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What is Attachment Parenting?

What Is Attachment Parenting?

With the goal of creating a strong bond between child and parent, attachment parenting, or AP, encourages mothers and fathers to respond consistently and lovingly to all of a baby's needs. This child-rearing style is characterized by several principles designed to give new parents practical tips for how to raise a confident, secure child. Deciding how to incorporate these principles, or if you want to abide them at all, is a personal decision for your family.

Principles of Attachment Parenting

Attachment Parenting International, an organization that educates and supports families using AP, provides a series of tenets called the "Eight Principles of Parenting."

1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting. Before your baby is born, research all your birthing options and the basics of newborn care, maintain a strong bond with your partner, and prepare yourself emotionally to start bonding with your baby from birth.

2. Feed with love and respect. Breastfeed if possible and for as long as possible. If bottle feeding is necessary, hold the bottle next to the breast. Let your child eat whenever he is hungry and until he is full.

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3. Respond with sensitivity. Practice empathy and respect when responding to your child's needs.

4. Use nurturing touch. Make skin-to-skin contact with your baby whenever possible. Caress, kiss and hug him. Wearing your baby in a wrap or sling is encouraged.

5. Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally. Practice co-sleeping by bringing your baby into your room at night. AP doesn't support the practice of sleep training or letting your baby "cry it out."

6. Provide consistent and loving care. Give your baby constant access to a caring, responsive adult, whether that's you or a caregiver.

7. Practice positive discipline. For children older than infancy, look for the cause behind a negative behavior instead of responding with punishment. Work with the child to change his behavior.

8. Strive for balance in your personal and family life. Make your family a priority. Nurture yourself, your partner and your child.

Goals of Attachment Parenting

"The goals of attachment parenting are to increase understanding of the emotional needs of children and responding to their needs with empathy and compassion," says Lysa Parker, a family life educator. "By doing so, we help our children develop these capacities that carry forward into adulthood that will eventually create a more compassionate world." Parker, together with Barbara Nicholson, cofounded API and wrote the book "Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Creating Connected and Compassionate Children."

AskDrSears.com, the website of pediatrician William Sears—who is considered the father of AP— lists several benefits of this parenting style. Children raised using AP principles cry less, develop faster and are smarter than other children, the site claims.

What Critics Say

AP isn't for everyone. Your work hours or the needs of other children might mean you'd benefit from getting your baby on a set sleeping and eating schedule, rather than letting his needs dictate your day. Babywearing can be tiring and makes it challenging to do simple tasks. And some moms feel that so highly valuing their babies needs makes it hard to take care of themselves.

The writer Erica Jong, in a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, argues that AP "victimizes" women. "Women feel not only that they must be ever-present for their children but also that they must breastfeed, make their own baby food and eschew disposable diapers. It's a prison for mothers," she writes.

RELATED: Ask Dr. Sears: Bonding With Baby

How to Practice AP

If you want to follow all or some of the principles of AP, start by watching your baby. "A baby is a bundle of feelings and needs; all they know is how they feel," Parker explains. "So when your baby cries, **believe her -- it's not a manipulation but communication**. The best thing you as a new mom can do is to really get to know your baby and respond to your baby's needs in a sensitive and responsive way. Your baby will teach you what she or he needs. It's a process and it takes time so hang in there, and when in doubt always follow your heart and trust your instincts."

A local support group or AP expert can help you navigate. Ask your pediatrician for a recommendation, or consult the API website.

Image by Getty Images

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