From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I thought about the kind of parent I wanted to be. I read countless books and articles about the importance of bonding with my baby as early as possible, and how seemingly simple things like eye contact could have lasting effects on my baby's development.
That's because, according to UK-based registered clinician and parent-infant psychotherapist Viven Sabel, "You are creating a solid foundation for neural growth and development. If your baby is happy and feels the connection between you, this will likely improve how you feel."
It has even been discovered by researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) that infants will form secure attachments with parents who can read their wants and needs—otherwise known as mentalization—frequently and accurately.
After my daughter was born, I focused my attention on putting my lofty goals into practice. I was fortunate that my flexible employment allowed us to be together nearly constantly, and I spent hours wearing her as we went about our day or talking and singing to her in her stroller as we motored around our city neighborhood.
Even so, I worried if I was doing enough. In my effort to discover new ways to strengthen our connection, I discovered Attachment Parenting and was excited to see that so many of their tenants were things my daughter and I had naturally been doing.
What is Attachment Parenting?
Like many parenting philosophies, Attachment Parenting means something slightly different to every parent who practices it. In general, though, Attachment Parenting focuses on the bond and connection between child and parent, often emphasizing and developing it further through closeness and touch, with the goal of raising secure, independent and empathetic children.
As Moniek Zeegers, PhD, a researcher at UvA's department of Child Development and Education says in a new study published in Psychological Bulletin, "Children who feel securely attached are, among other things, better at regulating their emotions, have higher self-esteem and exhibit less emotional and behavioral problems," Zeegers says.
How can I start?
Attachment Parenting International (API), a non-profit organization that promotes practices that create strong emotional bonds between parents and their little ones, identifies eight principles of Attachment Parenting.
Easy ways to try Attachment Parenting
Keeping little ones close and maintaining plenty of eye contact is a great way to cement your bond from the start.
Paired with our tips, here are eight ways to bring Attachment Parenting to life with your little one.
1. Prepare for pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Essentially, parents should try to learn as much as they can prior to baby's arrival about pregnancy care, childbirth without interventions (if possible), and parenting styles.
Try this: Before your due date, check with your OB or midwife to see if your hospital or birthing facility offers a birth prep or child care class. You'd be amazed at what you can learn in just a few short sessions, and it can be incredibly helpful to connect with other moms going through the same things you are.
2. Feed with love and respect. Breastfeeding or attentive bottle feeding is strongly emphasized as the healthiest infant-feeding choice.
Try this: For the first few weeks of your baby's life, don't worry about adopting any kind of feeding schedule. Feed your baby on demand as much as possible and pay close attention to their hunger cues until a natural rhythm develops.
3. Respond with sensitivity. Viewed as the cornerstone of Attachment Parenting, this principle refers to responding to baby's needs and cries in a timely manner.
Try this: A parent-facing stroller can be a great way to make sure you're there to immediately soothe tears while you're on the go. The Ergobaby 180 Reversible stroller allows parents to go from forward-facing to parent-facing with just a simple push of a button, instantly sliding the handlebar from one side to the other without adjusting anything on the child's seat. And because it fully reclines, it can be used from birth to build an unbreakable connection.
4. Provide nurturing touch. Think massage, hugs, hand-holding, and cuddles (so many cuddles!).
Try this: The benefits of skin-to-skin contact extend well beyond the "golden hour" after birth. Spend a few minutes after bath time, while your baby naps, or simply relaxing at the end of the day with your little one in your arms to maximize the benefits.
5. Ensure safe sleep. Sleep with baby nearby to maximize responsiveness.
Try this: Since 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics has touted the benefits of sharing a room with baby for at least the first six months to a year of their life—benefits that include a decreased risk of SIDS. Plus, nursing mamas will undoubtedly love having their little ones at arm's reach for nighttime feedings.
6. Use consistent and loving care. To ensure the baby feels secure, Attachment Parenting encourages a single, primary caregiver—typically a parent.
Try this: If both parents work, it can be beneficial to opt for a single, consistent caregiver (be it a nanny or Grandma!) or a daycare with a low child-to-caregiver ratio to step in during working hours.
7. Practice positive discipline. Teach by example and employ positive parenting tactics, such as distraction and problem solving, to guide children.
Try this: To prevent meltdowns, prepare for situations that typically cause tensions to rise. For example, avoid running errands too close to nap time and pack healthy meal options in advance in case you aren't able to find suitable choices on the go.
8. Strive for personal and family balance. This family-centered approach believes all members of the family have equal value. Parents should balance their parenting roles with their personal life to model the healthiest lifestyle for their children.
Try this: Babywearing may be one of the easiest tenants of Attachment Parenting to incorporate into your daily life—and you'll probably be amazed at how much easier it makes it to get things done around the house! Pop your child into a carrier that keeps them close (we love the Ergobaby Omni 360 for safe and easy-to-convert carries) and use that hands-free time to pick up around the house, throw in a load of laundry, or simply get out for a refreshing walk.
In many cases, you may already find yourself practicing one or several of these key tenants. While not every principle may work for every family, there are plenty of easy ways to boost your attachment with your baby from the start.
If you're not able to incorporate every principle of Attachment Parenting, don't stress. The point is to create a system of trust and security that works for your family. And that's something we can all get pretty attached to.