elevating child care

Attachment Parenting Debate (For Crying Out Loud)

The other day I made a comment that led to an animated online discussion with a blogger (Annie) who writes about Attachment Parenting. Attachment Parenting is a movement founded by William Sears, M.D.  He recommends maintaining close physical contact with a baby 24 hours a day for the sake of bonding.  Parents are encouraged to keep the baby next to them at all times in their arms or in a baby carrier, to co-sleep, and to nurse a child for comfort whenever the baby cries or a toddler asks.

I commented on an article on ‘baby sleep tips’, much of which was valid and I could support. But the recommended “No Cry” book series and the responses to parent questions about children crying at bedtime gave me the impression that the goal of Attachment Parenting is a quiet baby at all costs – that a quieted child is a securely attached child.  I disagree, and thought this spirited exchange was worth sharing.

Me:

Although I appreciate much of this advice, parents should never feel they are failing because a baby cries. When a baby’s needs for sustenance have been met, she should be allowed to cry in our comforting presence. Allowing a child to cry is loving, not ignoring. Although crying for extended periods of time can create stress in a baby, most crying relieves stress. Babies will never (and should never have to) be “No Cry.” If an adult friend cries we provide loving support and comfort, but don’t attempt to ‘fix’ them with food, a nipple in the mouth, rocking or “shushing.” Sometimes we all need to cry, and we need the expression and release of our feelings to be allowed and accepted.

I wholeheartedly agree that babies need lots of exercise and fresh air for good health and better sleep. But when a baby is kept in a carrier or stroller, the baby gets the air and the parent gets all the exercise. I encourage parents to allow a baby lots of time for unrestricted movement in a playpen or other safe area outside with a few simple toys. Babies are kept occupied for long periods of time this way, involved in self-initiated play. Parents can watch, and enjoy, trusting the baby to daydream, move and play as he wishes. It’s a healthy, blissful way to spend the day for everyone!

Annie:

I agree that crying in arms is the appropriate response when a child just needs to express emotions. It can be a great way to teach them how to voice their emotions and to express their feelings.

That said, I also believe in meeting a baby’s physical and emotional needs. That means that if my baby needs something, I do not think it is an appropriate response to withhold that and hold her while she cries instead. For example, a lot of parents will say “I just fed her she can’t possibly need to nurse again”. However, nursing is not just about feeding. Nursing is about comfort and it is a lot of babies’ preferred source of comfort. To draw a parallel, if you are upset and just want your husband to hold you, but he instead decides to just pat you on the head while you cry because “he just gave you a hug, so you can’t possibly need another one”, he wouldn’t really be responding to your needs and you would reasonably get frustrated and annoyed at being patted on the head.

I agree wholeheartedly on your points around exercise.

Me:

I still believe we give parents (and babies) the wrong message when we suggest ‘nursing away’ tears. Many parents cannot nurse a baby for various reasons (like adoption). Are you suggesting they use a bottle or a pacifier every time a baby cries?

A nipple usually stops the tears instantly, because it goes in the mouth. If parents are encouraged to nurse for the purpose of arresting cries, why would they ever NOT do that, and allow a child’s feelings? Are you suggesting they only allow a child to cry as a last resort?

Should babies learn that when they are upset they need to eat or drink to feel better? Ask the overeaters or alcoholics you know about eating and drinking for comfort!

I occasionally have toddlers in my parenting classes who run to their parents every time they have the slightest disappointment and ask to be nursed, and I work with those parents to send a healthier message to the child. The child does not feel capable of handling situations that others her age can, because the parent has taught her to seek a nipple every time she is upset. We must give children the message that we believe they are capable of coping with feelings, with our calm support. Quieting them on the breast is much easier for us than hearing their feelings. Sometimes, truly loving a child means allowing her to cry, supporting her when it is excruciatingly hard for us.

Annie:

1) Babies that are not nursed have other preferred ways to be comforted. But generally babies that do nurse prefer comfort at the breast.

2) Nursing is not always “eating”.

3) Do you also have toddlers in your parenting classes who run to their parents every time they have the slightest disappointment and ask to be comforted in some other way? What makes that other way better/worse than nursing? I agree that all parents need to teach their children to handle situations in an age appropriate way, but I don’t think that means saying no to nursing or other methods of comfort necessarily. You can comfort your child and then talk about what they could do next time to handle the situation. You can offer suggestions before offering to nurse and see if they are okay with that.

Me:

3) No. Children who are not trained to nurse whenever they are upset express their feelings openly, either in the parent’s arms or not, as they choose, and then move on, eager to engage in play again. But the toddlers who nurse on demand seem to be distracted by a need to test those boundaries with the mother. They play for shorter periods of time; have shorter attention spans, and have not developed coping skills. That is what I have observed in the 15 years that I have taught parent/infant and toddler classes.

Annie:

Interesting Janet.

