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 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.

176 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Janet, you make a lot of sense. I wish I’d heard some of this when my first baby was born. It was a difficult pregnancy, she was only 4-1/2 pounds out of the shoot, and we almost lost her. For the first few years of her life, I couldn’t stand to hear her cry. Could. Not. Stand. It. So, of course, if she was even slightly upset, I would oblige. (We were certainly attached!) And it worked. She felt better, I felt better.

    As she got older, I replaced nipples with food. It just sort of evolved that way. She wasn’t the happiest kid, and eating would always calm her down. She’s quite heavy now. Okay, fat. Food is definitely her drug of choice, and she can’t seem to moderate. She feels bad about herself, and so she eats more. It sounds funny, but she is most comfortable in the world with something in her mouth. I’ve always suspected maybe all that breast feeding had something to do with it. My other two kids were not breast fed (for physical not philosophical reasons) and they aren’t so focused on food.

    Anyway, hindsight is 20-20. Otherwise, I am a fantabulous mother!

    – Grace

    1. Grace, thank you for sharing your story!

      Every mother knows how tempting it is to use the breast to quiet a baby’s cry. It’s so much harder to calm ourselves, and take the time to figure out what a baby really needs, when we can both feel better in an instant! There are few among us who have not nursed a baby for comfort , or as a sleep remedy.

      There is only one thing I know for certain about parenting — that parents should never, ever feel guilt. We all love our children. We are all certain to make many mistakes. Thankfully, children are hugely resilient.

      Your insights and honesty make you a fantabulous mother indeed.

  2. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for posting this. At the beginning of your post here you remarked: “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 hadn’t realized that was the impression you got or what prompted you to comment. The “No Cry” series of sleep books is founded on the concept that you can help your child learn to go to sleep without having to leave them to cry themselves to sleep.

    I agree that not all crying is bad. I would never say that the goal of attachment parenting is a quiet baby at all costs or that a quieted child is a securely attached child.

    However, I do believe that it goes against the principles of attachment parenting to lock your child in a dark room and let them cry themselves to sleep.

    1. Hi Annie,

      What I responded to originally was the sense that you were presenting two extremes — a child is either left abandoned to cry, or nursed at every peep.

      What I have learned is that the healthiest and safest way to treat a baby at bedtime — or anytime — is with respect. That might mean allowing a baby to release tension by crying. It might mean giving a last feeding before bed, and maybe the baby falls asleep at the nipple, but wakes up a few minutes later needing a burp. It might mean dealing with a colicky baby, as I did, who needed to cry for one to two hours in the middle of the night almost every night. Nothing could soothe him, and the last thing he needed was more nursing. I would talk to him, acknowledging his distress and letting him know that I wished I could help somehow, but it was okay with me if he needed to cry. I was thankful for the support I had been given to not panic when he cried endlessly, and to not feel like a terrible mother.

      Parents need to know that when babies cry, their goal is not to silence them. They need support to be able to calm down enough to acknowledge the child’s feelings and find out what is being communicated. Children need to know right away that parents can handle hearing their feelings. We don’t always know what an infant is asking when he cries, unless we ask the baby, ask ourselves, and wait a little while. If we assume that the baby asks for milk at the breast whenever he cries, we are not allowing him to ever express feelings.

      You say that nursing is not only for food, but the child knows he is drinking milk at the breast. Offering the breast is offering food. In infant expert Magda Gerber’s words, “[to] use food as a means to soothe, to overcome tiredness, to eliminate discomfort or pain, can create unhealthy habits for a whole lifetime.”

      Thank you again for your permission to post our dialogue!

      1. Janet,

        You said “Parents need to know that when babies cry, their goal is not to silence them.”. Perhaps, but parents also need to know that babies cry to communicate. This is their primary means of communicating. Often (not always) when they are crying, it is because of an immediate need that they have that the parent can meet. Ignoring those cries, or responding to the cries but not with what you know the baby needs, sends them the message that their needs are not important. It tells them that they do not know what is good for them and they should let others tell them what they need/what they should do. I think it promotes dependence and teaches them to bury their own needs and feelings. I don’t think there are two extremes, but I do think that parents need to learn to listen to their children and not just decide what is best for them.

        With regards to nursing always being food, when a baby is comfort nursing that is called non-nutritive sucking. There is, in fact, very little milk being passed through to the baby. It is not much different than using a pacifier, except that it isn’t sucking on a piece of plastic that is made to replicate the breast and has many other benefits beyond just the comfort aspect. Some babies have a strong need to suck and others don’t. Again, it is about listening to your child. Not every child is the same.

        If you asked her, my daughter would tell you quite clearly that nursing is not food. Nursing is not drink. Nursing is nursing. (Certainly for a baby it is both, but it isn’t always about food)

        Annie

        1. Annie,

          I completely agree with your first paragraph! But I think you contradict yourself. You are assuming that when a baby cries, he needs to nurse. You are not taking the time to think beyond that and truly listen. Once the baby is on the breast he usually stops crying immediately — we have fixed him — but that does not mean we have addressed his real need. It’s impossible to communicate further once the breast is in the mouth, and the baby calms down in an instant, so we’ll never know. Did he have pain? Was he just exhausted, overstimulated? A baby is soon conditioned to expect to drink from the breast any time he cries. And he uses the breast for reasons beyond nourishment — tiredness, distraction from pain, etc., because a mother creates that need through conditioning.

          The difference in our points-of-view is that you believe using breastfeeding to soothe all ills is healthy conditioning, and I do not. I believe that a loving response to needs other than hunger is actually listening to the tears and the pain — not caving in to do what’s easy every time — working to find a real solution. That’s what I would want from my parents, my husband and my friends. I’d want them to really pay attention to me. And I’d want them to hear my pain, not quick-fix it. Babies deserve the same respect.

          1. avatar Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

            Janet:

            I don’t think I ever contradicted myself. I don’t assume that every time a baby cries he needs to nurse.

            However, if the parent knows that the baby needs to nurse AND decides that a different method of comfort is “more appropriate” then that is not a loving response.

            It would be like me being upset and telling my husband that I really need a hug and him deciding that he wants to pat me on the head instead. Or if I’m sick and really want a bowl of chicken noodle soup and he decides a hot water bottle will be more useful.

            I agree that children want their parents to really pay attention to them. My issue is when parents don’t do that and ignore what their child is trying to say to them.

            Just to reiterate, I never said nursing is always the first and best approach. It is, however, an appropriate and respectful approach if that is what the child needs.

            1. I would also add that there are components of breast milk known to have soothing effects and are pain relievers. The skin-to-skin contact that breastfeeding provides stimulates the release of hormones known to relax and promote sleep in both the mom and baby. Babies cannot be forced to breastfeed if they do not want to breastfeed.

              The statement from Magda Gerber above does not take any of the known substances found in breast milk into consideration such as immunities which the baby needs when sick, the hormones to relax a tired baby or child, or relieve pain. There is a study that shows if a baby is breastfed while being given a vaccine there seems to be less distress and pain. I have breastfed my daughter in the ER while blood was being taken and during other procedures – she did great and was able to cope well beyond her years.

              Though as parents we do not always know when a child is getting sick or going through a growth spurt or a development phase other than their need to nurse more. Sometimes the illness is stopped by the nursing before it become obvious. It is amazing. So as a parent who is aware of this, I cannot deny my child a chance to nurse because of the idea that breastfeeding is only for nutrition and will teach bad habits.

              I would also be interested to know how much Magda Gerber understood about breastfeeding and breast milk. From what I have briefly read, she sounds very insightful, yet she lived during a time when breastfeeding rates were very low and little was known about breast milk. I wonder if she breastfed her own children. I also wonder if her statement was meant more towards “topping off” a bottle fed baby or giving food first for crying rather than a comment directed at breastfeeding.

        2. PhD in parenting says it all to me. Very telling. I Ferberized, did not breast feed (for ppd reasons), had her in daycare at 3 months, and allowed her to cry when it seemed appropriate. While every good parent thinks their child is amazing, mine has a highly superior IQ, hasn’t missed school for sickness in five years, and is generally very well adjusted. Explain that.

          1. Sometimes people fall from the 4th floor of a building and don’t die. Explain that.
            Got it? It’s just luck. You have a very intelligent child, and that’s great. Maybe it’s in her genes. Maybe she would be even smarter if she was breastfed. Who knows?
            But no one can prove anything with just ONE example.

        3. If you are a mother, surely you know that often children do not know what is best for them. Really? You are giving them reasoning power that they simply do not have. If they are starving, wet, etc., okay, but if you have done your best to meet all their needs, maybe they just need to cry and be held.

      2. Hi, I just wanted to weigh in on the theme of breastfeeding being food or something more.

        I am coming from a place of middle ground between AP and RIE and practise with my child the tenets of each that make sense to me and work for both of us.

        My son is almost 7 months old and is breast and bottle-fed.

        I have a number of ways of dealing with his crying. None of my choices are about stopping the sound of his cries, they are about making him feel better so he does not need to cry. If he is mildly upset I will talk to him encouraging and soothingly, asking if he is okay and telling him I’m here. If he seems more distressed I will also encourage him to crawl to me and if he does so, pick him up and cuddle him, if he is very distressed and too overwhelmed to crawl I will pick him up and rock him.

        To my original point, when my son is distressed, offering a bottle is universally met with head turning away and even elevated cries even if the teat is put into his open mouth and he is allowed to taste the milk that drips out. This same child, however, when held while distressed will often squirm himself down toward the breast and eagerly attach to comfort himself. I hope the previous paragraph convinces you that I have not trained this behaviour into him but he genuinely enjoys to suckle at the breast for a reason try different to food.

        I can see that when weaning it could be dangerous to replace the breast with another “mouth occupier” but if this is avoided I think comfort nursing is appropriate when you are giving the child what he seeks, not jamming his mouth shut to appease your own ears.

        1. This sounds really great to me, Karen. You are being thoughtful in your responses rather than “knee-jerk” reacting.

        2. Totally reasonable. Everything you said seems educated, logical, and coming from a place of love that is not overly burdened with unreasonable emotional.

      3. I’ve never found that I disagree with your writing, and I’m agreeing with most of this post… but it’s just not factually accurate to say that a child nursing is drinking milk. It’s just not.

        One example that is obvious of a young one nursing and obviously not getting milk is during pregnancy. My daughter was 18 mos when I became pregnant with her brother. My milk dried up about 4 mos, which tends to be pretty average, and she continued to nurse. She was a fantastic kid with a lot of sensory issues and nursing was comforting for her. but she wasn’t nursing for milk — there wasn’t milk to be had!

        Outside of pregnancy, it’s still a misunderstanding to think nursing = milk.

        It was a bit odd to read your dialogue. It felt as though you were so adamant to be “right,” about this issue that you didn’t concern yourself with contrary ideas.

        I’ve yet to meet an AP mom whose goal was to silence their baby’s crying. I’m sure they exist, just as the mom who sticks a pacifier in their baby’s mouth at the first peep exists.

    2. Grace, you are very insightful. None of it is your fault. I suspect you know that. We do the best we can with the tools we have at the time. We all damage our children in some way, it is inevitable. We do our best. Her struggles will make her stronger and more empathetic to others if channeled in a positive way. I say this as a woman who used to weigh close to 300 pounds.

  3. This has been quite a lively debate, and a good one. Exchange of ideas, especially those that are at odds with one another eventually give rise (in most instances) for an end result for the betterment of the subject matter. I was intrigued by it all, on both sides, and realize of course that I never nursed. Nevertheless, I have always thought myself to be an attentive father since the day my son was born. I believed in the importance of kissing our son, talking to him, touching him, all to cement that bond. And thank goodness my wife agreed that I should be part of that process as well. My wife breast fed but she also pumped, so I had my opportunities to offer the nipple so to speak. But aside from that, and perhaps I am in a world unto myself, I believe there are different cries. It has been my experience that there is a difference between a baby in distress and a baby who is just a little finicky. There were times when I coddled him, other times that I simply stood over him or lied next to him and patted or rubbed his back while talking to him and there were other times that I let him cry for a while. I don’t believe he ever felt abandoned or not cared for, and he never became accustomed to being picked up at the drop of a dime. As he grew up I never changed my philosophy. There were times I had to discipline him and I did. But I employed the exact same technique. While I did what I had to do, I always touched him just as I did when he was an infant. While I reprimanded him with my voice, I sent love and security through my touch. Now that my son is full grown and a man himself, I act no differently and am certain that he would readily agree that he has appreciated and benefited from both. While I am not a child educator and certainly do not profess to know more than those of you who have opined here, I have always had a certain fascination for old fashion common sense. I see obesity and alcoholism today, I see self-indulgence to the point self-destruction, I see a world of entitlement. I can’t help but to wonder when it begins and what role we play in it. Being a traditionalist, I guess I believe that our job is not only to provide comfort, security and nurturing, but also to lead, educate and pattern. I have always said that my report card as a father will be my son himself. If you can agree to such a notion, I would propose that the kids, teens, and young adults of today are report cards on us all, but on a grander scale. I guess along with so many other things, these are difficult questions for difficult times. Respectfully submitted.

