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Attachment Parenting for Dummies

As child-rearing techniques go, attachment parenting has always attracted a lot of attention—most recently on the cover of Time magazine, which featured a photo of a 3-year-old child at his mother's breast. But if you're new to the parenting scene, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Here's a primer.

The method is based on principles developed in the 1950s by psychiatrist John Bowlby, and It encourages the development of emotional bonds between mother and child through close and constant contact. More recently, 2001's The Attachment Parenting Book: A Common Sense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby by doctors William and Martha Sears, outlines its fundamentals.

Attachment parenting fans include actress Mayim Bialik of Blossom fame, author of "It May Be Time to Wean My Three Year Old," a 2011 article which features a picture of her nursing her son Fred on a New York City subway. "I never ever believed that I would be nursing a child over the age of 3," she says. "But now that I am … I believe that nursing is natural and beautiful and wonderful."

Critics include Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, co-authors of the 2005 book The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women. "[Attachment parenting is] as simple as it is impossible," the book says. "Reattach your baby to your body the moment she is born and keep her there pretty much until she goes to college."

The following 10 points offer basic guidelines to attachment parenting, according to the Attachment Parenting International website. After reading them, decide for yourself whether you're a fan or a critic.

Go to the next page to see the 10 basics of attachment parenting ...

1. Preparing for Pregnancy

The Attachment Parenting International website lists eight principles of parenting, the first of which is to "Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting." This principle states that mothers should prepare themselves mentally and physically for pregnancy and beyond, which is just plain good advice no matter how you slice it. The website instructs prospective attachment parents, known as "AP parents," to "eat nutritious foods, exercise regularly, avoid stress when possible" and consider getting a birth or postpartum doula. It also advises pregnant women to seek professional help if they had been abused or neglected as children, in order to avoid playing out those conflicts when the child is born.

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2. Feeding

Breast-feeding is a major component of attachment parenting, even after the child is 1 year old. Conventional wisdom recommends weaning by then, but AP mothers, who are expected to identify baby's hunger cues before she starts crying, often continue well past that point. If there's no avoiding the bottle, AP mothers are instructed to simulate breast-feeding with one by using similar feeding positions, and even switching from one side of the body to the other when they feed. They are also only supposed to offer solid foods to the child after offering the breast first.

3. Responding to Separation Anxiety

Any parent who's seen a baby through her first year probably noticed that she was perfectly fine being held by other people for the first six months of her life or so, only to become upset by the very same thing at about eight or nine months of age. This phenomenon is known as separation anxiety, a normal developmental stage that babies grow out of once they learn that mommy always comes back when she leaves the room. The API website opposes the practice of letting babies get used to temporary separation by crying it out, and says that prolonged crying causes a baby to "experience an unbalanced chemical state in the brain" that leads to physical and emotional problems later in life, so parents should simply avoid separating from them until they naturally grow out of the separation anxiety phase. If it is too stressful for mom to remain physically attached to the baby during this entire time, API recommends that the parent seek "professional help."

4. Nurturing Touch

API recommends that parents provide "nurturing touch," otherwise known as skin-to-skin contact with the baby, which includes sharing joint baths and giving the baby massages. Where skin-to-skin contact is not possible, such as when baby-wearing, parents are advised to do so with a soft carrier, and avoid apparatuses like swings and strollers that hold the baby independently. API says that nurturing touch "stimulates growth-promoting hormones, improves intellectual and motor development, and helps regulate babies' temperature, heart rate, and sleep/wake patterns." API also says that babies who receive nurturing touch regularly gain weight faster and cry less, and that cultures with high rates of physical affection have low numbers of physically violent adults.

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5. Co-Sleeping

For parents who don't subscribe to attachment parenting, getting baby to sleep through the night on her own is a milestone. For AP parents, this can potentially damage the child's brain with the stress hormone cortisol. AP parents advocate co-sleeping, either with baby in a bedside bassinet or in the parents' bed. When children begin to make the transition to their own beds, there are still elements of co-sleeping that are supposed to remain in the bedtime routine. Parents are expected to go to bed with the child and lay down with her until she falls asleep. API also says that co-sleeping doesn't have to disrupt the parents' intimacy, provided they use a little timing and ingenuity.

6. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

Another of the eight principles of attachment parenting is to "Provide Consistent and Loving Care." This is where the close and ongoing contact comes into play. API encourages mom to bring the baby in a sling wherever she goes, including on date night and while fitness walking. It also discourages parents from using day care centers, and recommends that they use in-home care instead.

7. But What About Discipline?

AP parents are opposed to practicing discipline in its traditional sense, so things like spanking and yelling at the child are off limits. According to API, these methods instill fear in the child, which in turns create fear and humiliation, which "lead to an increased risk of future antisocial behavior including crime and substance abuse." API recommends that parents use a "golden rule" approach and treat their children the same way that they would wish to be treated. This means practicing "positive discipline," which includes "prevention, distraction and substitution to gently guide children away from harm."

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8. Grown-up Time

As any parent knows, it can be hard for couples to maintain their sense of themselves when a baby enters the picture. Suddenly, activities as simple as going to a movie become logistical nightmares. But letting Mommy-Daddy Time fall by the wayside can be toxic to any couple, which API acknowledges. While emphasizing that baby's needs supersede all others, API suggests that the needs of parents still be recognized. They recommend "enjoying today," which means making alone time, taking naps, exercising and avoiding over-scheduling.

9. What About Older Siblings?

Just as with grown-up time, API recognizes that older siblings can have a hard time adjusting when a new baby enters the picture, particularly since baby's needs take precedence over everyone else's. API recommends treating the needs of older siblings the same way you would treat the needs of parents. Set aside specific family nights, take time to help older children with any hobbies he may have, and spend individual time with the child by having what the site refers to as "parent-child 'dates'."

10. Avoiding Burnout

AP parents are just like every other parent in at least one respect: They get burned out. API says that parents who may be feeling this way should strive to regain balance. How should the AP parent find balance again? According to API, they should "take frequent deep breaths," use yoga or meditation and seek out friendships with other attachment parents.

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