It occurred to me that I have mentioned attachment parenting (AP) in several posts lately, but I’ve never really explained what it is, or what it means to me.
AP has been in the media recently because of that controversial Time Magazine cover showing a woman breastfeeding her son, who was standing on a chair next to her. It probably gave a slightly distorted impression of AP, but one aspect of this type of parenting is “extended” breastfeeding. I saw something the other day where a woman said, “if you’re still breastfeeding at a year, everyone knows about it; if you’re still breastfeeding at two years, only your husband knows about it. If you’re still breastfeeding at three years, only you know about it.” A lot of women do continue to breastfeed their children until they are toddlers, and just tend to keep it a secret to avoid the sort of outrage generated by that Time Magazine cover. I think I’m lucky, in that when I was reading about parenting styles after having S, I stumbled upon a group whose members were largely AP, and felt happy to stay there and stop looking for anything else. To me the idea of “extended” breastfeeding isn’t so awful, and why should it be? Breastmilk is full of vitamins, essential fats and everything a child needs for development, after all.
But AP is not just about breastfeeding. The Sears’ bestselling Baby Book quotes the seven “Baby Bs”: birth bonding, belief in your baby’s signals, breastfeeding, baby wearing, bedding close to your baby, balance & boundaries, and beware of baby experts.
I was lucky when S was born; although I was fairly out of it and a bit clueless as to what was going on and what I should be doing, a NICU nurse came down to tube feed her on that first day, and told me to undress my baby and put her down my top, and just keep here there as much as I could. For the two weeks we were in hospital, whenever I could I put S down my t shirt. She slept a lot more peacefully curled up on my chest, and I slept through a lot of other babies’ screaming with her laying there. Ward staff would pop their heads in to check on us and, seeing the empty fishbowl, ask me “where is your baby?!” Although “kangaroo care “ as they call it, is something actively encouraged in NICU, nobody really mentions it on the ward – and none of the other NICU nurses really mentioned it to me. I feel very lucky that I met that particular nurse on that particular day.
In the first few weeks of S’s life, she was held a lot. Her father held her whenever he was here, and when he didn’t have her, I did. I didn’t like to put her down in her bouncy chair because she looked so small and lost in it. I did start to put her upstairs to bed in her Moses basket in the evenings, but I spent most of that time going upstairs to check she was ok.
Belief in Baby’s Signals
This is a big one for me, because so many people out there seem to be adamant that babies’ cries should be ignored, lest we create a generation of manipulative attention-seekers. I remember S’s father telling me, while we were still in the hospital, that I was creating a rod for my own back by picking her up when she cried.
This is about more than just crying though; it’s about learning what a baby’s signals mean: are they tired? Hungry? Do they need a clean nappy? All babies are born with “attachment-promoting behaviours” – they are designed to be cute and precious so that we want to pick them up and hold them and coo at them and notice when they have a wet nappy. Parents are generally able to intuit what their baby wants, but often we ignore their signs: “he can’t be hungry, I only fed him an hour ago.”
It took me a while to trust my instincts with S, and to realise that I really did know what was best for her, and I did know what I was doing. I still have times where she’s whining and clearly wants something, and I can’t figure out what it is – and then after a few minutes I think “hang on, you’ve not changed her nappy for a while you eejit.” On the whole though, she is very good at letting me know what she wants, and I’m getting better at reading her cues and signals.
When I was pregnant, I asked my mum whether I and my siblings were breastfed. She replied yes, for at least a year. S’s father’s response to this was “what? A year? Disgusting!” I suppose because I was the second of six children, and all of my younger siblings were breastfed, it just never occurred to me to formula feed. A friend advised me before S was born that I should use formula because then you can see exactly how much milk the baby is getting and make sure they get enough on each feed. At the time I didn’t fancy the idea, purely because I wasn’t sure about all the bottles and sterilising and things – I knew I would worry about germs. I’ve posted on here before
about how I found breastfeeding hard in the first few weeks, but a friend pointed me in the direction of the group I mentioned above, and the ladies on there proved invaluable in their advice and wisdom. I read about the benefits of breastfeeding, and found that actually, I’m one of those people who is likely to be found banging on about how all babies should be breastfed, and formula companies not allowed to advertise at all, until the cows come home. I feel very strongly, not just that newborns should be breastfed, but that breastfeeding should continue for as long as possible. S is seven months old now, and people often seem surprised I’m still breastfeeding her and say “oh well done!” as if it’s some great achievement. Really, it’s not. Once I was over that initial hurdle, breastfeeding became the lazy option for me. A couple of people have asked me when I will be moving her onto formula, but I have literally no idea why I would do that. Why feed my child a product that’s been synthetically engineered to imitate something my body already produces? I have no plans to give up breastfeeding any time soon. For one thing, it burns a lot of calories, and I eat a lot of chocolate. A LOT of chocolate.