    1. Ed,

      A very thoughtful response and I couldn’t agree more. Part of learning to communicate with our children is understanding that there are different cries (because it IS their main means of communication) and understanding what each means. I started out as an absolutely ‘no cry at all costs’ parent with my 1st and at 8 weeks she was so exhausted from not getting more than an hour of sleep at a time she hit a wall and NOTHING I did soothed her (not even the breast). The only option I had was to walk away. She cried (her exhausted cry) for about 20 minutes before falling asleep and sleeping for 6 hours!!! Once I realized what she really needed (sleep) and was willing to give it to her she was a much happier, well rested, extremely attached baby (now toddler). The breast is certainly an easy option to soothe and quiet the crying but it is not always what they need or want. Luckily my 2nd is more clear with me and if I offer him the breast when he needs/wants something else he clearly refuses and lets me know!!
      I too, appreciate the respectful dialogue. It’s so nice to see differing sides discussing in an open, respectful manner, rather than resorting to name-calling and anger. Thanks for the thoughtful dialogue!

  4. My first child was colicky and high needs, and I ran into the situation where nothing that I did could calm her. There were also situations that I subjected her to that I knew would cause her to cry, like car trips, during which she screamed inconsolably. I did my best to minimize it and meet her needs as they were expressed, however my success was limited until she got a little older and better organized.

    During the crying time I learned that it is not my responsibility to stop my child from crying. I really WANTED to stop her from crying, but I couldn’t. I did my due diligence to be sure that she was healthy and not in obvious pain, and then I held her and was present with her. Having that experience changed my perspective on a child’s crying, away from ‘something is obviously wrong’ to ‘I will be here for you and do my best, but you might just need to cry right now’.

    I nurse my toddlers on demand, and I don’t see anything wrong with doing so. But I also agree that not crying is not the goal. Even the attachment parenting statistics only promise LESS crying on average. That does not mean that your baby won’t cry, or that your particular baby will benefit in the same way as another baby will. Like adults, babies are individuals and there is no one size fits all approach.

    1. Ed and Amber,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    2. avatar Mary Slocum says:

      I believe that Amber has made a very important observation that all the parenting books seem to have missed; all infants, all toddlers, are different. They, as human beings, are all born with different personalities. As influential and powerful as we adults/parents would like to believe we are, no matter what we do, it will not change who they are. I have raised three children and they are all different and have been since the day they were born. My oldest son NEVER cried (except as a newborn when he was hungry), he showed an uncanny understanding of his own emotions and those of others at a very young age (2) and was exclusively breastfed for nutrition and comfort. I was in tune with his every need from the day he was born and at 20 he is still a very giving, loving, easy going man. My middle daughter cried incessantly from birth until she was three, never slept, was contentious, stubborn, insensitive to others and only by the grace of God (and my own stubbornness), she is now an amazing, wonderful, headstrong, independent, I’ll-do-it-my-way-even-if-it’s-the-hard-way teenager. She was also breastfed exclusively for nutrition and comfort, until she was 15 months old and one day refused to unlatch; the thought of her clamping down with her teeth to get her way was enough for me! My third child was very sweet and content, was breastfed the same as the other two, but the day after he turned one, he refused to nurse ever again. He refused to eat baby food, is the only one of my children that sucked his fingers, had many “blankies” (usually thin, soft nightshirts of mine or a soft T-shirt, carefully picked by him for it’s softness). He stopped letting me see him naked at 5 (the only modest one). Now at 15 he’s brilliant beyond belief, is a straight A student, plays drums, crochets (and sews) and has never had an argument or fight with his brother or sister. Even though they were all breastfed on demand, as much as they needed/wanted and for comfort, even though they were carried on my hip exclusively until they were four and even though they slept with us in our bed off and on until they stopped, they are all lean, healthy, independent and have always been in control of their emotions and understanding of other’s emotions.
      My advice to all parents is this: see your infant as an individual and pay attention to their signals. Communicate with them through touch and words. When you speak to them, speak TO them, not AT them. When you listen to them, HEAR them and always talk to them and treat them with respect. Teach them compassion and that when they hurt someone encourage them to give that person comfort, not an instant apology (a heartfelt and sincere apology will quickly follow). No book, or method, is right for every child and sometimes NOTHING works(trust me on this). Just follow your instincts, be loving but FIRM and most of all, enjoy them and believe that all they really want to do is please you and be recognized as the unique individual that they are.

      1. Mary, thank you for the wonderful advice and beautiful last paragraph. I only disagree that books do not encourage parents to view each infant as a unique individual and respect their needs as such. Magda Gerber’s books: Your Self-Confident Baby, and Dear Parent:Caring For Infants With Respect, are all about respecting an infant’s individuality.

        Yes, our children have unique personalities, and they each bring out individual responses in us, but I believe it is up to parents to help foster the healthiest behavior patterns for our children that we possibly can. We do have an effect on the development of healthy coping skills, our child’s sense of security, and the comfort he feels expressing feelings (which are deeply a part of who he is). Children need to know that we can handle listening to all of their feelings, not just the pleasant ones. That is real listening, respectful listening, and it starts when an infant cries.

      2. Mary, your advice is wonderful and exactly how I’ve come to parent. Thank you and I hope your advice makes an impression on many parents who seek guidance here 🙂

  5. Annie,

    One thing that has been clear all along is that neither of us is suggesting ignoring a baby, so let’s please drop that from the discussion!

    Yes, of course, nursing is always the best approach if a child needs nourishment, and most have us have done it for comfort as well. I would still caution parents to recognize the needs and habits we create for a baby. Some may not serve a child well in the long term. Later, the child may have to break a habit we’ve created for him.

    I have a problem with your analogy, since I think a pat on the head is patronizing and demeaning for anyone, adult or child! So, it’s hard for me to get beyond that… To me, the analogy is offering me a hot fudge sundae when I have a headache. The sundae doesn’t help the headache, but it is delicious and I accept it gratefully. After that happens a few more times, I now feel I need a hot fudge sundae every time I have a headache.

    I am trying to lighten us up a bit here, because I really have enjoyed our discussion. I’m not ending this if you have more to say, but it seems that we will continue to disagree where we disagree…and that’s okay with me.

    Thanks again for participating here!
    Janet

    1. I think that’s an unfair comparison, Janet. As a mother who breasfed her son for over an year, I can tell you this- if a child does not want the nipple, he/she will NOT accept it, no matter what. Period. And I say this from my experience as well as anecdotes and experiences shared by many other mums who have breast fed for extended time. So the theory that breast feeding will teach a child to over eat is a bit TOO far fetched I think.
      My son was completely weaned at 14 months -tearlessly and very gradually- and while he did run to me to be comforted at the breast before being weaned, he does not run to eat something every time he is upset. Actually, never. He tells me exactly how he is feeling, gets a hug maybe, and then he is off.
      S the whole premise on which this argument is based, seems a bit skewed to me. I understand your concerns about AP with a child who cannot be breasfed. But having said that, AP isn’t synonymous with breast feeding. Yes, it wholeheartedly encourages it, but does not say that you’ve failed if you never breasfed. I’m sure that an adoptive mother could just as well be an AP mum and to me, that’s the beauty of it. Keeping it simple, instinctive and as true to nature as possible couldn’t go very wrong.
      Great website! And l loved the discussion. Keep up the good work!

      1. My breastefed on demand children also do not turn to food to soothe their upsets. In fact, as breastmilk and skin to skin contact transmit components which lessen pain and soothe nerves, a better analogy would be one of offering some Tylenol and a neck rub to soothe a headache (as opposed the the hot fudge sundae analogy).

        Poornima’s point regarding AP, breastfeeding, and adoptive children is well made. In fact, Dr. and Mrs. Sears’ youngest daughter is adopted.

        In reading the discussion between Janet and Annie, it seems to me that there is actually very little in the way of disagreement, but much in the way of misunderstanding of what the tenets of the differing philosophies actually are. In fact, what both approaches are saying is that it is vital for parents and children to bond closely and for parents to carefully observe their individual child and, by doing so, get to know that child and their needs/personality so that they may respond sensitively to their child in the way that is best for that individual child.

        1. She was just using the food analogy because that proves her point in a passive aggressive way.

  6. I read through this whole debate. I’m currently nursing a toddler and an infant (2 years and 7 months, respectively). I nurse my toddler somewhat on demand. That is, if she is upset, nursing isn’t my automatic response even if she asks. I will offer cuddles, kisses, stories, etc. Or, if I think she’s hungry — food, if she’s bored — a game, if she’s tired — bed. Sometimes, though, you need to nurse. If the child is beyond upset, nursing can calm the child so that you can then talk about their feelings. If they’re not in a mood to pay attention, nursing can bring them back so that you can have a conversation. I know when my toddler is very tired or upset, she will just cry and not look at me or answer me if I try to ask her what is wrong. It has nothing to do with me “not communicating” with her or “not trying to find out what she needs,” and yes, sometimes I do just let her cry, if I can’t fix it. But nursing is still a parenting tool I am very happy to have. And I don’t think she associates food with comfort because although she will ask to nurse if she’s very upset, she finds comfort also in being held, carried, snuggled — but NOT in any other type of food. Then again I’m not shoving a breast in her mouth at every turn, it’s just ONE of my comforting tools. It depends on how it is used. Children will not NEVER cry. But just because some parents may, well-meaning, misuse the nursing relationship doesn’t mean that toddlers should not be nursed or should not use it as comfort.

    1. Hi Kate,

      Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for commenting so honestly and thoughtfully.

      I do not believe that toddlers should not be nursed. But I encourage the parents in my classes to be clear with their nursing toddlers, and give boundaries for nursing, at least during the class time. I recommend asking the child if they would like to nurse when they first arrive as part of the transition to being in class, and then tell them they will not nurse again until after class.

      If parents do not set these limits, the child does not feel free to play and is constantly distracted by the presence of the mother and the need to test her to see if she will allow him to nurse again.

      I feel sorry for those children, because their mothers have created a dependency that interferes with the child’s ability to play, explore and and socialize. I have the sense that these children’s abilities are underestimated by the parent. Some have strong personalities, but they act as if they are helpless when they could be secure and confident. They seem unfree.

      It sounds like you have found a comfortable balance for yourself and your child. I think it’s important for all of us to question the way we parent, and be mindful of the pitfalls of any child-rearing approach we might adopt. I really appreciate hearing your views!

      – Janet

  7. To the comments about breasfeeding and overeating later in life I think it’s important to note that breastfeeding has actually been shown to LOWER a child’s chances of becoming obese as an adult…
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081028074319.htm
    Feeding on demand teaches a child to eat when they feel hungry.

    1. Angie,

      I also read this study on obesity that compares breastfeeding to bottlefeeding. Thank you for adding the link.

      I especially appreciate the conclusion:

      [w]ith breast-feeding, the ability to measure in ounces how much a baby has eaten isn’t there, so mothers can become more in tune with when their babies are done eating and babies are able to develop their own internal cues to signal when they feel full.

      While some women may choose not to breastfeed, Isselmann says it’s important to encourage mothers who bottle-feed to adopt more infant-focused feeding habits exhibited by mothers who breastfeed.

      Yes! Our job as parents and caregivers is to be “in tune” with a baby’s needs. It is understandably more natural for breastfeeding mothers to be in tune to a child’s fullness – another great reason to breastfeed for those lucky enough to do so! But, the key here is not about breastfeeding, it’s about being tuned in and infant-focused. That means feeding babies (by breast or bottle) on demand when they are hungry, and stopping the moment they signal they are finished. It means taking the time to sensitively observe our baby and really listen to what they are attempting to communicate. It doesn’t mean putting milk into a baby’s mouth every time he cries.

      1. Great debate! However, as a mom who feels in tune with both schools of thought, I’m frustrated by the way you keep saying that AP is about “putting milk into a baby’s mouth every time he cries” or plugging a mouth with a boob. I think this is like saying that REI is about putting a child into a pen in a yard and ignoring them– it’s a gross mis-characterization based on what it might appear that attachment parenting is about but that isn’t at all accurate. Same goes for the idea that babywearing means confining a baby to a carrier– for most parents I think it just means that a baby spends time in a carrier that she might otherwise spend in a bouncy seat, a stroller, a crib, or in arms. My baby has always very assertively told me when she wants to nurse and be carried AND when she doesn’t, and I’ve been very happy to listen to both. Let’s not create a false dichotomy between philosophies based on exaggerated views of what they involve!

        1. Maya, I do not believe that AP is about “putting milk into a baby’s mouth every time she cries.” However, many seem to interpret AP this way. This was my sense from Annie’s comments, and educators within Attachment Parenting circles have shared similar impressions… Here is what Dr. Laura Markham (an Attachment Parenting advocate and psychologist) commented on her Facebook page:

          “Here is where I differ from the way attachment is often practiced. I do not think that stopping the baby from crying is the primary goal. I think meeting her needs is the primary goal…”

          “…babies need to offload these feelings just as three year olds and thirty year olds, do. And if you have ever had anyone hold you and listen while you cried, you know just what a sacred gift this is.”