My experience (supported by the research that I’ve read) has been that children who are not given the opportunity to develop a secure attachment to their parents tend to be more insecure and clingy by about preschool age. Nursing an infant on demand, with reasonable limits given as the child grows, helps to foster a secure attachment (as does responding to the child at night instead of doing cry it out), which helps them to build their confidence and become more independent as they are ready (as opposed to being pushed into false independence and experiencing severe insecurity as a result).

Me:

You are correct that secure attachment is vital for a baby! Secure attachment is fostered by a sensitive response to a baby’s physical and emotional needs, and is (thankfully) very possible for babies who are not breast fed, as well as those who are. Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish for those lucky enough to be able to do so, but becomes problematic when used as a quick fix, and a feeling stuffer. A baby needs emotions to be allowed and accepted, not a breast in the mouth as soon as she cries, to make her “be quiet.” Obviously, the parent does not mean to send that message, but that is the one the child receives.

Parents should not feel pressured to go to any length to stop a baby’s cries. Crying is not to be feared; it is a healthy release. I don’t understand the expression “cry it out.” What are babies “crying out”? I do know that babies need to cry sometimes, as we all do. And they need support for crying, not parents rushing to plug their mouths.

Sir Richard Bowlby, son of John Bowlby who originated Attachment Theory, will be the keynote speaker at the 2010 RIE Conference (“RIE” is the acronym for Resources for Infant Educarers, a non-profit organization) in June, at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. I recommend this conference for anyone who would like to learn more about “secure attachment” and the research behind it, from the source of the theory.

(End of the orginal discussion, but Annie and I continue in the comments)

Annie’s website is phdinparenting.com. Please visit. And, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.  For more about infants and secure attachment, I highly recommend the new book Theories of Attachment: An Introduction to to Bowlby, Ainsworth, Gerber, Brazelton, Kennell, and Klaus, by Carol Garhart Mooney.  There is a chapter devoted to each of six major theorists, including Magda Gerber, founder of RIE (but Dr. William Sears is not mentioned).

For more posts on this site about healthy emotional development, please read Good Grief and Giving Your Children the Brush-Off.

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166 Responses to “Attachment Parenting Debate (For Crying Out Loud)”

  1. avatar Brittney says:

    I am way late to this discussion, and I haven’t read all of the comments but wanted to share my thoughts. I felt like (and i could be wrong) that in your post there were 2 extremes. One nursed and offered solutions for everything, the other seemed to want to let the baby figure it out. Sometimes babies do just need to nurse because they want that comfort, and thats ok. That isn’t ALWAYS the best thing.

    With an infant, I DO try to find the problem. I change diapers make sure he’s not hungry.. I also try laying him down to see if he wants to be “free”. If nothing works, I hold him, rock him and let him cry. Theres nothing else to do at that point and I know I have tried to meet whatever his need might be. Usualy he wil cry for a while… then he will fall asleep in my arms. Thats ok with me. It sucks! But again, thats what he ended up needing.

    I know that sometimes I jump to nursing and my son will cry! I will lay him down to change his diaper, and he is suddenly silent and content. Sometimes they need room to just be.

    I also wanted to say that MANY studies show that nursing on demand is healthy for babies and toddlers. That being said, it is important to make sure that we are being very aware of what is happening with our children. My toddler stll nurses and will sometimes try to nurse after getting his feelings hurt or bumping his head. I do not always choose to let him nurse. Why? Because it is important that he knows that nursing doesn’t make it better. If I need to say sorry, I look him in the eye, apologize and offer cuddles but not nursing. If he has bumped his head but I can see he is ok, I dont nurse, we talk about how he bumoed his head and maybe we will cuddle maybe not. I DO nurse when he is VERY worked up or if he has really hurt himself. The reason I do this is 1) It is soothing for him. 2) There are horomones in breastmilk that help them to calm down.

    I guess what Im saying is: There is a big difference between allowing nursing to be a comfort and allowing it to be a crutch. My 18 month old nurses often and yet he handles himself quite well with lots of confidence. 🙂

    • avatar Joyce says:

      Very good points and I fully agree with you!! I was offended by Janet suggesting that nursing toddlers can’t cope with emotions, etc. I nurse my toddler on demand, and sometimes when he is hurt. Usually we talk about what happened, name emotions and feelings and move on. I would never say that nursing for comfort is at all paralleled whatsoever with overeating and alcoholism. This is another example of bottle feeding ‘rules’ being applied to breast feeding. A breastfed baby cannot be overhead or overweight. Also, those of us who breastfeed are not ‘lucky’. We choose to breastfeed and do what it takes to make it happen, including the hard work and sacrifices. There is only a small percentage of women who truly cannot breastfeed.

      • avatar janet says:

        Joyce, to be clear, I did not suggest that ALL toddlers who nurse on demand lack coping skills. I was sharing specifically about my observations in my weekly classes. These are intimate settings where we observe closely and learn a great deal. Healthy toddlers need to test boundaries, and if there are no boundaries around nursing, they will usually test this issue. If parents have difficulties with boundaries generally (because they don’t want to upset their child), the development of healthy coping ability is hindered.