This one, I stumbled into. I live on the first floor, and I found I was unable to get the pushchair up and down the stairs without help. This meant I was housebound, unless S’s father came round, which he didn’t do every day. A friend sent me a wrap sling which she’d not been able to get on with for her little girl, and I fell in love with it. I put S into the sling, and off we went. All of a sudden I was free to wander off out as and when I pleased. Because S settled so well in the sling, I started wearing it around the house too, which meant I could do the washing up, cook some dinner, go upstairs to the toilet etc without having to leave her. I even started feeding her while she was in the sling. As she grew heavier, the way that sling tied across my stomach hurt my belly, so I invested in an Ergo sling. These days, we use the Ergo when we go out, but I still use the wrap sling at home sometimes, and we did use it the other day to wander down to the post box. It’s great for cuddly times. The Ergo is more structured, and can be worn in several different ways. It has straps like a back pack, and a pocket for my keys. S loves to be in the sling when we go out because she can see so much more – even when she’s facing my chest, she can look around and above her at the trees and people, and I chat to her constantly. She developed good head and neck control from an early age, and I think this has a lot to do with the fact she was always in the sling, looking up at me. She is quite the little chunk these days, and it does hurt my back to carry her around so much – but I still prefer the sling to the buggy, and miss that closeness if we’ve not used the sling for a few days.
Bedding Close to Baby
When we first came home from hospital, S slept in a Moses basket next to my bed. When she woke up I would sit up and feed her, then spend what felt like a lifetime trying to settle her back to sleep in her basket, and then go to sleep myself. I was fairly zombiefied by this point. One morning around 4am, I decided that since she was showing no signs of settling into her basket, I would just prop myself up with some pillows, and have her sleep on my chest like she used to in the hospital. She went to sleep in no time, and for a couple of weeks, every time she woke at 4am I would have her in bed with me. Then I decided to try feeding her laying down, and it was an instant success. After that, once she woke for the first time during the night, I would just bring her into bed with me and feed her laying next to me. It wasn’t long after that I decided there was no point in putting her in the Moses basket in the first place, and she’s slept in my bed ever since.
People tend to frown on this one, and think it’s terribly dangerous. If you follow basic safety precautions though, it’s really not. In fact there are studies to suggest having them that close to you can cut the risk of SIDS by a considerable amount. Mothers really do have a sixth sense as to their child’s position in bed next to them, and I’m not a particularly active sleeper any way. If I fall asleep laying on my side, that’s exactly how I wake up. If there was a man sharing my bed, I probably wouldn’t have S in it because I would worry about him rolling over on her – though to be honest, I’m more likely to remove the man than my daughter!
There is nothing better to see first thing in the morning than a great big, cheesy grin from someone to whom you are the entire world.
Balance and Boundaries
This is the one I have problems with. Because it’s just the two of us, and there’s not somebody here to take over rocking her when she’s having a bad time, I do tend to neglect myself from time to time. Over the last month or so S’s sleeping has been pretty bad, which has meant mine has been too, and I’ve not had the break I usually get in the evenings. Things like cleaning the kitchen and tidying the living room have fallen by the wayside as I’ve had to prioritise the list of things I would have liked to get done in a day. In all honesty though, I do think this has been an exercise in letting go for me. I don’t need to get downstairs and watch that TV show, the washing up is not important in the grand scheme of things, the world will not end if I don’t update my blog tonight. I decided that as long as I’ve had some dinner, the rest can wait, and once I’d adopted that mindset it made things a lot easier to deal with. It is difficult to maintain any real balance when you are the only one doing the balancing though!
Beware of Baby Experts
When you’re a new mum, everyone has advice for you. Everyone knows an old foolproof trick their mother used to get baby to sleep, or the best way to do this or that. People want to be helpful, and don’t take too kindly to being told “thanks, but I’m going to do this my way.” I’ve found that people also tend to think that because I’m a first time mum, and they’ve raised however many kids themselves, I can’t possibly know what I’m doing, and I should be doing what they did. It’s difficult to say “no, I know best” without sounding as if I’m judging them for what they’re doing, or insulting them in some way.
There are endless books and experts out there who will tell you exactly how to get baby to sleep, when to feed, how to train them to do this and that. It’s difficult to turn your back on them all, and you might not want to. I did though. I don’t want to force S into a schedule, I don’t want to train her to self-soothe, I don’t want to use controlled crying or leave her to cry it out.
When someone has raised ten kids, or is considered sufficiently expert on the subject that they have published several books on how to look after babies, and you’re just a woman who’s been handed this bundle and told to raise it into a well-adjusted adult, it’s easy to think they know best and you’d better do what they say. Turns out I’m quite stubborn though, and I read lots. I might not have the practical experience, but I know a lot of the theory and I have my instincts and for the most part, I’ve found that my instincts are backed up by quite a lot of scientific fact. I’ve decided I’m going to follow my instincts as to what is right for S, and the experts can go and sell their books elsewhere.