          Also, you may not have read Aware Parenting educator Genevieve’s comment (below):

          “I breastfed, carried in slings and co-slept (first 3 years) with both my children. Becoming a parent I was clear that I wanted (a) to meet my child’s needs on cue and (b) avoid repressing my child’s emotional expression. I found this balance easy to get because I was so aware from the beginning that crying is one of a babies basic needs. I’ve never left either of my babies to cry alone or unheld.

          In my social circles, I tended to be surrounded by AP families and nearly all of them put their baby on the breast every time they needed to cry for any reason at all, without thinking, just out of habit. I could see there was an inherent belief Child crying = child needs to nurse. I watched babies resisting and pulling off in an attempt to continue crying and being offered the breast again and again, the baby surrenders because that’s the only form that mum’s calm attention is being offered. Invariably the babies have developed dependency on the breast for comfort with every hurt, bump, stress of overstimulation, tiredness and disappointment.”

          So, Maya, this may not be the way you practice Attachment Parenting. Others do. I’m wondering… Is this because Dr. Sears does not caution parents about using nursing as a default comfort tool? Did he understand that infants need to communicate and express feelings when they cry?

          1. Interesting… I guess I never thought of forcing the boob. I might offer it as one of my default options, because at a young age I don’t see any other way to determine what my daughter wants, but my daughter has always been so assertive about NOT nursing when she doesn’t want to nurse that I guess I never thought forcing it was an option. The La Leche League book does say something like “nursing may not always be the question, but it is often the answer” (i.e., it comforts a child even though the child may not have been crying because she was hungry), which could lead to parents ignoring a child’s actual emotions, but at the same time LLL emphasizes that our role is to OFFER (and listen to what our babies tell us), not to force. I still think that the analogy to misconceptions of RIE (that parents just leave their kids alone in a pen) is apt, because while I can imagine that a few parents might misinterpret RIE as license to ignore, it very much is not… just as offering the boob as a default option shouldn’t be the same as ignoring and suppressing emotions, regardless of whether some parents practice it this way.

            Side note– I actually found, when my daughter was a few months old, that sometimes one of the best ways to comfort her when she was crying was to look into her eyes and ask, sincerely, “Want to tell me about it?” She would cry a bit more while looking right back at me and then seem satisfied that she had been heard, and she actually started to babble conversationally in response to my question. I feel like the messages in AP to follow my instincts and pay attention to my child’s cues helped lead me to this approach, which also seems very much in line with RIE!

    2. Breastfeeding for comfort and comforting your child with food are two different things. Like the first poster Grace said, she replaced food with nursing after she weaned her child. If you don’t comfort your child with food, they are unlikely to develop an unhealthy eating habit. I do not believe that nursing on demand (to be clear I mean nursing when you child wants to nurse, not when you want to nurse your child to quiet her) will lead to unhealthy eating habits alone.

  8. Janet

    I got into a little online debate with an AP parent today about the differences in how an AP views the approach vs how non AP view it. I am so glad to find a sensible voice out there! Most of my friends believe in the independance and capability of their children and think AP to be ridiculous. I have become a little more accpeting, but prefere RIE and EASY hands down!

    I would love your insight on my recent posts about AP and non AP approaches at my blog GotNewbornOpinions.blogspot.com

    Thanks a Million, and look forward to more of your posts!

    Heather

  9. Hey Janet- I’m becoming a huge fan of your blog! I also live in LA, incidentally, so perhaps I can take one of your classes at some point!

    This was an excellent debate. Perfect example of how moms can be rational, respectful and considerate even when discussing heated topics. Thank you for putting a little common sense and levity out in the world!

  10. What a great debate. I really enjoyed reading everyone’s viewpoints.

    My husband and I stumbled on to Attachment Parenting during the first months of having our daughter, now 20 months old, and it intuitively felt right to us as parents. As a woman, specifically, it seems to call upon the collective unconscious of thousands of years of mothering that we in this country are so quick to explain away and ignore in favor of fast-food approaches to parenting and making it “easier” for parents.

    Who said having a baby was going to easy in the first place?

    Having said that, nursing on demand, co-sleeping, baby wearing, and other attachment parenting tools have allowed me to understand her in a way that I might not have otherwise. For example, I don’t see how facing a baby outward three feet away from you in a stroller can be compared to the type of interaction and communication that baby wearing facilitates. Furthermore, the attunement that happens with breastfeeding is uncompared, especially because formula feeding often lends itself to such “conveniences” as propping a baby up in a stroller with the bottle inserted into his mouth or at the very least not really having to pay much attention while you feed the baby.

    I think Attachment Parenting gets a bad rap by a lot of people who (1) just lack the willingness (or ability) to give unconditionally to their children during the first few years and (2) are stuck in the post-World War II mindset that babies were put here to be trained and set to our ways of doing things.

    Nevertheless, I can’t deny that Attachment Parenting isn’t the only way to unconditionally give to your child. I simply think it’s a set of guidelines that allow for optimum attunement and emotionally well-being. And it’s worked wonderfully for us. It has made parenting as easy as it can be.

    I would like to respond to one idea that seems to have been repeated over and over again: the idea that putting a breast in a baby’s mouth shuts them up. I say it in that way, because that seems to be the tone that is present each time it’s said. This idea is just ludicrous–just plain ignorant. Anyone who has had a child–breastfed or not–knows that when a child doesn’t want something, he makes his needs known. While breastfeeding has–more times than not–led to the comforting and calming of my baby, there have been several times that it hasn’t. And she makes it known in no uncertain terms that she is not interested in the breast when offered. So this idea that you can just stick something in a child’s mouth as if they aren’t a participant just struck me as a bit ignorant and unnecessary in the midst of an otherwise well thought-out debate.

    That’s my two cents. Thanks for keeping a great conversation going. Obviously we all care a great deal about our children, and that’s the most important part of raising them well.

    1. Thanks, Corinne, for responding. I appreciate your two cents.

      Yes, I understand and agree that the breast (or a pacifier) wouldn’t work to calm a child every time he cries. Still, you are offering it first, in hope that it will (and it often does) rather than hearing the baby, and trying to attend to the reason he is crying. It usually does quiet a very young infant when something is placed in his mouth. The young infant then receives the message that he should not cry when he feels crying. And he develops a need to breastfeed when he is not hungry or thirsty.

      I agree that we all care a great deal about our children, so please do not take my argument personally! Thanks again.

      1. avatar tonidawson says:

        I love your blog Janet, before becoming a Mother I worked as an Early Childhood Teacher in New Zealand and was lucky enough to learn about Magda Gerba’s RIE philosophy. I admit that I don’t know a great deal about Attachment Parenting but a few things about it irk me. I think Mothers who are unable to breastfeed will feel that they will not be able to create a secure attachment with their baby, and also by ‘wearing’ your child all the time how are you viewing them as competent and capable? In New Zealand we have an Early Childhood Curriculum and the principles of this curriculum are similar to the principles of the RIE philosophy. To view our children as competent, capable human beings who deserve respect. I now have a 14 month old daugher who was breastfed on demand, did not have a dummy (but I will admit, there were times when I put her on the breast to stop crying) and she is just wonderful. I have people commenting all the time how active, confident and capable she is. This is because I have never hindered her development. I let her crawl down stairs and find out what her body is capable of doing. She plays independently for long periods of time but I do not ignore my child or not meet her needs. Imagine what she would be missing out on discovering if I ‘wore’ her all the time. Love all of your post Janet and if I ever make it to L.A I will come to one of your seminars!

  11. Janet, I agree with you whole heartedly. I tried the attachment parenting style with my three year old. Once I had another child, I simply did not have enough time or energy to keep on with the method. I re-examined my approach. I decided to try to create a hybrid between the two. This meant for me, letting my infant sleep with me and be completely attentive until he was six months old. Slowly weaning him off of the constant attention while reassuring him that I was not going to simply disappear when I left the room. Now my one year old is highly independent while also being very affectionate and responsive to compassion. He goes right to sleep when I lay him down, and sleeps through the night. My three year old, on the other hand, is experiencing severe anxiety issues, will not sleep in his own bed alone, and uses food as a comfort system as well. I agree that attachment parenting has a great idea behind it, but it simply does not fit with the realistic demands that we are faced with daily.

    More work from mom and less work from the child as far as learning to cope with emotion.

    Attachment parenting has shown in studies that children grow up to experience a lack of coping skills. This creates co-dependent, over-dramatic, and socially clingy people that cannot cope with the idea of being without some that they love or have attached to. It’s unrealistic, unreliable, and unnecessary.

    1. Amber,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and unique perspective.

    2. Please site the study you’ve referenced.

    3. I have a Masters in Child and youth Development and have kept up with studies in the field, (I read over two dozen monthly) especially in the area of attachment, since graduating 7yrs ago. I can honestly tell you, that I have not read one study, that confirms your theory! Infact, the complete opposite, is true! The notion that children raised through AP, become clingy, dependent, lack coping skills and aren’t able to control or regulate their emotions, is simple assumptions or anadotal at best! Infact, all studies show that these children are far more able to regulate emotions, are independent and well adjusted and show great resilience! As for you comparison to your two children, no two children are alike to begin with! As one poster as so beautifully written, all three of her children were raised in the same way (AP) and yet all of them have very different personalities, crying patterns, personalities and sleep habits. However, she did say that there all were independent, happy and well adjusted! Also, the fact that for your son’s first three years he waa brought up with AP practices and then after his sibling was born, you changed the way you parented dramatically, that had to be very confusing and unsettling for him (any time something that fundamental changes in a Childs life, it creates anxiety). That would contribute to severe anxiety. If he was used to sleeping with you and then was forced out (as opposed to him choosing to sleep alone or a gradual switch over), that could account for his trouble sleeping alone. I would really like to see the study you reference and find out what peer reviewed Journal it was published in!

  12. I’m digging through your archives, obviously.

    So, the crying issue is another issue I love to talk about. I pretty much agree with everything you say here. The only thing is that after my son has done his crying, he sometimes wants to nurse. Nursing seems to finish off the calming down process or something. He doesn’t do it every time and he doesn’t need to nurse constantly so I see nothing wrong with it. I was never one to offer the breast just to soothe him, either. I used it to feed him. He’s the one that decided it had other benefits. So anyway, agreed on the benefits of crying to relieve stress, but I think breasts must have been designed to comfort as well.

    1. Lisa, thanks for digging!

      I agree that breasts are pretty good comforters. And it sounds as if you’ve found balance. My belief is that we should keep in mind that our baby is forming habits and dependencies…all of them can be changed or broken, but our goal is to help our baby balance his dependency on us with the development of healthy coping skills that will serve him well in the future.

      1. That’s a good way of putting it: balancing dependency on us with the development of healthy coping skills. I like that. It’s like the central theme to parenting, isn’t it?

        1. Thanks, and yes it is a central theme. Some of us know what it’s like to go through life with less than healthy coping skills… It’s important…to me anyway.:-)

  13. you rock! what an awesome back and forth!

  14. I found this lively debate very interesting & informative! I think both sides have valid points but from my experience I agree with you, Janet. I am currently bf’ing a 7.5 month old & have tried to use it solely for his nutrition. Of course I have from time to time used it to calm him if I wasn’t sure what else to do. I always try to figure out what could be the reason for his crying & rarely resort to nursing him if I know he is not hungry. My husband often says “just put him on the boob!” if he’s crying and that may be the easy way out but I don’t want him to develop that habit. My son is able to play by himself for long periods (with me in view of course) and puts himself to sleep and sleeps great. I want him to be a confident independent child. This works for us and like it’s been said, every child, parent and situation is different! We’ve done what feels right for us and so should all you other great moms & dads 🙂

    1. Sarah, I completely agree with your last statements. I love your husband’s command! Sometimes it’s even harder for the dads to hear the crying (and feel helpless) than it is the moms. I think I’ll encourage my husband to post something about that.

      Thanks for reading!

  15. Hi! I am re-reading this post, because it is a mental debate I have often. I live in Austin, TX and there are many attachment parenting families here, so I think about the differences in my RIE beliefs vs. AP a lot. I am also a little nervous wondering what it will be like ( I am training to be a RIE associate) to teach RIE here, where AP seems widely accepted.

    One thing I was thinking, that I believe is problematic (and I guess good too) in both RIE and AP is that the way people understand/practice the ideas vary greatly. One thing I think people misunderstand about RIE is that we “let babies cry”, as a rule, but that is not my understanding. And I think when caregivers misunderstand this it can be dangerous. And if there was an all or nothing option between letting a baby cry with out helping it, or nursing on demand, I would chose nursing on demand. But what I love about RIE is the aspect of sensitive observation, to understand your baby’s true needs. And when you get to understand their cues, you can know whether they are hungry, tired, in pain…and if sometimes they are overstimulated and need to cry to relax and let off steam, I felt comforted knowing this. And I loved feeling like I had real communication with my baby. In my own opinion, I think with letting a toddler stay dependent on nursing for comfort, it feels unfair to me, because the parent has the control and can choose when to make their body available or not. And I too have observed it become a battleground with the child testing the mother.