        • avatar Lily says:

          Janet,
          I would like to tell you my whole story because it supports some points that you made. Unfortunately, I will break some privacy by sharing some things that my 16 year old would not wish for me to share. Additionally, this is a long and complicated situation. So I am going to be specific. My daughter’s father, my ex husband, had this idea of not allowing her to cry when she was born. The interesting part is she did cry a lot, so he would force her to my breast. In fac, he would wake her up to make her eat, which I believe had to do with some of her crying during the daytime. I did not know RIE, I only found out recently about RIE, and I wish I knew then, because she is now paying consequences because she is unable to handle emotions. She says crying is stupid. I and some other people are working on helping her understand and recognize her emotions and channel them appropiately. I love the idea of attachment, but not in terms of carrying a baby for 24 hrs. I see it more as building that intimacy between parent and child where communication is the outcome. I do have a second child, who did not spend much time with her father because by then we were divorced. She is more to speak about her emotions and thoughts and is very attached to me, in the sense that she understands that I am here when she needs me. Yes, children should cry, laugh, and even argue if they need too. And I do to support that eating and drinking should not be taught as a way of comforting emotions.

      • avatar WarriorGoddess says:

        Joyce, you seem very defensive for no apparent reason. Janet didn’t at all suggest that nursing toddlers can’t cope with emotions. She said that, in her experience, toddlers that have been taught that nursing is the only way to cope with emotions have a difficult time expressing emotions appropriately and moving on to the next activity. She also didn’t say that, across the board, nursing for comfort will lead to overeating and alcoholism. However, there *is* research to suggest that using nursing as the go-to comfort mechanism can indeed lead to oral fixation and, thus, overeating, alcoholism and even cigarette smoking. Finally, you are being incredibly insensitive to the mothers that cannot breastfeed. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t matter whether or not this is only a small percentage of women, this is a very real issue that is very painful for those of us unable to nurse. Your tone and the way you’ve worded your assertion is as defensive as it is judgmental.

    • avatar janet says:

      Brittany, please tell me where I said babies should “figure it out”. With all respect, that is a bizarre interpretation of my comments. What I suggest is that parents take a moment to “figure it out” (figure out what the baby is trying to communicate and how to best respond, that is), before reflexively deciding that the baby needs to nurse.

  2. avatar Lisa says:

    I am so confused about this “debate”. I am new to parenting and found the attachment parenting and have been trying to follow it. I wish people would be more specific with ages or children/babies. When do I stop comforting with nursing? My baby is 9 months old.

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Lisa. Probably best to ask that on a site (like Dr. Sears) that specializes in Attachment Parenting…

      • avatar Anita says:

        Janet: Dr. Sears is an extremist within the attachment parenting community it makes me sad that you didn’t read that those who have more exhaustive experience in additional aspects of attachment & emotional development besides just one aspect of parenting. I extended breastfed my children. BUT there was no Dr. Sears encouraging me to have my breasts ever ready to console 24/7. They all slept through the night by much less than 6 months old because they & I weren’t taught they needed the constant reassurance of the breast. Have you ever thought of what constantly waking does to one’s emotions? Both Mommy and child?

        • avatar janet says:

          Yes, I have thought of that, Ashley, and don’t recommend it! I’m not sure I understand what you are saying about Dr. Sears. He origninated Attachment Parenting.

    • avatar Emily says:

      Lisa, there are no rules. Trust your gut as a mother. If you want to comfort your baby, comfort your baby (or toddler, or child). Anyone else’s opinion is just noise.

  3. avatar Anna says:

    Hi,
    This may have been covered in another comment, but I have read all of Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, and he is in complete agreement (almost word-for-word) about the need for a baby to cry to blow off steam, or just to cry and need to be comforted in arms, as well as the question of ‘what is a baby crying out anyway?’ with the cry-it-out method. I say this because I don’t feel your premise of Attachment Parenting was correct, that the goal is a quiet baby. I think overwhelmingly the goal is an attached baby and person. A true recurring theme for the Sears family is for parents to parent with instinct under the heading of the attachment-fostering practices (they call them the Baby Bs) that would follow many of the attachment theory discoveries. They don’t specifically say to nurse whenever anything seems wrong or if any crying begins. They offer nursing as a sure comfort, but they offer many other options too. I think this aspect of Attachment Parenting has been over-simplified…

    Thanks,
    Anna

    • avatar janet says:

      Anna, thank you, I really appreciate your comment. I’m glad to hear that Dr.Sears has these rational, balanced opinions about crying. Why do you think so many of his followers misinterpret his approach? Does he encourage parents to wait a moment and really listen?

      • avatar Joyce says:

        Janet, just to cut to the point, have you not actually read the dr sears books, or have you just made assumptions on how you perceive AP parents to be? Anna makes very good points, and you seem surprised? I don’t really label myself as a type of parent but read and mostly follow AP and RIE parenting, but mainly my instincts, changing as we go along to suit our family, such as incorporating more RIE ideas as I learn about them. Still bf because its awesome and no reason to stop, etc.

