Saturday, 19 April 2014

An Accidental Attachment

Attachment parenting is a concept that seems to be going from strength to strength in terms of popularity in recent years. As more and more parents turn away from the more 'traditional' parenting techniques that discourage 'spoiling' a child, the ideals of attachment are creeping into homes all over the country. The reputation of attachment parenting has also had a boost from celebrities such as the late Peaches Geldof, who was an enormous advocate of this rearing style. 

Attachment parenting is based around the seven B's: birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby wearing, bedding close to baby, belief in the language of crying, beware of baby trainers and balance. The idea is that the baby remains close to at least one of the parents at all times, right from birth; fed from the breast and therefore establishing a firm bond with the mother; worn in a sling, carrier or wrap and so rarely losing contact with the parent or parents; CIO (crying it out) is discouraged, parents are instead encouraged to respond to the baby's needs as soon as they become apparent; any form of baby training is frowned upon, whether it be in terms of sleep, feeding or some other issue; and balance in reference to the needs of the parent (if they get time!).

I was always a little bit wary of attachment parenting, familiar with the idea but never having actually seen it done. The concept was alien to my parents' generation: a time when the aim was to feed baby every four hours and to get them sleeping through the night as soon as possible. I was raised using traditional parenting methods and it had certainly never hurt me. However, I seem to have adopted many aspects of the AP style without even realising it was happening, as have many of the other parents that I know.

Attached. Often at the face.


Birth Bonding

Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth is now very much encouraged in the UK, and Blake's birth was no different. The midwives make sure that the chest of the mother is easily accessible as soon as the baby is born, even when (like in our case) the birth has gone less perfectly than planned. Having just been subjected to a rather traumatic labour and emergency Cesarean section, I was upset and shaky, yet my baby boy was automatically placed on my numb and recumbent body despite that. I'm not going to lie: it was terrifying and I was afraid that my violently shaking torso might throw him off at any time, but it was also fleeting as the doctors needed to put me back together. Blake was handed back to me as I was wheeled into recovery and the skin-to-skin contact that we had calmed by jangling nerves. 

In many hospitals, including North Devon District Hospital where I had Blake, the fathers are also now encouraged to remove their shirts and to establish that early bond.

Breastfeeding

Throughout pregnancy, I looked at breastfeeding as something I'd 'have a go at', with absolutely no expectations of being able to continue. I had heard so many people tell me that they had been unable to do it, I had automatically assumed that I would be the same. However, due to the health (and financial!) benefits, I elected to try Blake's first feed from the breast: again, something that is actively encouraged in NDDH. In addition to this, the NHS now recommends that babies be exclusively breastfeed for the first six months: a fairly recent guideline.

I truly believe that every mother should try at least that first feed. Breastfeeding is absolutely not for everyone, but unless you try, you'll never know. For many years I had assumed I would bottle feed, and had I not tried, I would be missing out on the wonderful experiences that breastfeeding has given me since.

Baby-wearing

This is one element of AP that I haven't adopted. Not because I don't want to, quite the opposite: I have an unused baby carrier sat in its box in the nursery, just waiting for its first outing. The problem is, whenever I get the urge to try and put Blake in it, I seem to be at home on my own and our carrier really is a two man job. I also tried a wrap sling once, a loan from my local breastfeeding support group, although I didn't feel that it was secure enough (I do, however, admit that that is more due to the way that I had fastened it). 

Instead, I pretty much just hold Blake all day: something that has seen me receive gentle criticism from older members of my family. My parents, especially, do not agree that a baby should be held as often as Blake is, and are often found telling me to put him down. However, where I go, Blake goes. In fact, I'm currently balancing both him and my computer on my lap just to write this.

Bedding Close to Baby

Again, this one has become the norm, and simply refers to having baby sleep close by. The official guidelines recommend a Moses basket, crib or cot in the parents' bedroom, although Dr Sears does go a step further and suggests that attached parents bed share with their infants.

I am not allowed to bed share, Mr Meaney has put his foot down, although I do bring Blake into my bed for a precious hour or two first thing in the morning. If I'm honest, the idea of all night bed sharing scares me a little bit, and I agree with my husband that our (small) bed should remain our own. Luckily for us, Blake has always been happy to sleep in his own bed and the dreamy morning cuddles are more for my benefit than his, but I will encourage him to spend the early mornings in with me for as long as I feel appropriate. I'm also in absolutely no rush to put him into his own room.

Belief in the Language of Crying/Beware of Baby Trainers

To me, these two aspects are just two halves of a whole: responding to baby's cry is not spoiling it, it's simply attending to a need, much in the same way that if a baby wakes up hungry in the night, the parent should feed it. This obsession we have with getting our babies to sleep through the night is counter-intuitive; when our babies no longer need us in the early hours, they'll stop asking. The trick is knowing what each cry means and distinguishig between the different types and their meaning.

I admit, I will ignore a whinge. Blake and I are very in tune and I know the difference between a cry that is asking for something and the testy moan of a baby that just can't get himself settled. However, if Blake cries, he gets my attention. I immediately set about finding the cause of the upset and putting it right, never once have I let him cry in order to teach him that it's not the done thing. He's a baby: he doesn't understand. Similarly, I have never interfered with the way that he chooses to order his sleep pattern, as I believe that distinguishing day and night should be an organic process, one that the baby needs to work out on their own. Again, he will occasionally whimper a bit in his sleep, and this I will ignore, as I know that he has the ability to settle himself effectively.

Balance

This part is more difficult! The balance between Blake's needs and my own is something that I still need to work on, particularly in terms of my marriage, as poor Mr Meaney has effectively taken a back seat during the past four months. As Blake gets older, however, and establishes his own routine, I do find myself having more time of my own, so I look forward to getting this element back on track as soon as possible. 


For Blake and I, attachment parenting, or at least our version of it, has been nothing but positive. We are both happy, rested and contented and we have an unbreakable bond, as well as a mutual trust and understanding. Our participation may have been accidental, but I would recommend elements of this pioneering parenting technique to anyone.


Reference: What AP is: 7 Baby B's (2013) Available at http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/attachment-parenting/what-ap-7-baby-bs (Accessed April 2014)

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