    Also, it is just something that I could never be physically comfortable with, so I liked with RIE that it helped make parenting more relaxing, rather than more demanding physically, with carrying the baby constantly or having my body available for nursing 24/7, and never having any separation with the family bed. AP sounds exhausting! But I know many families really feel passionately positive about it….the way I do about RIE.

    So, that said, I truly believe there are many paths to healthy attachment. Whether it be through RIE parenting or attachment parenting…

    RIE just made the most sense to me, and I felt very passionately that it was truly the way my baby deserved to be treated.

    oooh, one other point. In thinking of Harry Harlow’s (very sad) experiments with baby monkey’s, the fact that the monkey’s would remain on the soft cloth “mother” and only leave briefly to eat, makes me believe that babies don’t prefer nursing for comfort, but they crave the soft embrace and closeness for comfort. just a thought…

    1. Amy Jane,

      I really appreciate your “mental debate” and your eloquence. You are going to be a wonderful teacher because of your thoughtfulness and the fact that you don’t see black and white differences between child care philosophies. There are none, in my opinion. There are just different ways of perceiving the needs of infants and of the parent’s role…different priorities.

      You bring up some interesting points that I’d like to address from the RIE point of view, since that’s what I know and, like you, it is what makes the most sense to me.

      First, RIE is sometimes criticized for encouraging parents to “let babies cry”, when what we do is allow babies to cry. Even though those words have a similar definition, they have a different connotation. Babies should be nursed on demand! Yes, yes, yes!!!! But, right from the beginning, we want to be careful to understand what our babies are really trying to communicate. They’re trying so hard, we have to take the time to honor them and really listen and not assume. It’s very easy (and tempting) to give a young infant something to suck on when they are crying, whether or not that is what they need. And then they develop habits and expectations based on what they are used to.

      Following Magda Gerber’s approach means being willing to listen to babies and consider their point of view…constantly, just as we would another adult.

      Touching our infants, mindfully, is one of the most important things we can do. Our gentle touches are our baby’s welcome to the world. Infants need to be touched and held, a lot. As you say, embracing a baby is a wonderful way to give comfort. But for monkeys, touch is everything. We are not monkeys. Our human babies need us to connect and communicate with them with our minds and hearts, not just with our bodies. Carrying a baby when our minds are elsewhere, or nursing without giving attention and consideration brings no comfort. How can it? Babies want to be acknowledged, listened to and understood, just like we all do.

  16. Thanks for your reply Janet! I always appreciate your thoughts and rely on your blog for a dose RIE support in TX! : )

  17. Ongoing debate, some of the same faces from the past when we’ve discussed this on BabyShrink.

    Janet, well done. While I appreciate Annie’s points and agree with much of what she says, it’s important to know that “the research” isn’t at all clear that breastfeeding is required to optimize a child’s well-being and development. Correlations and suggestions are one thing. But one of the biggest infant researchers on the planet, Dr. Joseph Campos, personally has bemoaned to me the state of parenting research — we just don’t really KNOW much.

    That said, I also think there’s another point missing from this debate: Infant temperament. Some babies WANT a more AP-style parent. They’re born that way (I had 2 of those). Others AREN’T — they want and need more space. More “down time”. Less stimulation, not more. (Had 2 of those, too.)

    One of the things I do like about the RIE approach is that it asks us to observe our unique babies — not impose on them some external version of how babies are “supposed” to be. RIE also acknowledges the needs of the parent and family and the baby’s part in that family, not assuming that the baby is the center of everything. Beginning Family Therapy Rule #1: A child should never be at the apex of the family. Children need structure, and parents must be the ones to offer it.

    Aloha,

    Dr. Heather
    “The BabyShrink”

  18. Hi Janet,

    I’ve really enjoyed the debate and enjoyed the civil and respectful tone of the debate, especially given what a sensitive subject this often is. Janet, I fully agree with your point and have loved your clarity and conviction in bringing it across. I think it’s a tricky and subtle difference you’re speaking to that most attachment parents I’ve known personally or professionally just haven’t really understood.

    Respecting and supporting your child’s healthy need to relase stress through crying and feeding on demand need not be a contradiction.

    I breastfed, carried in slings and co-slept (first 3 years) with both my children. Becoming a parent I was clear that I wanted (a) to meet my child’s needs on cue and (b) avoid repressing my child’s emotional expression. I found this balance easy to get because I was so aware from the beginning that crying is one of a babies basic needs. I’ve never left either of my babies to cry alone or unheld.

    In my social circles, I tended to be surrounded by AP families and nearly all of them put their baby on the breast every time they needed to cry for any reason at all, without thinking, just out of habit. I could see there was an inherent belief Child crying = child needs to nurse. I watched babies resisting and pulling off in an attempt to continue crying and being offered the breast again and again, the baby surrenders because that’s the only form that mum’s calm attention is being offered. Invariably the babies have developed dependency on the breast for comfort with every hurt, bump, stress of overstimulation, tiredness and disappointment.

    I always allowed my babies to have a releasing cry when that was what they needed and because I was in tune with that need in my list of babies needs from the beginning, they rarely sought the breast when it was a releasing cry they needed. Sure, at the end of a cry, they would often go on the breast for comfort because then it was just a need for comfort, the need for stress release had been satisfied, now they just wanted to rest and be passive.

    My oldest is now nearly 14 and am very pleased that he can still have a big cry with me or dad when he needs to and can cope with emotional intensity in a peaceful way by crying and talking and allowing myself or his dad to fully support him. He’s been an incredibly confident, active, social and emotionally resilient child. Same for my 8 year old daughter.

    I read Aletha Solter’s Aware Baby book when I was first pregnant. She’s a developmental psychologist and writes extensively about the difference discussed in this debate. She advocates non-punitive discipline and attachment parenting and explains about the negative consequences of what she’s termed control patterns. Control patterns are about habits of emotional repression that the child can develop if the parent doesn’t recognize, support and listen to the child’s stress release cries (while holding and responding).

    I’m a parent educator myself in recent years (Aware Parenting Instructor) and spend a lot of time on this subject in my own classes and courses and I know that it’s a brave topic to open because this seems to be such a difficult concept for people to grasp, but so important. One of my courses I run is Raising Drug Free Kids and this is where parents of older children really start to get these connections. Babies and children need to experience that it’s ok to feel big emotions and as their feelings are calmly heard and accepted, they receive soothing and internalize this acceptance and carry forth an acceptance and trust in their ability to feel, express, release, then feel lighter and calmer having released tensions from their body.

    1. Hi Genevieve,

      Thank you for sharing this thoughtful, insightful perspective. I wholeheartedly agree with you.

      Your observation: “Invariably the babies have developed dependency on the breast for comfort with every hurt, bump, stress of overstimulation, tiredness and disappointment”, is the issue that Dr. Sears and some Attachment Parents don’t acknowledge, or don’t seem to recognize. Whatever we do with infants creates habits and dependencies. Yes, babies often need to nurse when they cry, and need to be held, too. But the only children out of hundreds I’ve observed over the years, (including 3 of my own), who need to be nursed when they fall down, etc., or asked to be carried in a sling when they are tired are those who have been conditioned to have those needs. The hundreds of children who don’t share those dependencies are just as securely attached to their parents, if not more so, because they have been trusted to express their needs, listened to, understood.

      There may not be anything wrong with creating these habits, but let’s at least be aware that WE are the ones creating them. We can’t blame the babies! Babies need us to parent with our bodies, but we mustn’t forget to use our minds, too.

  19. This evening, while trying to put my fifteen month old son to sleep, I offered him my breast, (as that has been the way he has gone to sleep since he was born, the recent exception of him being hospitalized for ten days for an infection, where my Husband would sometimes walk him to sleep) and he cried, settled in my arms, nursed for thirty seconds and then removed himself from my breast to disengage himself from my arms to get up and move around. He was clearly telling me that he didn’t want to go to sleep but, it was nine in the evening and, my Husband and I were trying to communicate to him that it was time for him to sleep. We had done this verbally, as well as my Husband taking action to walk him around our house to get him to sleep.
    Finally, my Husband took our Son upstairs and spent twenty minutes walking him around until he fell asleep.
    I am beyond grateful for the breastfeeding relationship I have shared with my Son. Before he was active on his own, (rolling, crawling, walking) he was a very chubby baby, gulping down milk on demand. A couple of months after his birth, I was better able to determine when he was actually nursing for nourishment or, for comfort (though sometimes, this was not entirely cognizant and, sometimes still questionable). His sucking would be vigorous for nourishment, gentle and quick for comfort. Either way, I don’t have an automatic shut-off for the nourishment that comes from my body so; he would get milk, even if he wasn’t hungry. I don’t feel that this did him any harm.
    After reading your blog entry, I thought back on the times when he was crying and, frustrated by lack of options to soothe my child, I would sometimes offer him my breast. Offering my breast to soothe my crying child was not something I would always do, (my body is still my body and, I didn’t and don’t, relish using my body as a pacifier) but sometimes, it was a way for me to comfort my child.
    Now that my Son is fifteen months old and, we have a richer relationship and better communication, it’s far easier for me to see and understand that he is asserting his independence and individuality and, no longer wants to constantly drift to sleep by my breast.
    I never, ever, ever, forced my nipples into my Son’s mouth. I never, ever squashed my breast to my Son’s face. I never held him forcibly to my chest. I feel that my Son and I have a relationship and, I have shown him respect for his person, (even being his champion from time to time with some overly eager to love him family members, going out of my personal comfort zone to do so) so, when I offer my breast to him, it is only to show him that it is available to him, if that is something he desires. If he chooses not to latch on or, stay latched for only seconds, I respect that. Sometimes, I may be confused by his refusal but, in the end, I know he will let me know what he needs, regardless.
    Within the past several months, my toddler has shown me his desire to nurse, whether that be for nourishment or comfort, by tugging on the front of my shirt and reaching his hands down to clutch at the tops of my breasts. I will look him in the eye and ask, “Do you want milk?” and his eyes will look into mine and say, “Uh, yeah Mom!”
    If I read correctly, I think that your concern is that Mom’s who breastfeed might use breastfeeding as a “cure-all” for whatever ails their baby. Perhaps some do, perhaps sometimes those of us who don’t get confused or frustrated but, I feel that as a majority, most breastfeeding mom’s are pretty well connected with their babies and, while babies change up their needs and how they express them pretty rapidly, most of us catch onto the changes eventually, even if it’s a bit later. A Breastfeeding Mom just has another intimate, connected way to nourish, soothe and love their babies.
    Still, connected Mom or not, (especially first time Mom’s) it can be alarming to wake up one day and realize that your baby has changed pretty profoundly when, just last week they were a totally different little person. Unless you’re watching a caterpillar weave a cocoon every second of its toil, are you not awed by the progress?
    If anything, that might be what breastfeeding Mom’s go through but, isn’t it similar to what every parent goes through?

    1. Beckie, please don’t interpret my argument as being in any way anti-breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a wonderful gift that I feel blessed to have been able to give to all three of my children. Sometimes, when they were small, I used nursing to comfort, too. This debate isn’t about breastfeeding. It’s about allowing babies to communicate and express feelings the only way they can — by crying. It’s about giving children the message that we are willing to hear them, acknowledge their efforts to tell us what they need, and most of all assuring them that it’s OKAY to cry. We can handle it. We want to decipher their communication and figure out how we can help. And sometimes they just need to release their feelings.

  20. One of the biggest takeaways I got from reading about AP-style parenting is to satisfy a child’s need so long as s/he has it and when the need disappears, so will the behavior. Wow, that has saved me a lot of futile battles. My children self-weaned at wildly different ages – 26 mos (2nd child) and nearly age 4 (first child). They had different needs.

    Although I respect your work a great deal, it makes me sad to think of you sitting in judgment of the toddlers who run to their moms to comfort nurse. What you don’t know and cannot know is whether those children just generally need comfort more than the others. There are probably other child/mom dyads in your class that still nurse, but those children have developed to use other coping skills.

    Yes, it is our job as parents to teach (or model?) comfort skills beyond nursing. Absolutely. But children develop at different times and I hate to think of a mom being told she is doing something wrong because she is responding to what her child needs at that moment.

    I am extremely sensitive to the “food as comfort” issue. I just haven’t seen it play out with my friends who have practiced extended BFing. I cringe whenever I see a mother give her child a snack to keep them from boredom or so that mom can complete a task, have a quiet moment, etc. (I hate the use of the iphone for that too but that’s another column!) But in my observation, the moms who have practiced extended nursing are not the ones doing this PRECISELY BECAUSE they are so attuned to their child’s needs. Whether they are just moms who would pay attention anyway (BFing or not) or BFing taught them to be in tune, I cannot know. But I just have a difficult time condemning the practice.

    1. Kristine, I agree with “satisfy a child’s need so long as s/he has it and when the need disappears, so will the behavior”, but what I have not seen in AP literature (and I haven’t read much of it, so please correct me if I’m missing something) is recognition of the fact that we create some of these needs for our children. Infants need to eat, sleep, and be touched and held, but a toddler’s need to nurse every time he is disappointed, annoyed or upset, or ride in a backpack when he is tired, cranky or bored are needs we’ve created. How do I know for sure? Only children who have been raised with those practices want them.