        • avatar janet says:

          Joyce, did you happen to read the post I refer to (on Annie’s site PHD in Parenting)? My commentary began as a response to Annie’s post and her comments to readers. No, I have not read Dr. Sears’ books, only his website. Since Annie was/is a promiment AP blogger, I assumed that she was representing Sears’ approach accurately. My comments were a response to her understanding of AP. She did not take issue with my description at the beginnning of the post, so I can only conclude that she agreed with it. I have heard learned much more about AP since writing this post and would probably have phrased it differently…

  4. avatar Tara says:

    Yes, he does – that’s the whole point of “attachment” – that’s how I understood it from Sears’s books – it’s not about parents and babies being glued to each other 24/7 and smothering babies, but it’s about observing and understanding our children’s needs and if we are “in tune” with them we will almost always know what is the right thing to do.
    I’ve recently discovered your site and I love it, but I think you might be really misunderstanding the “attachment parenting” just as many parents out there. I’m sorry about that. Sears always points out that there is a huge difference between satisfying needs and wishes.
    When my son was a baby I always tried to understand what his needs were before offering breast, me or his dad just holding him, letting him be while being there or anything else.
    Now, when he is a bit older (3), if he cries I always ask him if he needs a hug, wants me to let him be or something else. He communicates perfectly and is able to recognise his own needs. I believe my understanding and applying the “attachment parenting” methods helped a lot in building our great parents-child relationship. I have just praise for the Sears’ books.

    *Excuse my English – I’m not a native speaker.

    • avatar Anna says:

      agreed! 🙂
      i just wrote a similar post.

  5. avatar michelle says:

    Janet,
    I am an API support group leader and
    I find this discussion fascinating.I think you are right that many AP followers do misinterpret the idea that not allowing a baby to Cry It Out means that a crying baby is never a good thing. It is, indeed, a misinterpretation. No CIO is intended to refer to not leaving a baby alone in a room to train the baby to go to sleep by crying until it is hopeless to elicit a response. One of the resources I read for my certification was Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter. Her theories are similar to Magda Gerber’s in saying that sometimes babies just need to cry. After all, don’t adults? :)The explosive TIME article on attachment parenting alerted its proponents to many other misunderstandings as well. AP is not meant to be a hard and fast method with a checklist – it is a theory of secure relationships ( and please include Gordon Neufeld with Sears) that is to be used as a “take what you need” guide. I glean so much positive input from your blog and FB account – thank you for your energy and encouragement! There are lots of parents who just need to keep being reminded of the GOOD and how to observe it.
    Peace,
    Michelle Dunne
    Ashburn VA API

  6. avatar Padmini Ram says:

    I find this whole debate slightly futile. It might serve an academic purpose of clearing out the stance of each style, but little more. The reason that there are so many styles of parenting out there is because we are different people with personalities of our own. To begin with there is no science to parenting; scientific facts hold true only till they are refuted. There might be commonsensical parameters supported by limited research. For clarifying my stance, I am more RIE than AP, actually I am more Montessori, or rather I draw from all philosophies. So, even if I were to be convinced by an argument that I need to sleep train, given my personality I might never actually be able to do it. I got a crib, I did try and follow the “rules”, but given our circumstances, it never worked. He just wouldn’t soothe himself, and I couldn’t bear to hear the crying. Infact, if he woke up slightly and I patted him back, he would fall asleep, but if I let him cry, he would be fully awake and then it would take an hour, sometimes more to get him back to sleep. If I lost sleep, I would constantly throw up the next day, so it was better I co-slept. Again, co-sleeping did not mean he was attached to my breast. Parenting is an equation very similar to marriage, where two unique personalities create a unique equation, so there can be no universal solution that fits everyone. I truly believe that there is no one great way to parent, but there can be many good ones. I think problems arise when people try and blindly stick to philosophies without any reflection or self-evaluation.

    • avatar janet says:

      Padmini, I couldn’t agree more: “I think problems arise when people try and blindly stick to philosophies without any reflection or self-evaluation.” Awareness, reflection and self-evaluation are what RIE is about. We offer a powerful tool for this: observation. If we WAIT and observe, we will be able to offer the most attuned response possible to our baby’s communication.

      I also appreciate your comment about parenting being a marriage of two unique personalities. This idea is at the core of the RIE Approach, along with the knowledge that with awareness and mindfulness we will create a far healthier partnership.

    • avatar Tammy says:

      I am Montessori (I own a school ages birth through Kindergarten), and when I first had my daughter (6.5 yrs ago!) I thought AP went well with Montessori. Then, as I learned more about both, they seemed to be in fairly opposite directions. From the AP parents I have seen (and we have many at my school) and the information I have read, AP seems to be more about meeting the parents needs, not the needs of the child. And I disagree with your comment that parenting is not scientific and there is no right way. Cognitive neuroscience has DEFINITELY shown us what babies/children truly need for development.

