiling her. "Get your baby on
a schedule. He's manipulating you." "Don't
let your baby in your bed. You're creating
a terrible habit. " Besides being full
of negatives, this style of parenting also
features quick and easy recipes for difficult
problems. For example, when a baby repeatedly
awakens during the night, detachment parenting
advises, "Let him cry one hour the first
night, forty-five minutes the second night
and by the third night, he'll sleep through
Parents, let me caution you.
Difficult problems in child rearing do not
have easy answers. Children are too valuable
and their needs too important to be made victims
of cheap, shallow advice. In my experience,
parents who practice detachment parenting are
at risk of losing their intuition and confidence
and are less likely to achieve those two important
goals of parenting, knowing their child and
helping their child feel right.
What's in it for Parents?
What difference does the attachment
style of parenting make? Will it make you a
better parent? I have been sharing the above
attachment tips with my patients over the last
ten years, and we practice them in our family.
It does make a difference. Parents who practice
the attachment style of parenting know their
child well. They are observant of their infant's
cues, respond to them intuitively, and are
confident their responses are appropriate.
They have realistic expectations of their child's
behaviour at various stages of development,
and they know how to convey expected behaviour
to their child. Their children are a source
of joy. The feeling that the attachment style
of parenting gives you and your child can be
summed up in one word, harmony.
Besides a harmonious relationship,
the attachment style of parenting also promotes
a "harmonious" relationship. Mothers
who practice these attachment styles of parenting
actually undergo chemical changes. The hormone
prolactin, often called the "mothering
hormone", may enhance a woman's ability
to mother as well as create a feeling of calmness
and well-being during trying times. In experiments
where this hormone is injected into male birds,
they act like mothers. Mothers who practice
the attachment style of parenting actually
have more prolactin than mothers who exercise
restraint. What makes the prolactin go up?
You guessed it: unrestricted breastfeeding,
lots of skinto-skin contact with the baby,
and sleeping with the baby. Science is finally
catching up with what intuitive mothers have
known all long: Good things happen when mothers
and babies spend more time with each other.
By now you may be thinking that
attachment parenting is all giving, giv-ing,
giving. Well, to a certain extent, that is
true. Mothers are givers and babies are takers
- that is a realistic expectation of a mother-baby
relationship. The baby's ability to give back
will come later. Better takers usually become
better givers. However, because of the hormone
prolactin, as mothers give to babies, babies
give something back to mothers. The attachment
style of parenting allows mothering to stimulate
Why Attachment Parenting Works
Attachment parenting works because
it respects the individual temperament of the
child. The child comes equipped with a certain
level of needs and the ability to give cues
about what these needs are. The parents, by
first being open to the child's cues, learn
how to read the child and respond. Because
the response helps the child feel right, he
learns to cue better and parents learn to respond
better. In a nutshell, both members of the
parentchild communication network participate
in the development of each other's skills.
A cue-giving child and a responsive parent
bring out the best in each other. On the other
hand, detachment parenting with its restrained
responses brings out the worst in both. The
child's cries become more disturbing and parents
become more angry. Baby and parent learn not
to trust each other and eventually become insensitive
to each other. Insensitivity gets parents into
The attachment style of parenting
is especially effective when parenting the
high need child. This little child goes by
many well known names: the fussy baby, the
difficult baby, the demanding baby, the challenging
baby, the strong-willed child. I prefer to
call these children high need children. It
is not only a more positive term, but it also
describes the level of parenting these children
need. These are the children who most need
What's in it for your Child?
The infant who is the product
of attachment parenting learns that his needs
will be met consistently and predictably. The
child learns to trust. Trust creates a feeling
that "I am a special person". This
is the emergence of your child's self-esteem,
the feeling of rightness which is so vitally
important to the development of personality.
The child learns to bond to persons,
not things. The infant who is accustomed to
being in arms, at breast, and in mommy and
daddy's bed receives security and fulfillment
from personal relationships. This infant is
more likely to become a child who forms meaningful
attachments with peers and in adulthood is
more likely to develop a deep intimacy with
a mate. The child who is often left by himself
in swings, cribs, and playpens is at risk for
developing shallow interpersonal relationships
and becoming increasingly unfulfilled by a
materialistic world. Nurturing Qualities
The child learns to be sensitive
and giving. The child who receives the attachment
style of parenting learns to care for others
with the sensitive and giving quality that
he received from his parents.
Practicing the attachment style
of parenting actually makes discipline (that
magic word you've all been waiting for) easier.
Because you know your child better, you are
able to read your child's behaviour more accurately
and respond more appropriately. Because your
child feels right, he is more likely to act
right. The child who has this inner feeling
of rightness is more likely to develop a healthy
conscience. He feels right when he does right
and feels wrong when he does wrong. This style
of parenting makes it easier to create an attitude
within your child and an atmosphere within
your home that makes punishment less necessary.
When necessary, it is administered more appropriately.
Because of their attachment to one another,
parent and child trust each other. Trust is
the basis of authority, and a trusted authority
figure disciplines more effectively.
Attachment parenting has long-term
benefits too. Let me share with you a very
important concept of child rearing called modeling:
the parenting style children grow up with is
the one they most likely will carry into their
own parenting careers. Remember, you are parenting
someone else's future husband or future wife,
and your grandchildren's future mother or father.
I will illustrate the importance
of modeling by sharing with you two incidents
which occurred recently in my practice and
my family. One day a new mother brought her
newborn baby into my office for a check-up.
She also brought along her twenty-two month
old daughter, Tiffany. When the newborn began
to cry, Tiffany rushed to her mother and exclaimed,
"Mommy, baby cry. Pickup, rock-rock, nurse!"
Why had Tiffany responded so
quickly to the cries of her sister? Because
she had been modeled so. What will Tiffany
do when she becomes a mother and her own baby
cries? You guessed it! "Pick up, rock-rock,
The importance of modeling parenting
styles to teenagers was driven home to my wife
and me one day when we heard our nine month
old daughter, Erin, crying from our bedroom.
Since we believe in ministering promptly to
our baby's cries, Martha and I started toward
the bedroom. But then we heard the cries stop.
As we approached the bedroom door, we saw our
fifteen-year old, Jim, lying down on our bed
next to Erin and gentling her and consoling
her. Why did Jim do this? Jim had modeled his
behaviour after ours. He had learned that when
babies cry someone listens and responds. As
Martha and I witnessed this beautiful attachment
scene we knew that both Erin and Jim felt right.
Our hearts also felt right because we knew
the attachment style of parenting was paying
Excerpted from the book Nighttime
Parenting -- How to Get Your Baby and Child
to Sleep . c William Sears, MD. Reprinted with
kind permission of the author. This superb
200 page soft cover book (ISBN 0-912500-19-0)
and others in the GROWING FAMILY SERIES are
published by La Leche League International,
P. 0. Box 1209, Franklin Park, 17. 60131-8209,
William Sears is also the author of Creative
Parenting, a comprehensive, practical child
care book. Dr. Sears is a paediatrician in
private practice in Pasadena, California, Assistant
Professor of Paediatrics at the University
of Southern California, and a frequent speaker
on parenting and child care.