      I DON’T sit in judgment of parents for creating these habits, because I understand their choices. And I want to please babies, too. I can’t stand to hear a child of any age cry, even though I know how much children (especially toddlers) need a good cry. But I do believe we need to be aware of what we are doing, mindful of the habits we are responsible for creating and not attribute them to a “needier” child. I’m not condemning practices, or saying mothers are doing something ‘wrong’. But, please let’s open our eyes to the difference between biological, social emotional human needs and the needs we are responsible for manufacturing. Then we can make a conscious choice to continue reinforcing the habits we believe are positive for our child’s development and helping our child break the ones that aren’t.

      1. Question: perhaps the children who “request” nursing and backpack carries for soothing or sleeping, and yes, who have been taught these “needs” are simply choosing their preferred method, among many? Children who have not been offered these methods will of course not request them, because they are not aware of them as a viable option. Do we “teach” our children to be soothed by backpack carries, or do we find that for some children, it’s what they most enjoy and prefer. I guess I don’t see the harm, if it’s working for everyone. why not use all options at our disposal? How are these options not “positive for their development?”

        1. Jessica, the only problem I see with using either of those practices as “comforters” is that they can become the habitual way for children to deal with their uncomfortable feelings, rather than expressing and releasing the feelings.

      2. Janet, you are right on with this. I completely agree with your ideas and thoughts on this subject. Thank you!

  21. I am beyond excited to have found your blog Janet, and this debate has been so revealing for me. My daughter is almost 1 year old and I have been practicing Attachment Parenting because it has made sense to me. This blog is my first more formal introduction to RIE and I am having a huge A-HA moment! Thank you so much, I can’t wait to learn more about this thinking and approach. I have a question I wonder if you would address.
    From a RIE approach how does a parent approach changing a pattern that has been set into place?
    In our case I have gotten my daughter into being solely dependent on my breast during the nighttime hours. She still wakes several times every night and “needs” to have my breast to calm and return to sleep – sometimes this return to deep sleep happens INSTANTLY, and other times she actually nurses although she is usually in a certain level of sleep the whole time. That is to say she is rarely truly awake. If I do not give her the breast she wakes fully and is soon screaming until she is returned to the breast. She always quickly returns to deep sleep after being put to the breast. Although most of the hours of our nights are spent in sleep, I am tired of waking so many times in the night, every night, and can clearly see that this is a pattern that I have created. But how to change it? Thankfully I have not been so indiscriminate in daytime hours, although I have used the breast to comfort when I might have paid attention differently and tried other methods. I am fascinated by human development and with the parenting process, so I can’t wait to start using RIE insights to help me parent better. Thanks in advance for any help! Megan

    1. Hi Megan (posted this reply with links here: http://dev.janetlansbury.com/2011/03/breastfeeding-for-comfort-the-all-night-diner/ )

      First, I just want to mention that the pattern you recognize (so astutely) you’ve created is a version of what most of us do — a perfectly understandable response to our baby’s cries, especially during the night. A baby’s cries are heart-wrenching for us to hear, designed by Nature to arouse us from a deep sleep. We are inclined to believe that every cry is a call to immediate action and resolution, and breastfeeding (or a pacifier) can appear to be the immediate answer. Our instincts tell us to make the crying stop, rather than to support our baby’s emotional health by hearing, acknowledging and understanding cries before we act. Crying babies make us feel like bad parents.

      When babies cry in my parent/infant classes for whatever reason, I try to reassure parents that crying is allowed at RIE, and that a baby’s cries are not a judgment against them — quite the contrary. It takes a brave and enlightened parent to remain calm and listen when a baby cries. Babies cry to communicate a variety of needs – and sometimes the need is to cry.

      Struggles at bedtime are particularly difficult for parents to endure. We’re tired and weary, and keeping the peace at night — getting everyone back to sleep as quickly and easily as possible — is a priority. We nurse, rock, use a pacifier…whatever it takes.

      Some babies will eventually transition on their own to un-aided sleep, but most want to continue (and continue, and continue) going to sleep the way they are used to…who can blame them? And if the arrangement is comfortable for the parents, and the baby seems to be functioning well during the day, there’s little reason to make a change.

      But you are an insightful mom (and tired), and you sound ready to help your baby find a healthier pattern. The great news is that babies are extremely adaptable, and once we commit to changing a habit of any kind and project confidence in our decision (the most important element for success) babies usually only need a few days to make a transition. I only wish that I could tell you it will be seamless and soundless!

      Actually, helping our child change habits of any kind is usually much easier than we imagine it will be, once we are sure that the change is best for all concerned. But if we (our child’s leader) are tentative, uneasy or uncertain, it is much more difficult for the child to transition comfortably. Children sense our ambivalence a mile away.

      So, first make a plan and proceed with confidence.

      Then, give your baby a little preparation in advance. Infant expert Magda Gerber encouraged parents to talk honestly to babies about changes in their routines (and every other aspect of their lives, for that matter) and to include them in the process. “Tonight, if you wake up, we won’t be having milk. I want you to go right back to sleep, so you get a really good rest.”

      Believe your baby capable of falling asleep independently rather than worrying, or pitying her.

      Then do less, and allow your baby to do more. Instead of nursing in the night, you might stroke your baby and talk softly, allow her feelings to be expressed and acknowledge them. “I hear you. You want milk to help you sleep and you’re upset. It’s time to go back to sleep. You can do it.” And she really and truly can with your support and belief in her.

      For more support and information about crying and emotional health, sleep, and changing patterns, I highly recommend these articles:

      Baby Sleep Struggles, Changing Toddler Sleep Habits and Baby’s “No Cry” Sleep Is Exhausting, guest posts here by sleep specialist Eileen Henry

      Allowing Crying Without Crying It Out on Natural Parents Network and How Respect Is Getting Me More Sleep, both by Suchada Eickemeyer from “Mama Eve”, another Attachment Parenting enthusiast who has been recently introduced to and inspired by RIE.

      Emotional Health And Development Of Self-Esteem In Infants by Roseann Murphy at Little River School Online

      Interview With Aletha Solter On Crying And High-Needs Infants at Aware Parenting.com

      My posts: Babies Breaking Habits, Toddlers Dealing With Change and Sleep On This
      I love your enthusiasm for the RIE Approach, and I’ll do all I can to help.

      Warmly, Janet

      1. This does not work when your child (baby or young child) is sick and needs the milk for the immunity properties or is going through a growth spurt. My daughter breastfed like a newborn when she had strep throat at 3 1/2 years of age. She had a high fever for more than 48 hours which only slightly responded to medicine. She hardly ate anything and drank little, too. But the breast milk gave her nutrition, hydration, and immunities that probably kept her out of the hospital and from being on IVs. It also soothed her throat and comforted her.

        She has nursed like this when I knew she was fighting something, but was not running a high fever like she was with the strep throat. I have learned to trust that she knows what she needs and is not just in a routine because I give in. She will nurse a lot more at night when she is going through something that I might not be aware about. Then when she is better, through the growth spurt or the “phase” she usually goes back to a more usual pattern which is no night time nursing now. So I would not be meeting her needs if I told her she can do without how ever nice and validating I try to be. I have learned to listen to her and trust that she knows her needs and is communicating with me.

        1. I’m pretty sure there are many 3 year olds who have been sick who don’t nurse and they recover just fine. She does not “need” it.

  22. Janet,
    I reckon there’s great material in this discussion to turn in to a booklet or a chapter in your book!

    Genevieve 🙂

  23. If all the baby’s needs are met (well fed, diaper’s changed,etc), the baby’s not sick or anything, I will just let my baby cry it out. Attachment parenting will only work for me if I will be glued to my child’s hip for the rest of my life. Otherwise, they have to learn that I cannot always be there, they have to learn to be independent.

    At the same time, there is no real right way to parent. All kids are different. I think that people who practice attatchment parenting are not versatile. That’s all they will stick to for every child. A little bit of everything to me is the best.

  24. I am curious whether you have read much about ethno-pediatrics and the study of parenting practices cross-culturally and what your impressions are. I am a Montessorian and am finding parenting to be as wonderful as it is complicated as I try to figure how to integrate my heart AND my head into my role as a mother.

    I am loving the book “Our Babies, Ourselves” which compares parenting practices around the globe and talks about the biology behind them. It is liberating to read about the wide variety of styles that produce healthy individuals and to remember that every theorist is a product of their culture, not necessarily an objective supplier of information. The most interesting point I found in the book is that biological evolution is slower than cultural shifts and so we, as parents and educators, may at times be, with well thought out and well researched intentions, going against our baby’s basic biology. Fascinating and thought provoking!

    Leaving a baby alone to cry until they eventually fall asleep seems so strange to me. Would we leave a child alone screaming until they figured out any other self-care skill? I, as a mother, completely understand that babies will cry, but does RIE promote leaving a baby alone to cry until they fall asleep? Just curious.

    1. Hi Valerie! No, I am not familiar with ethno-pediatrics, but I definitely agree that theorists (and all of us, actually) are a product of culture. We usually share the values of the culture in which we were raised. Dr. Alicia Leiberman (author of The Emotional Life of the Toddler) spoke at the 2011 RIE Conference a month ago, and shared wonderful insights on this subject. This is fascinating to me, too!

      To answer your question, no, RIE teaches the antithesis of ignoring a communicating baby. The RIE Approach is about listening, observing, tuning in to the individual person from the very beginning of life, taking in his or her “otherness” rather than projecting ourselves and our fears. When we tune in, we begin to understand a particular baby’s biology, personality, temperament, likes and dislikes, talents, cries, rhythyms, needs. We may learn that our baby needs to cry for a couple of minutes to discharge energy while he is falling asleep. Babies are sensitive, easily overstimulated and some use crying as a release. Unfortunately, supporting our child in this way gets translated into “leaving a child alone screaming”, a barbaric-sounding thing to do. Let’s not lead with our fears!

      Allowing and supporting a baby to cry when they need or wish to cry is not thoughtless abandonment, it’s knowing that baby and trusting her to do what she needs to do. In my opinion, that is far more loving and mindful than nursing a baby whenever she cries.

  25. Thank you. I was glad to read your clarification and to find that it is much like my personal style and what I have taken from my Montessori training. I find that much of attachment parenting philosophy also flows with how I parent and I don’t find so much tension between Montessori, what I know of RIE and Attachment parenting. I think these methods are misunderstood or one aspect is taken to the extreme. In general, I appreciate the focus on communication, respect for emotional expression, engaging the child in his or her personal care, and allowing for closeness when the child needs it that are present in all methods.

    As for cross cultural studies of babies and parenting. I find them very liberating. I think we westerners tend to think we have parenting down to a science or based in science, but there are many cultures with very different styles (those often associated with attachment parenting such as breastfeeding on demand, baby wearing, and co-sleeping) that have far less instances of sleep disorders, SIDS, colic, obesity, sensory integration disorders, ADD, ADHD etc… Very interesting. The book “Our Babies, Ourselves” by Meredith F. Small is an interesting look at cross cultural parenting styles.

  26. I am new to your site, so I hope I am not misunderstanding anything and I what I say is meant with respect. I find it interesting that in your section about preschool you talk about letting children learn at their own pace and time frame and TRUSTING that they are going to do just fine – that parents need to relax more. As an older parent who took care of her elderly parents before becoming a mother I totally agree with you on this thought. My experience taught me to remember what is most important in life and to live in the moment. I also find it interesting that you do not seem to extend this philosophy to breastfeeding. (Before I forget, it is possible for adoptive parents to breastfeed. Most of us are aware of the fact that some moms cannot breastfeed, but should those of us who can breastfeed feel guilty because we can and not talk about it or give support to other moms who can and who choose to breastfeed past an arbitrary time? I lost 8 babies before having one, I have had my share of disappointment and am happy that with PCOS and MS I have been able to successfully breastfeed for the years I have.)

    Are you a lactation consultant or have you breastfed a child into their toddler years? Or even a preschooler? If you have not then you probably do not understand the many ways they nurse and how their nursing is the same or different than a newborn or young baby. I would caution you not to advise parents who are nursing their toddlers if you do not have the expertise of being a lactation consultant or an experienced mother, because believe it or not your opinion is just that – your opinion (it is a personal opinion and not a professional one) and is not grounded in real evidence-based knowledge of breastfeeding the older children. Toddlers do want to nurse for a minute or two here and there several times a day and they also like the long times of nursing, too. They like to nurse in various awkward positions. They go through different phrases that depends on their needs. They also go through growth spurts and nurse more when sick just like newborns and young babies. On demand breastfeeding does not make them more dependent nor does it make them less likely to learn coping mechanisms that are age appropriate. Research and parents who have experience usually observe the very opposite. It does not lead to obesity nor to behaviors in later life like alcoholism or overeating for comfort. Breastfeeding children cannot be forced to breastfed so they only take what they need and there is comfort nursing, too. Breastfed children are less likely to be obese. As far as problems in adult life, I would assume that children who have been allowed to nurse into toddlerhood or even until they self-wean are less likely to develop a need for substances like alcohol because of the close bond they had with their moms and that their “needs” were met as babies and small children. I would wish that mothers who were not able to breastfeed for this long would not take offense at this, but just as I could not stand to be around expecting mothers or mothers with babies when I was loosing my babies; I think the reaction of moms who cannot breastfeed toward moms who can is a form of grieving and I am sorry for their loss.