      Luckily for me (and you), all of Dr. Montessori’s philosophy that has been researched has met this high standard (and more is being researched and confirmed all of the time as this body of research is continuing to grow), and I have yet to learn of something in RIE and Magda Gerber which is in contrast to this, or in contrast to anything that Dr. Montessori wrote. It seems that Gerber expanded on Dr. Montessori’s work for the 0-3 age group. I do agree with you that you have to know yourself and your child. I also co-slept with my daughter, it allowed us both to sleep and has evolutionary components (again, science). But co-sleeping is not against Montessori (although some, like Paula Polk Lilliard have interpreted it this way, Dr. Montessori never wrote on that subject, she was anti-crib, not anti-co sleeping).

      Our AP children are typically the least securely attached, least independent, and the least “happy” of all of our students. Because they cannot cope with anything without a parent’s input (typically mom’s) they cannot handle the life situations they find themselves in. I am not saying that is true of all AP families, but in our experience, that has held pretty true. And I realize people are going to come down on me because they feel that children should be with their parents exclusively at this age-no school-but cognitive neuroscience just does not back them up. The 0-6 age group is the prime time for children to be learning social situations and be around peers, they actually lose their ability to learn about peers in the same way at around age 5 or 6. So, they do indeed need to be with other children at this age. Evolutionarily that was with the villages and large families, now we don’t have that option as much, so schools and parent/child classes must substitute (don’t get me wrong, not all programs are created equal and will adequately meet this need). A parent cannot recreate these social experiences. If you are interested in the neuroscience aspect of children, I would recommend Dr. Stephen Hughes’s website and vimeo page: http://www.goodatdoingthings.com/file/Welcome.html and http://vimeo.com/stevehughes and Dr. Adele Diamond’s work at: http://www.devcogneuro.com/ and Dr. Dee Joy Coulter’s work at: http://www.kindlingtouch.com/about.htm

  7. avatar lori says:

    I keep reading these statements that sometimes we all need to cry to feel better (babies/toddlers/adults)…but honestly, as an adult, I cry when none of my needs have been met and I’m exasperated or exhausted by a situation. The crying is the last thing I have left to cope – and it may help the situation pass and push me into a desensitization phase, but I wouldn’t choose for it to occur and it DEFINITELY doesn’t make me feel better. I can remember the times in my life that I’ve cried hard out of frustration and sadness and I don’t remember those times fondly. I would have preferred for my needs to have been met before the traumatizing cry session commenced. If we have the tools – one of which is nursing – to help children avoid this desperate emotion, why not use whatever we can? Why withhold a tool that historically and biologically has been used successfully for our species’ emotional and physical survival for thousands of years? Certainly hugs and talking might help for some children, but if nursing is the equivalent of “hugs and talking” for mothers who choose to do extended breastfeeding, why encourage them to change? If it’s simply the minor behavioral differences in toddlers comforted by nursing v. toddlers comforted by other means, I would bet that the nursed toddlers grow out of any “undesirable” behaviors once the nursing relationship is completed. At that point, hugs and talking take over, and the child is older and more able to understand these methods of comfort…and develops these coping skills when they are emotionally ready.

    • avatar Anna says:

      You might want to read more by Aletha Solter on control patterns to get insight in your behavior to avoid crying.

      There´s crying and crying. You might sink deeply into your crying and suffering, when you finally cry, so you´re not being able to cry freely, let the emotions flow through and feel fresh, instead of being stuck in what is called the victim role of a drama triangle. 🙂

  8. avatar Katrina says:

    Loved reading this debate. I orginally followed the theory of Attachment Parenting when I had my son 2 years ago, it seemed to fit the style of mom I was and I loved it! I have carried him in one type of baby-wearing-device all over the world, but now that he is a confident walker (and runner!) he is getting used to having to walk wherever we go (I never used a stroller, and still refuse to). We have co-slept since the day he was born, and still do so about 80% of the time. I breastfead him on demand for the first year, then weaned him over 6 months. Since then, I have begun reading your blog and gaining new perspective from the RIE philosophy. I have gained lots of insight about encouraging independent play – however I have to say that without much encouragement, I have one of the most confident and independent children out there. He does not shy away from strangers, he does not run to me or cry every time he trips and falls (only when its a true ouchie), and at the same time, we have a terrific mother-son bond. I definitely see the benefit in many “attachment parenting” practices, and believe that this has helped him become confident and secure in his world. At the same time, especially during this stage where his confidence and independence are so crucial to his happiness, I love the RIE philosophy- especially when it comes to eliminating screen/TV time and creating opportunities for exploration and independent achievement.

  9. avatar Anna says:

    Dear Janet, I love your blog. I had to comment on this blog post: it´s very often a misunderstanding within AP that babies always need to be nursed for comfort (after needs are met) and that babies shouldn´t cry. Dr Sears writes actually in his book, as well as some other ´AP speakers´ like Naomi Aldort, to have babies crying in arms and to validate a babies/child´s feelings.