    Just as parents should be more relaxed about how children will learn at their own pace and TRUST that they will come to the milestones in their time frame rather than ours, we also need to TRUST that the children of us who choose to breastfeed our littles past infancy will also do the same. Why force them to do something before they are ready? Especially something as vital as breastfeeding which brings not only nutrition and immunity, but comfort that they have known since birth?

    1. Kitty, I believe that babies should be fed on demand… I also believe that parents should ideally make the effort to figure out what a baby is communicating and not assume every cry is a request for breastfeeding. Most infants will accept the breast whether they are hungry or thirsty or not…and babies form habits quite quickly and easily.

      Toddlers are at a very different stage of development. They are spreading their wings and becoming more independent and part of that process means testing boundaries, especially with their mothers. So, I am certainly not against toddler breastfeeding, but I believe it is best for the mother to define some boundaries around feedings (of any kind). My statements about toddlers being interrupted while they play, lacking age appropriate coping skills, etc., are based (as I clearly stated) on my observations during many years of facilitating parent/toddler classes.

      This isn’t about not trusting children, because I definitely do, it’s about acknowledging the habits we create for our babies that then become our child’s “needs”.

  27. I have really enjoyed this debate and the fact that parents can be respectful of each others opinions while stating their own. I’m quite impressed as I have seen far too much facebook drama on similar hot topics. I haven’t really done a lot of research on AP and have just begun doing research on RIE. But, I do nurse on demand, cosleep, and occasionally babywear. I wore my son a lot more nb-6 months. And, when we don’t have a stroller or are traveling through airports I babywear if my husband is unable or too tired to carry our son. Now that my son is 14 months old, I have been looking for gentle ways to teach and guide him and a friend recommended me to this website. And, while I was reading it, I immediately started practicing it and my son actually responded to many of the things I said. He still grabs things that aren’t his and still gets too stimulated and grabs my glasses and such, but acknowledging his feelings when I have to take something that isn’t his away has helped us a great deal and so for this stage I am very much enjoying all I am learning about RIE. We never forced our son to do tummy time and we let him play for as long as he wanted and when his needs changed we were always there to see what we needed to do next to meet his needs. I by no means am a great mom, nor the mom I want to be, but RIE has helped me the past 2 days (seriously just got started) to not have my emotional blow ups I was having as I am now due with our 2nd child and completely worn out and emotional from chasing and correcting our son.
    Our son has developed very well and is becoming a very independent, confident child. He has changed his sleep patterns and has slept 8+ hour nights without me doing anything. It’s just how he slept that night. But then some nights he nurses once or twice or 5 or 6 times just because. He has a great attention span and will play by himself for 30+ minutes, although he has moments where he wants to play with things that are not his and we have to explain that those are not his and that we understand his frustration in the matter. We have also had incidences or phases where he bumps his head or falls and wants to be nursed, and then the same thing happens and he just wants to cry and be held and told he will be okay. It’s just amazing to me that we don’t necessarily have to do anything for our children to develop properly if we give them the love, attention, and acceptance they need. When we are meeting their needs physically and emotionally, I don’t see how any of can go wrong, no matter of the “formal style” we use.
    I personally plan on using the AP style of baby wearing, nursing on demand, and cosleeping until my child and I have mutually agreed these should stop. But, I also believe that using RIE for the toddler ages and up is the right way for my family to function without losing our sanity.
    Thank you again for this post. I have really enjoyed reading the conversation and all the comments.

    1. Amanda, I always appreciate hearing about an individual parent’s process, how particular child care practices are working out. etc. Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes for your imminent new addition to the family!

  28. I’ve practiced attachment parenting since having my daughter, not because it was trendy. I didn’t even know what it was until a year or so ago. Babywearing, co-sleeping, etc just seemed to work for us. However, a lot of parents take this too far and say that babies shouldn’t cry. I disagree with that and agree with a lot of the things you’ve said. Dr. Sears’ Book says that we’re supposed to have belief in the value of baby’s cry. That doesn’t mean they don’t cry ever, it means that we realize they are crying, not to manipulate us, but to communicate. I agree with you that sometimes children just need a good cry. Sometimes I just need a good cry, which is why I watch Grey’s Anatomy. 🙂 Attachment Parenting isn’t supposed to be a set of strict rules, it’s a set of guidelines, and in the book it specifies that you don’t have to do ALL of those things to gain attachment. I gave up nursing my daughter after about a month and she is still very much attached to me. She is also independent, intelligent, and able to entertain herself without the constant need to be held by me. While I think the Baby B’s of attachment parenting are great for becoming attached, I think YOU have a better concept of attachment than some of the self proclaimed attachment parents. I do love Annie’s website, but I don’t agree 100% with everything she writes. There is a fine line between nursing to comfort a baby and nursing to comfort an older toddler who should have learned new ways of comforting themselves or being comforted.

    1. Sounds good, Faylyn. But what I have found is that one can easily end up leading to the other, which is why I think it’s safest to be conscious about our comfort responses with infants, too.

  29. Dear Janet,

    I red the whole debate and I know exactly where you’re coming from, My son is 10 months old and every time he cries I give him breast milk. He does calm down straight away, but after a while he starts crying again, so I know I didn’t solve the real reason why he actually cried. It makes me feel very guilty and now I am trying not to do so and try to understand what’s making him upset rather then offering him breast milk straight away.After I read this debate I realize how important it is for a mother to really understand what the baby needs, whether it’s a hug, cuddle or just to cry out to make himself feel better. Thank you so much for your help. I am teenage mum and this website helped me a lot.

    Aneela

    1. Aneela, thank you for your comment. Please don’t feel guilty. Your impulse is very normal, common and understandable. Your awareness, sensitivity and openness to learning make you a wonderful mum. Please keep me posted on how you’re doing.

      1. aww thankyou so much for your reply janet, its much appreciated, and I am learning alot from yew.

        Thanx..

  30. Thank you, thank you Janet! I feel like I can breathe again. I have practiced this style of parenting with my almost two year old daughter but was starting to question my own judgment based on some of the AP parents I know. My daughter is very well adjusted, not super clingy but very lovey, she is strong and independent, and that is exactly what I want for her! I didn’t nurse on demand for some of the same reasons you mentioned, I didn’t nurse my daughter to sleep, and now she has just smoothly transitioned into her big girl bed without a hitch! Thank you for solidifying for me what I believe about parenting.

  31. Hi Janet

    I totally agree with you.

    I studied attachment theory whilst doing my masters degree in child & adolescent mental health. And I have also been trained as a parent educator in the Circle of Security protocol (http://www.circleofsecurity.net/cos_downloads.html).

    Attachment Parenting concerns me as it appears to be too easily misinterpreted.

    I don’t have the time to read all of the above comments, so I don’t know if caregiver state of mind (van IJzendoorn, Fonagy, Steele, Dozier) has been mentioned. It is vital! An anxious or dismissing parent doing Attachment Parenting can still foster an insecure or disorganised attachment.

    Please continue your work informing parents based on the evidence and not on what is fashionable.

    Thanking You

    Narelle

  32. I remember reading your post and thinking what Annie wrote. When my daughter cries because she’s upset or hurt I firstly hold her and see if she calms down by herself. I also do the usual ‘you fell and hurt yourself etc’ but often she wants and needs a quick comfort suckle. Also, when she hurt herself and is in lots of pain allbthatbhelps is a.quick suckle and the main reason is that breastmilk has pain reducing properties. Sometimes she cries and cried and even a nipple in her.mouth won’t stop her so I don’t know where you get that from. Same with a dummy in a crying child, they just spit it out.

    I also disagree that nurses children hang onto their mum when.upset whilst others are ‘eager to go back to play’. Well, that is not the case in most of the toddlers and babies I have observed in baby groups we’re go to. Another thing, most of the parents that don’t try to nurse for comfort are the ones that do a lot of shushing and ‘you are alright’

  33. Sorry, on my phone and hit the publish button :s

    As I was saying, they don’t get comfort in the shape of a nipple but their feelings are negated by shushing.

    If something was designed by mother nature to heal a babe’s pain then why would anyone want to withhold that from them?

    Nev

  34. Wow, this conversation is still going on a year and a half on. It’s very interesting that expressing the belief that it’s important to discern the difference between a child’s need to feed or a child’s need to have a releasing cry is interpreted, more often than not, as anti-breastfeeding. If an article was written making the point that it’s important to remember to check if the baby’s nappy needs changing or if they’re unwell or uncomfortable physically when they cry rather than assuming it’s a hunger cry, I doubt if it could possibly be interpreted as an opposition to feeding on demand. The difference is that everyone recognizes the importance and validity of checking if a nappy needs changing, but the concept that sometimes babies need to have a stress release cry in their parent’s arms is not always recognized as a need in itself. It’s kind of a new concept to many I find (from my work with parents).

    I do have a question though Janet. I have to admit that I can never quite get clear about whether or not you believe that it’s ok (even positive) to leave babies to cry alone (purposely as opposed to being on the loo or other unavoidable pull of attention). Here you’ve said; “Unfortunately, supporting our child in this way gets translated into “leaving a child alone screaming”, a barbaric-sounding thing to do. Let’s not lead with our fears! Allowing and supporting a baby to cry when they need or wish to cry is not thoughtless abandonment, it’s knowing that baby and trusting her to do what she needs to do.” – To me the “leaving” bit and the “supporting” bit are two different and separate (and I believe opposing) actions. Does “supporting” a baby to cry mean that the parent is right there with, listening to and caring for their baby while they cry or does your picture of supporting include a parent being in another room (suggested by the word leaving) or otherwise away from their baby while they cry? You’ve also said in the past that (from memory) that you certainly wouldn’t advocate leaving a crying baby unsupported, yet you seem to strongly advocate Dr Heather who very clearly is an advocate of cry-it-out (can’t remember the term she uses but “leaving” is involved).

    For me personally I can’t see or imagine why somebody who is truly empathetic to babies and committed to being kind, sensitive, respectful and attuned would ever see a place for leaving a baby all alone while they cry, when they’re too young to consciously reassure themselves that their parent is nearby or will return and don’t have a sense of time. I feel strongly about this because I love and adore all babies and can’t bear the thought of it, and could never have ignored the cries of one of my children. I avoid sharing my strong feelings on this to the parents I work with because I’m aware that many of them have left their babies to cry and I want them to feel my full support regardless of their choices. So I’m not fuelling the debate here, but find myself being confused about such statements and am curious. I know this is not the main theme of the discussion, yet I imagine that because it has come in to the discussion, it does colour the overall points you’re making.

    And if you do believe there is a place for letting babies cry on their own, do you have any articles that explain your thinking on this? Personally it’s an area that I am as clear about as smacking, so it’s not to clarify my own thinking on the subject, but because I so respect your work and what you share, I would love to gain more clarity around this bit that confuses me and to me seems in conflict with just about everything else you share about respecting babies and children. I know that Penny Brownlee, who has pioneered the work of Emmi Pikler here in New Zealand speaks very strongly against ever leaving a baby to cry, but perhaps Pikler and Gerber differed on this point.

    Lots of assurances of love, respect and appreciation. Thank you 🙂

    1. Genevieve, thank you so much for yet another thoughtful, insightful comment on this post. This conversation has actually been going on for two years, so it is obviously an important (and perhaps rare) one to have… So, I’m especially glad you are a part of it.

      My comment about allowing babies to cry being translated as “leaving a child alone to scream” is a reaction to the extremism that abounds about this issue (and was evident in the article I responded to on Annie’s website…especially in the comments). That is the way “allowing a baby to cry” seems to be envisioned by many…as deserting the baby. Most seem to perceive infant crying as a very black and white issue. Neither end of the spectrum is healthy for babies (or parents), in my opinion. At least 95% of the articles I am reading (perhaps just the online circles I run in) and all the parents I work with fall on the “fear of crying” end of the spectrum. That is why I appreciate Magda Gerber, Patty Wipfler (of Hand in Hand Parenting), Aletha Solter and you, Genevieve, and your willingness to leave your previous comment:

      In my social circles, I tended to be surrounded by AP families and nearly all of them put their baby on the breast every time they needed to cry for any reason at all, without thinking, just out of habit. I could see there was an inherent belief Child crying = child needs to nurse. I watched babies resisting and pulling off in an attempt to continue crying and being offered the breast again and again, the baby surrenders because that’s the only form that mum’s calm attention is being offered. Invariably the babies have developed dependency on the breast for comfort with every hurt, bump, stress of overstimulation, tiredness and disappointment.

      And that’s also why I wrote: http://dev.janetlansbury.com/2011/09/7-reasons-to-calm-down-about-babies-crying/

      I truly believe that if we, as a society, could be comfortable with our babies crying, there would be no such thing as CIO, because parents would be open to allowing their babies to cry a little before falling asleep (as many babies need to do) rather than creating all these other habits that either eventually stop working or become too impossible for the parents to continue. And then babies, toddlers and preschoolers wouldn’t have to make big adjustments. They could just do what they can do naturally from the beginning…fall asleep in the presence of their parents after a bit of unwinding. I also believe that abuse would be far less common if we could be okay with listening to crying rather than being totally unnerved by it.

      One of the biggest problems I see with the “Child crying = child needs to nurse” mentality is that our baby’s cries all get lumped together. There is no differentiation, no true understanding of our infant’s communication because we are too impatient and rattled to take the time necessary to hear and learn. But in reality, our babies have a wide variety of cries that communicate a wide variety of things. Some of these cries are not best served by nursing or even being in a parent’s arms, in my experience. For example:

      1) For some gassy or colicky babies, being on the back is the more comfortable position because the baby is free to move his arms, twist his body and kick his legs (while we might stroke him and talk soothingly).

      2) The baby wakes in the night (as babies naturally do) and is struggling a little to find a comfortable position in which to go back to sleep. There are parents in my classes who have video cameras in their child’s bedroom and can see the baby moving around, trying to get comfortable, not completely awake…. The baby eventually finds sleep again, but has made some struggling sounding cries. Should we go and wake up the baby when we hear these cries?

      3) We take our baby to a party and she becomes hugely over-stimulated. She needs to move her body and cry to release this excess energy. She cries a rhythmic, tired cry. Perhaps she needs to be held, perhaps she just needs verbal support and freedom to move.

      4) The parent has created habits and wants to help the baby change them. There is no way to do that I know of without the child crying. Yes, it would be ideal if we could hold the child while they make this transition…but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes that makes it take twice as long for the baby to let go.

      The big difference between Pikler and Gerber…and most of the other experts is that Pikler and Gerber believed babies are capable of empathetic connections with us (and research is now proving this). For me, loving a baby is doing our best to understand when to intervene and when to allow the baby to do what he or she is capable of doing…and not interrupting that process, honoring it. Babies don’t suddenly change when they turn into toddlers. The patterns we encourage in the first year or two impact our child for the rest of his or her life. If we discourage crying in the first months of life by jumping the gun to fix it, we’ve set patterns that can be difficult to alter.

      When we give parents rules about how they should respond to crying and tell them that if they don’t follow these parameters they are being abusive or causing brain damage (as some recent hysterical, false and irresponsible articles did) all we do is scare and guilt many more parents out of allowing their babies to cry at all. Call me crazy, but I have a basic trust in parents and believe that they care about their babies. What they need most is to be supported and encouraged, cut a little slack… Parents need to know how important it is for babies to be supported and encouraged to have their feelings. Their cries are communication that needs to be welcomed, understood, accepted, although this can be one of the most challenging things parents will ever have to do.

      The big question… Where is the line between healthy crying and harmful crying? For you, Genevieve, it is about holding a baby or not. For me, it isn’t as simple as that. I would take a bullet before hitting or verbally abusing a child, but I don’t see crying as a black and white issue. I don’t believe in leaving babies to cry, but I see gray areas. And for me, the most important message to give parents is that cries need to be understood (or at least attempted to be understood) and responded to accordingly, not stifled and discouraged.

      Once again, I thank you for all you do to educate and inspire parents. 🙂

      With love and great respect,
      Janet

  35. I have a very tender-hearted friend who, as she put it, “Can’t stand to hear one of (her) kids cry.” So, bless her heart, her kids give her the run-around. They are ill-behaved and even the 10 year old gets whatever he wants whenever he wants it. Pathetic. Who is parenting here?

    I have noticed that it all stemmed from her inability to let them cry at all as babies. Her 18 month old still wakes up three or four times a night to nurse. And while they may be attached to mommy, it is because she always does whatever they want.

    My two sweet kids have little fussing periods, such as when they want something dangerous and I won’t let them have it, or they are going down to sleep by themselves, etc. But my two-year old and six month old sleep 12-13 hours at night, are both incredibly happy and well-adjusted, and are not clingy. At all.

    So I have to vote down the “nurse your baby to comfort them and only let them cry in your arms” theory. It seems like it would lead to exhausted mamas and spoiled kids.

  36. Hi Janet,

    It is so amazing that this conversation is still going after 2 years! I found your site about 6 moths ago or so and have learned a lot from it.

    I have to say though the cry it out subject I haven’t fully come to terms, pretty much all that Genevieve took the time to thoughtfully express, I am with her.

    Of course I am no sleep expert but I feel there are two aspects of the sleep learning process, the falling asleep and the putting themselves back to sleep and getting to sleep through the night.

    I understand the points you have explained, about respecting what the baby needs, listening, some babies need to release some cry or “fuss” before they sleep and need some space. That is not an issue, the reality is though that so many babies are expected to fall asleep unassisted, left in their cribs to “figure it out” until they cry themselves to sleep, there are many many parents who expect their babies to be sleeping through the night when they are not ready yet and put them in the crib, say good night and don’t come see them until the morning, it doesn’t matter how long it took the baby to fall asleep.

    I think it it a journey where they need plenty of assistance at first and as they grow you let go more and more until they give you signs that they are ready to do it themselves, just like any other milestone 🙂 and that is the part where I have not seen sleep training being in line to what RIE advocates, all the other milestones are waited for, when the baby is truly ready to achieve on their own without being pushed, such as rolling over, sitting, walking and potty learning.

    I think there is so much more that needs to be explained in this regard because I have witnessed so many conversations on this issue and it seems to me that it all comes down to competetiveness in some parents, the baby sleeping thorough the night at a certain age, otherwise there is something wrong with the baby. Is about proper expectations, when we have a newborn we adjust our priorities, is just a short period of time, no need to rush them. I say all this because I have seen at least 2 links that advocate CIO and I just feel there is a responsability that has to come with it, I am 100% sure that a pro-spanking site would not be advocated and I am glad for that, I would not be a fan of that, but the CIO issue seems a little ambiguous, some more detailed explaining would be worth it.

    Thank you very much for all the work that you do Janet,

    Best Regards,
    Vanessa

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      I couldn’t agree with you more… except that I am not aware of parents expecting babies to sleep through the night or leaving them in cribs to “figure it out”. I don’t work with parents who think that way and I don’t find them reading here… And if they did read my blog, Lisa Sunbury’s blog ( http://regardingbaby.org), or Madga Gerber’s books (or take a RIE parenting class) they could plainly see that we are advocating being intensely respectful, attuned and responsive to babies. As I’ve said here many times, I don’t really understand what CIO is and I honestly have no interest in it. CIO and artificial or forced sleep training are not on my radar… It has always sounded to me like a desperate act by parents who have created habits to help the baby sleep (like constant nursing) and are at their wit’s end.

      My focus is to help parents not create those habits.

      My message to parents is clear: observe, listen and understand your babies, believe them capable, whole people. That has nothing at all to do with abandoning babies or forcing them to independence. Why would I address these parents you are talking about when I don’t know any of them? And if I did, I wouldn’t use scare tactics or shame to help them find another way. Sorry, but I refuse to “take sides” on this issue… That is the only competition I am seeing and it is doing much more harm than good, in my opinion.

      Respectfully yours,
      Janet

  37. Janet,
    Thanks for responding, I apologize if I just made things worse, I am sure that everything that you teach on your classes is based on respect and the parents that seek your classes are sensible too, I guess where I wasn’t clear so much is when it comes to readiness for babies to transition into more independent sleep. I still don’t see nursing to sleep as a bad habit but maybe is because of my own personal experience where my son grew out of it and that has made me have faith that they do get there, it takes patience though and I understand that everybody does things different. I thought it was worth commenting because when I was a new mom hadn’t come across your site or Magda’s teachings and it all seemed like there were only two extremes to it, information truly makes a difference and just like I tried co-sleeping because I didn’t know any other way that felt good I am sure that for desperate parents who want to get more sleep and co-sleeping is not an option end up doing CIO. I agree that shaming and scare tactics do not help, but information does. I will make sure I get my hands on Magda’s books and read more of Lisa’s and your page to understand more.

    Best regards

    1. Vanessa, I didn’t mean that you made things worse…at all. What I meant by that is that crying is a very emotional issue for all of us, and from what I know and read, the pervasive view is that one either stops the baby from crying immediately, or is labelled an uncaring CIO parent. That is a damaging label, in my opinion…because we end up scaring parents into discouraging their babies from communicating and feeling their feelings. Nursing young infants whenever they cry quells their tears, but also trains them to accept nursing as the solution for all of their ills. Whatever we do with babies is what they know and will choose to continue. This is not understood by the many commenters here who have said, “Well of course the baby won’t take the breast if that’s not what they need.” This “need” has been developed unwittingly by the parent in the first months of life, when infants are very accepting of what they are given. It’s true that some babies transition out of this naturally, but many don’t .

      Anyway, I’m sure you sensed my frustration and I’m sorry to have reacted so strongly to your comment…but I feel strongly about this issue and must speak my truth about it.

      Warmly,
      Janet

      1. This quotation was just posted on Magda Gerber’s Facebook page and it really sums up my beliefs on this subject…

        “Babies communicate from birth. If your attitude is, “I cannot know automatically what you need; please tell me,” then the baby will learn to give you cues, and a dialogue will develop. If, on the other hand, parents superimpose their interpretations of the baby’s problem, the infant may *unlearn* to expect appropriate responses to her needs and learn to accept what the parents offer. This is the difference between being understood and misunderstood. Being understood creates security, trust and confidence. Being misunderstood creates doubt both in oneself and in one’s own perceptions.”

        1. Thank you so much for your replies Janet, my sincere apologies to you too, I can’t stress enough how much sites like yours have opened my mind so much.

          I love the quote, wholeheartedly agree with it.

          Sincerely,
          Vanessa

          1. Vanessa, I appreciate your kind words of support…and I always want to hear what’s on your mind. So, thank you!

  38. Janet, I love your approach and philosophy. Very balanced. One thing that really disturbs me is that Annie never responded to a point you made several times, about comforting measures used by mothers who are unable to breastfeed (and yes, there are some mothers who are truly unable to breastfeed!).

  39. Wow… a fascinating debate and one that will probably continue without end because we all feel the need to comfort out children, but we have different approaches to the way that we comfort them.
    I have to say that I agree with components of both the AP and the RIE methods. I loved carrying my baby and found it a wonderful way to share the experience of going for a walk. Now, with him in a stroller, I have to stop and bend over to talk to him, which is worse on my back than carrying! I fell into a nursing-to-sleep trap, and I did find the no-cry sleep solution useful. I do wish to defend the author, because while the title is misleading, she does not say that ‘no crying at all’ will be involved, and does teach how to ‘cope’ with the complaints that your child will express with the change in sleeping habits.
    Interestingly although my son nursed until 21 months (until I chose to wean him) he has never nursed for comfort, he would always need to calm in other ways before he could nurse.
    I wished that I could use nursing as a soothing technique because it sounded like a quick fix but he wouldn’t have a bar of it!
    The thing I wish all people in the AP vs RIE debate would acknowledge, is that regardless of whether you are practicing one or the other technique, you are still probably putting a lot more care, love and effort into raising your child than some parents do, and you should feel good about that.

  40. avatar YellRedder says:

    This makes so much sense to me. I’ve read the No Cry Solution and I felt a bit uncomfortable with it as, to me, it felt as though it’s about trying to suppress baby’s emotions – thought it was just me! And anyone who thinks cc and cio are about leaving a baby to cry all night in a darkened room all alone, clearly has no idea about how to do them!

  41. Hi Janet

    I have a question. You say:

    Our instincts tell us to make the crying stop, rather than to support our baby’s emotional health by hearing, acknowledging and understanding cries before we act.

    Are you saying that our instincts are wrong? That we should go against our instincts?

    This is what I am struggling with as I’ve always believed that I should go with my instincts.

    Many thanks

    May

    1. Great question, May. There are parents who believe in going with one’s instincts 100%. That would not have worked for me…In fact, that’s what I thought I should be doing in the beginning with my first baby and it definitely did NOT work for me. For example, my instincts told me that I should be entertaining my baby nonstop, keeping her occupied every waking minute. Then, I went to a parent/infant class where it was suggested that I place my baby on her back and observe her…and she was fully present and occupied with her own thoughts — content — for 1 and 1/2 hours! After witnessing this, my instincts then told me something else…that this was a magical, extremely important experience for my daughter to have and I wanted to allow her to do this again and again, as much as she wanted/needed to.

      My instinct was also to make my child’s crying end rather than allow her to express herself fully. Most of us would agree that crying is a positive thing for toddlers to do, but why not for infants? Babies have many reasons to cry and some cannot be solved… Babies release stress through their tears like all of us do and that needs to be allowed, accepted, supported. If our intention is to follow an instinct to stop our child’s cries, we will end up stifling a lot of this stress-release crying and miss or misread much of our child’s communication.