    And then there´s Aware Parenting, an AP approach, by Aletha Solter which encourages crying-in-arms more and speaks of control patters (I know you sometimes quote Aletha Solter too, but just for the sake of being complete): in AwP the focus is more on the awareness of what a child is telling, to listen, give the child a voice, and becoming aware of what crying and other things evoke in ourselves.

    That said, I love this blog but I was a bit disappointed about the playpen! I think we leave children way to much alone in all those baby tools, like playpens and rockers and bouncers, to entertain themselves. I didn´t carry our baby 24/7 but I did attend him. I guess it´s the difference between AP and RIE.

  10. avatar New Mom says:

    Hello,
    I have so much going on in my head and heart. My baby is 2 1/2 months old. I am wondering how to know when the baby is hungry or not. The baby used to sleep more waking only to nurse it seemed but now is mainly awake as I am except for sleepy days. I try to keep calm as possible as I know how my energy level affect everything while trying to keep up with housework. Now it seems we’ve fallen into a nursing about every couple hours pattern which i think is normal If the baby falls asleep , baby will usually wake up to announce soiled diaper & then maybe cry again or want to nurse. Sometimes i think a diaper change is a demand for nursing, b”aby says a certain “word”. I find myself wondering if baby just needs more then & how it depends on what I have had a chance to e at. It seems I hardly have time to eat if baby isisn’t sleeping due to this pattern. Especially once i leave the bed, baby is “up”. Its not sustainable for me. I wonder how my daily intake of nutrition affects the quality of milk. I get worried baby just needs more to make up for it but I see I just need more time to take care & when i do , i notice baby has healthier poop (or at least thats my hope). How do i know when the baby is hungry?? I don’t like to feed while baby is crying, but how do i distinguish hunger cries. I worry waiting for crying to be ceased might be while baby is hungry. Especially if its every few hours & not much time inbetween depending on how long we nurse. I look forward to your reply.

    • avatar Emily says:

      If you’re not sure whether your baby is hungry or not, offer him food (nursing). If he takes it, he needs it – either for food or comfort. If not, then something else is bothering him. There is no need to overcomplicate it.

  11. avatar New Mom says:

    One last thought-

    How do we know we’re not “replacing” nursing, and I’m not sure how to separate the nutritive from not nutritive, with crying as a pattern??does that make sense? I worry if I listen to the crying & it was for food, that’s another unhelpful pattern I could create. Would crying not stop if it was for hunger but would for something else, this isnt coming out as clearly as i have time to wonder about. It makes me afraid a little to “try& listen”, such a big responsibility that i want to get it right. I know every baby is different as are the parents .

  12. avatar New Mom says:

    The “word” my baby says which has an attachment to nursing I think may be the motion of nursing in the mouth…also while nursing baby uses the finger to point at my finger/hand or babys head where i often put my arm or will try out different fingers , if both breasts are exposed baby will.put the finger on other nipple at times. I used to use the finger , mine, to help with latching on. But baby looks at me says the word & points the finger. The finger is a quieter version, on its own. The word can be more “calm” or more loud, desperate or demanding or clear. As baby latches on the word may be said right before latching, almost as if in the same breath. When crying more, baby.may only say second syllable.
    Just giving you more insight. I am.so curious for your answer.
    Right now particularly, I think it would be good to know about hunger vs not, but with a baby so young, how can i tell?& I want to understand what to do when we’ve had a long, hour, nusring, i go to change diaper & baby does this finger/word.
    The only thing i tried was laying next to baby with breast exposed trying to observe if it was hunger somehow but i worried that i would be “teasing”.if baby was too upset/temporarily forgot to latch. I guess it could always be that baby wants to suck also..it made no real sense as we both cried & i admit i felt guilty thinking about what you said if i dont figure it out-worrying the “comfort sucking”.could lead to problems later. I know you say sometimes sucking is the need. But if we’re laying with me exposed as i describe, if baby goes for babys fingers, i am.not sure what to make of it. Or if crying ceases, then on to comfort sucking, how to transition from my breast to babys fingers if that is the appropriate answer. So confusing sorting this out. Thank you, I appreciate your time.

  13. avatar New Mom says:

    Ok, another detail of my confusion.. Sometimes it seems baby can latch ok, other times wants me to help more, with the finger as i used to with the shield. I wish it were more clear if it was just a mood thing or what baby might be communicating.

  14. avatar New Mom says:

    I just can’t resist asking about elimination communication as it relates to communicating needs. If the baby communicates the need and its ignored but then elimination communication is started(which varies ) , i am seeing it as similar to communicating by crying and getting breast vs moving onto something else.

  15. avatar Julie says:

    Hi, I am very interested in this discussion and am happy that we are having it!

    My concern about not co-sleeping or giving a child the opportunity to nurse on demand is in relation to what the La Leche League has said in regards to breastfeeding and that is that the nipples need a fair bit of stimulation in order to keep up milk production.

    For those who wish to nurse beyond age 1 (as recommended by the WHO), I am concerned that less feeding may complicate breastfeeding for some and cause them to think that the have “dried up.”

    Does anyone have any research/evidence in regards to this. I have been reading many LLL posts and this is my current understanding.

    Julie

    • avatar Anita says:

      my children slept through the night before 6 months and I extended breast fed them well past a year & into their 2nd no one ever put the idea into my head that my body didn’t know how to produce for my child, therefore didn’t worry about it and had zero issues with production at any point and had no nipple soreness or plugged ducts or mastitis that I read younger mothers who do round the clock nursing for long amounts of time discuss.

      • avatar Robyn says:

        Anita, that’s not a fair comparison. You’re looking at your (n=1) experience vs. the filtered positives of the masses.

        Like Julie, I’ve also read about how the nipple stimulation of “non-nutritive” suckling increases supply. I’ve been able to apply this to myself and by inserting a pumping session during a known naptime created a false demand for that time of day, and increased my supply to accommodate that “feeding.” I store this pumped milk.

        I think if you look at EP (exclusive pumping) groups, you would find people more in tune with the stimulation/supply in a measurable way.

        I think the concern stated (and I share the concern), is that the stress on crying as an emotional release, along with discouraging “comfort nursing” could prevent a breastfeeding mother from responding to a true need to increase supply. This need could be to aid initial establishment, or simply be cluster feedings in preparation for growth spurts or longer sleep periods.

        And, Lisa above has a point: few parenting theories are willing to assign ages to thetheories and principles. Maybe this makes them sound more like universal truths, but for in this case for example, it wouldn’t seem surprising to have nursing play a different role for a newborn than a solid-food eating toddler.

        I think more of these discussions need to focus on not so much whether a particular tool is good or bad, but rather the different ways it can be used. Something such as rocking/bouncing/swinging your baby can either be a crutch to overload their senses so that they shut down and sleep, or it can be to ease gastrointestinal discomfort. If you have a particularly colicky baby, it could be that the overstimulation to the point of sleep to get a solid two hours is the only thing keeping you sane. (I have great sympathy for parents of babies with colic). If your baby is perfectly happy: true, there is no need for an hour in the bouncer, and it is an easy thing to give up. I could state similar arguments for babywearing, bedsharing, swaddling. All could be used to respond to a need in a way that I could see being compatible with (what I understand of) RIE, all could be a crutch, and all could be a last resort.

        I’d love to see more discussion about Timing, Duration, and Intention of parenting tools, instead of blanket yes/no.

        (I think this sounds more critical than I intend it, so for the record I am a fan of RIE.)

  16. avatar Lisa Witter says:

    I did my Masters thesis on the Attachment theory Bowlby/Ainsworth and have been so interested in their take on attachment parenting. Janet, at the conference in 2010 did Bowlby’s son say anything regarding the “child centered” approach or “on demand feeding” or other aspects of AP and their effect on attachment (secure, insecure)? I’ve found nothing that corolates AP and the Attachment theory but do find RIE info to be similar to Attachment Theory of Bowlby/Ainsworth, hence my question.

  17. avatar Michelle says:

    Janet, I didn’t read every comment, but I would love your feedback. When my daughter cries because she wants something or doesn’t want to put on her socks, etc. I talk to her and hold her and do not try to stop her crying or distract her etc. I stay with her and am present. However, when she cries for ME and cries “mommy, mommy, mommy” in the night I find it feels very different. I try to talk to her and comfort her and tell her how important it is to sleep, but she won’t let me go without continued crying of “mommy” in this instance. Do you find a difference between these needs, wants of hers? Is there ever a time to stay? And is it different that she is a toddler and not a baby? A toddler going through changes in childcare and a move…

  18. avatar The Nanny says:

    I work with a family of three children on Friday and Saturday (Mon-Thurs I’m a child therapist). The mother of the children I work with is an avid breast feeding advocate.

    Recently the family and I went to a theme park and by 10:00pm everyone was exhausted and hungry. The older two girls (10 and 8) were really upset because they had to sit in the car for an additional 15 minutes while their little sister was getting nursed. She turned two over two months ago… and was offered the same snack as everyone else in the car.

    The mother was upset and said “she eats boob, so you are just going to have to wait”. The thing is that the 2 year old’s WANT to be nursed was considered over the needs of everyone else in the car including the other two children.

    If the reason for the mother to nurse her two year old was for feeding reasons – all of her children’s needs could have been met by giving them the same snack and going home and having a meal/nursing there. However, the mother is such a breast feeding advocate that she sometimes can’t see that she is putting the wants of a child over the needs of all.

    This particular two year old is unable to appropriately cope and throws tantrums around her mother when she wants things. However, she is much better behaved when in my care and I believe it is because she know’s she is in control of their relationship.

    I think nursing on demand is perfect for infants, but as a child gets older and it is not a required food source it’s not ok to let a child engage and win in a power struggle with the mother or other family members through nursing. It is ok for the mother to dictate that nursing needs to be delayed for 15 minutes so that everyone can eat.

  19. avatar Rosie says:

    Hi Janet, just wanted to say THANK YOU for tackling this sticky subject head-on. I am completely on board with your standpoint (coming from an Aware Parenting perspective) and have always felt that this is such a major downfall in the Attachment Parenting philosophy. You have addressed the issue as eloquently as possible, I am sorry that your words have been misunderstood by so many, but I trust you are not discouraged, I can hear the conviction in your argument and I applaud you!! Something that I’ve found helpful from AwP teachings is a term for what happens when babies / children come to rely on something to prevent them from crying (breast, bottle etc). It’s called a ‘Control Pattern’ and means the same thing as a crutch or a vice. And to those who doubt the correlation between responding to babies in this way, and overeating/alcoholism… It’s REAL, people! Think about it!! You only have to look around to see the evidence. Thanks again, Janet, you rock!

  20. avatar Whitney says:

    “Should babies learn that when they are upset they need to eat or drink to feel better? Ask the overeaters or alcoholics you know about eating and drinking for comfort!”

    I really respect most of your advice and ideas on parenting. However, I simply have trouble believing that you can compare an infant to an alcoholic or adult overeater. There is so much research on the benefits of nursing for comfort, including that smaller babies receive more calories and it is a proven pain reliever. I wish you wouldn’t mislead new parents like this and make those who nurse for comfort because they believe in its researched, proven benefits feel judged or guilty, like they are going to harm their child in the long run. Again, I do really appreciate this blog overall, especially your ideas for parenting toddlers and respecting babies and toddlers and thank you for all the work, but I wish you would revise this statement.

  21. avatar Nadia says:

    I really like your posts on facebook and tend to read them and find myself nodding or feeling like you really strive to respect infants/children and I resonate with that. But this post feels very different from that. YOu come off as ill informed and quite judgmental. One woman blogging about a parenting style does not capture or represent that parenting philosophy. YOu have taken the extreme and posted quite judgmental comments about it. Crying it out refers to letting infants cry in their cribs/beds as a way to get them to learn to sleep. Inspired by Dr. Spock’s book it deals with sleep training infants by letting them cry it out. It is a very specific context for crying. ANd one that most intuitive, heart centred parents find hard to stomach. It’s more to do with teh challenges of sleeping than anything else. Crying, in general, is not seen as a bad thing in attachment parenting. It is a way that babies communicate their needs. And an effective way, built to keep babies alive/get their needs met. And parents who feel like attachment parenting resonates with them, tend to respond to crying babies. They are attuned to their babies and they respond when they cry. With hugs or cuddles or their loving presence. They are highly attuned. and they are there to comfort their children. This is the essence of attachment parenting. Be attuned. Be close. Not “nurse when your child cries”. I don’t know any parent who ascribes to that formula. It’s a tool among others that moms use when their child is upset – nursing on demand. As in when your infant is hungry, not on a schedule. This is the main point on nursing that moms who are attachment parents ascribe to. Don’t listen to others about when to feed your baby. Listen to your baby. Listen to his or her hunger cues. REspond lovingly. THat to me is also the essence of RIE. Pay attentiont o your baby, respect your baby’s cues and respect their level of interest int he world and encourage them to engage in the world rather than feeling th eneed to engage with them. I did not know about RIE when my kids were babies, but I really like this approach and I think it’s a great reminder to treat babies as people. To respect where they are at. That is not at all in opposition to attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is not about always carrying or nursing your baby, or nursing all the time. It’s about responding to your baby’s cues to be picked up or nursed. i feel like a good balance between the two approaches is ideal… I felt like you really misinterpreted the basis of attachment parenting (without apparently having read much about it) and that you also don’t understand the very basic aspect of what “cry it out” refers to. which HAS been shown to be damaging to kids’ emotional well being – to leave them crying alone in a dark room to learn to sleep. there is not debate about that. both parenting styles are based on loving responsiveness and RIE goes a bit deeper to loving respect for your baby as an autonomous person who you can thrive with some space and time and calm to figure out what they are interested in.

    • avatar Leela says:

      This is said perfectly. Thank you. I completely agree that balancing RIE and AP makes for great parenting!

  22. avatar Ruth hale says:

    http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/principles.php

    Hey Janet, I love your posts they always bring clarity. I posted the link above because that is real AP parenting, please ignore sears advice it can bring so much anxiety to moms myself included. This is AP blends much better with RIE and is much healthier than the sears approach.
    I also wanted to add I am becoming a lactation educator and for the newborn stage it’s extremely important to meet all sucking demand especially during the first 72hrs. Infants are actually born full but have a job to suck (it is how they remove meconium from their bodies and build up their mothers prolactin receptors that will increase her milk volume. On moms side it helps the mother contract her uterus back to size)

    • avatar janet says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Ruth. I appreciate your point about newborns. Is Dr. Sears no longer connected to Attachment Parenting? I thought it was his approach.

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