      So, I guess what I’m saying is that I believe some of our instincts are better than others.

      1. I wouldn’t call those “instincts” … I would call them “culturally ingrained responses.”

        Instincts are more primal. Every instinct we have is for a good reason. We have the instinct to not let our babies cry, because crying is a signal that something is wrong, and so we try to find a solution. This instinct only becomes a problem when there is no solution, and the baby just needs the emotional release. But it is still overall a good instinct to have.

        1. Wynnie, if the solution we want is to make the crying stop, rather than taking the time to assess and fulfill the babies needs, it is an example of a less than helpful instinct, in my opinion.

  42. avatar Elisabeth says:

    I realize this is kind of an old thread but I feel compelled to add my thoughts. I’ve been following your blog and and your posts on Facebook for a few months and find you have some really wonderful things to say that I can incorporate into my parenting. But this conversation really disappoints me. Not only do you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what AP is, but you are verging on insulting at times here and perpetuating this incorrect idea of what AP is to your readers.

    I’m an AP parent, and I run an AP group, nearly all my friends are naturally minded, many identify as AP, some don’t like labels, most have nursed on demand until their children have self weaned as preschoolers. I’m the oddball for only making it till age 2 with my two kids. I have yet to see in any of our many many many get togethers, any of our kids be distracted by their moms’ presence or the promise of nursing when comfortable play was available. Perhaps the parents who are attending your classes are more often those who have been unsuccessful with AP (or why else would they be seeking an alternative parenting method) and are therefore not the best examples of what AP parents do? Maybe some of the kids are anxious in the class setting and would like their mother’s comfort? Maybe the moms in your classes are picking up on your thoughts around breastfeeding and becoming anxious about it themselves and that anxiety is turning a generally non interruptive act into a scene? I mean I don’t know how many playgroups and AP meetings I’ve been to, I’ve just never seen this be an issue. In fact my kids have been unlikely to nurse when we’ve been out doing interesting things and seeing other kids and playing with other people’s cool toys. My friends’ AP kids are extremely independent and generally have better things to do than hang around mom.

    Nowhere in the “AP manual” does it say that you must not let a baby cry. In fact I remember following Dr. Sears’ advice when I night-weaned my first son, to reassure him that mom and dad were there and loved him and that he could have more milk when the sun is up (or something to that effect). Dr. Sears did say that it was ok if they cried, it wasn’t the same as abandoning them to cry it out, that the important thing was to make your love and support understood to them as best you could while they dealt with the transition. We did this for three nights. On the first night he cried buckets, the second night he cried a little, the third night he was a little restless and that was that. And I’m still an AP parent!

    We are never trying to shut up our babies with our breasts and this is the part I really take offense to. ‘Shutting a baby up’ is the antithesis of AP. I think the misunderstanding comes because AP parents, having had their babies so close to them, are often able to read subtle cues *before* they begin to cry or cues given in addition to crying. With my second, because I was so attuned to him, I found a number of things he did as an infant alerted me to his hunger well before crying was a consideration for him. If he ever got to the point of crying, he was melting down by then because he was severely hungry. If he is able to communicate his needs to me by other means, it is ok for me to feed him before he cries. Because of this responsiveness of the parent, the kids often just don’t need to cry, or don’t need to cry much, as we’re able to receive their communications and respond in whatever appropriate way. (my example here is about nutritive nursing. There are of course many needs to satisfy including the discomfort of a wet diaper, tiredness, and the need for physical affection.)

    I must admit I’m interested in the idea of allowing my baby to cry as a means of expression. I don’t think it has anything to do with AP but I guess, truthfully, I am a little anxious if my baby cries and I can’t discern a reason. But I’ve always been able to figure it out. Only twice in his 2+ years has my youngest ever cried uncontrollably without discernible reason. I suppose if I’d read your posts on crying first, (which until I read the AP-critical parts I could have easily thought were written *by* an AP expert) I might have just held him through it and showed him support. Instead I decided the likely cause was overstimulation. Both times I took him into a quiet and dimly lit bath, sat with him and gently swayed him in the water, and he stopped crying. I did not attempt to shut him up, but I was concerned and found a way to help settle his body down. Maybe I robbed him of the chance to settle his own body, but I don’t think AP and self-regulation are mutually exclusive. And after I post this comment I’m going to post the video of the baby reaching for the toy on my AP Facebook group wall because I think the others there will find it thought provoking and the implications worth considering. Being aware of what baby needs with the ultimate goal of fostering independence, self-reliance, and security (and happiness!) is what AP is about, even if those needs mean backing off a little and giving them space to master things themselves.

    1. Elisabeth, I think you have made a great comment. I would also add that in my experience, if hunger ISN’T the cause of crying (i.e. if the baby is over-tired) then milk doesn’t do the trick anyway! There were many occasions (when my daughter was very young and I hadn’t worked out how to ‘read’ her yet) that she cried and she refused to take the boob. Once I became better at reading her, I realised that there was never an occasion where she would cry for no reason – like you, there have only been a couple of times in memory where she has cried and I haven’t been able to work out why.
      Great discussion!

    2. Elisabeth, thank you for sharing your thoughts. If there is one thing I’ve learned from this discussion, it is that there are almost as many ways to perceive and follow Attachment Parenting as there are parents. I think that’s probably positive, but it also creates confusion about the AP approach.

      Here are a couple of perspectives that you might find interesting… First, Laura Markham, Ph.D, an Attachment Parent /pscyhologist on her Facebook page in response to RIE Associate Lisa Sunbury’s post (a post that, to my shock and surprise, angered many “gentle” Attachment Parents) “Is the Happiest Baby on the Block the Most Oppressed? Why I’m Not a Fan of the 5s Method for Calming Crying Babies”

      Dr. Laura wrote:

      “Here is where I differ from the way attachment is often practiced. I do not think that stopping the baby from crying is the primary goal. I think meeting her needs is the primary goal. So, for instance, if my daughter is crying and I have tried meeting her needs as I understand them — I have offered the breast, and she has rejected it, for instance — then maybe all I can do is listen with compassion to what she is expressing. Maybe she had a hard, over-stimulating day. Or, even a few months ago, a hard birth. I am convinced that babies need to offload these feelings just as three year olds and thirty year olds, do. And if you have ever had anyone hold you and listen while you cried, you know just what a sacred gift this is.”

      And this one was posted here in the comments by Genevieve, who is an Attachment Parent and Aware Parenting instructor:

      “In my social circles, I tended to be surrounded by AP families and nearly all of them put their baby on the breast every time they needed to cry for any reason at all, without thinking, just out of habit. I could see there was an inherent belief Child crying = child needs to nurse. I watched babies resisting and pulling off in an attempt to continue crying and being offered the breast again and again, the baby surrenders because that’s the only form that mum’s calm attention is being offered. Invariably the babies have developed dependency on the breast for comfort with every hurt, bump, stress of overstimulation, tiredness and disappointment.”

      What does this mean? I don’t really know…except that there are obviously a wide range of interpretations of Attachment Parenting and some are healthier than others. This isn’t just my view, it is shared by parent educators like Laura and Genevieve, who know much more about Attachment Parenting than I do.

  43. Janet, I would like to respond to your article by sharing my thougts with you.

    I’ve been practicing attachment parenting with my daughter since she was born and she is now 3.4. No I did not carry every waking moment of the day, however both my husband and I used an ergo and mobiwrap to walk our daughter and to multitask having access to both hands. In addition I handed her to others, put her on the floor, and taught her to be independent. I response to your correspondence above, I did care for her 24 hours a day just as another other loving parent does.

    While I did offer her the breast when she fell, she didn’t always request it. As a toddler she now nurses 2 times a day, at morning and after nap, and frequently falls needing zero comfort from nursing and is sufficed with a hug or a cuddle.

    Frankly I find it offensive when someone takes a very complicated parenting approach and over simplifies it to a point of making it sound completely inappropriete and unachievable, limiting others exposure to very sound and compassionate parenting techniques.

    Sure I nursed her when she fell down or hurt herself and it was quite healing for her as I’m an energy healer of 12 years. I could feel the heat coming from my body as she nursed, while helping repair her Spirit, emotions, and body. She has zero unhealthy food addictions and does not seek out treats when she is hurt.

    Please don’t blasphemize something you don’t seem to clearly understand. Mothers and fathers can practice attachment parenting techniques without breast feeding and it is not as all consuming as you make it appear. To be honest the majority of strangers who met our daughter boast about her independence, openness to strangers, love for expression, and aboundless joy for life.

    1. Lightray, I think you might misunderstand this post… This is an exchange I had with one Attachment Parent, who is also an influential blogger. She did not disagree with the way I introduced Attachment Parenting in my first sentences…it seems that you do, so I’m glad you commented.

      ‘Blasphemy’ is a very strong word. You obviously consider Dr. Sears’ approach quite sacred. So, I’m truly sorry if my point of view and the experiences I share from my years working with parents and babies offend you.

      For clarification, ‘inappropriate’, ‘unachievable’ and ‘all consuming’ are your perceptions, not mine.

  44. avatar Margarita says:

    Janet, I think part of what is at stake for many people here is that you make the claim that parents who breastfeed to calm their children are inherently less in tune with their children’s needs, are “listening less.” That may be true for some parents, but I suspect it is no more true than a statement that every parent who lets their child cry is listening well to what that child needs. I came to this site because I was deeply attracted to the idea of listening, trusting, and respecting children. But I don’t believe that any one parenting practice tells me how well a parent is listening, absent what happens in the actual interaction between child and parent. And I think that is where your post ends up offending many people. It is one thing to say: I have found that it can help parents listen when they explore options in addition to breastfeeding for engaging with a crying child.” That’s a perspective that I find enormously helpful and gives me much to think about. It is another to say “You aren’t listening to your child because you are doing X.” Parents who breastfeed on demand with a crying child aren’t necessarily doing what they are doing to stop the crying: I imagine that they are doing it more often because they want to be responsive to the child. I think that’s where parents feel disrespected and judged by your words, and I think that ends up making the conversation and what you could contribute less fruitful than it could be. If you were able to speak to your audience, including those who practice differing parenting practices, with the assumption that ALL of us are listening and being responsive, but that there might be some additional ways to think about being responsive that could be helpful — that would probably reach a wider audience and attract less vitriol in the responses.

    In my own case, I had a baby who screamed and screamed for months, and I found that several things helped, most of all breastfeeding and bouncing her on an exercise ball. I had read Weissbluth, I hadn’t made some a priori commitment to a particular way of supporting my daughter in her crying. But doing these things to soothe her felt right — they felt, to me, like I WAS listening. Fast forward to late in her first year, when the “colic” should have been gone: it turned out that she had extreme stomach issues, major problems with gas and constipation that caused her extreme bouts of excruciating pain. Even now, at 2 and 1/2, she has no clear diagnosis, a very limited diet, and periods of excruciating pain. What became clear to me in retrospect is that what I was doing — the bouncing and the nursing — were both means that stood a better chance of relieving her of pain than anything else (she still nurses when she’s trying to get a difficult, painful poop out; she still bounces when she is extremely gassy in her tummy and needs the bubbles out). Does this make her less able to “self-soothe”? Perhaps (or perhaps not — she’s in many ways remarkably independent), but I’m okay with that, given that the alternative would have meant deliberately leaving her in physical pain. The think is, while I had a gut sense of what my child needed when she was 2 months old, I suspect that, if I had read your site at that critical juncture, in the black-and-white way you present things, I would have felt that I needed to “let her cry” so she could have her feelings acknowledged — and in her case, that would have been so wrong. Sometimes, listening is letting your child breastfeed to calm her/him down not because one is “afraid of crying” or “unable to to listen,” but because one has listened, carefully, and made a choice based on what one has heard. Maybe, even, that choice isn’t “right” 100% of the time (I can’t say, with my daughter, that every time she cried and I responded with bouncing or the boob that it really was that she was in excruciating pain). But to dismiss those choices, uniformly, as not really listening is unfair. It may be that your position is more nuanced than it comes across here, but there are points where it seems that you are saying that folks who choose to respond to crying with breastfeeding, or allow infants to nurse for comfort, are inherently less careful at listening. (Example: “If our intention is to follow an instinct to stop our child’s cries, we will end up stifling a lot of this stress-release crying and miss or misread much of our child’s communication.”) I think that ends up alienating people who otherwise would have a great deal to learn from many of the valuable ideas you share — people who truly believe in the need to respect and nurture and attend to babies and toddlers (or they probably wouldn’t have come to your site to begin with).

    You rightly point out that nursing on demand can create a habit. But so do ALL the things we do with children, including many of the things you strongly recommend on this site. To suggest something is a habit we teach children does not inherently make that a bad thing (when we teach children not to hit or bite, that’s shaping a habit, too!). And: children grow and learn and transform, learn new habits and unlearn old ones. My daughter knows that we no longer nurse in public (unless traveling); my daughter knows how to go to sleep without nursing (though she does not always choose to, and I listen to her choices); my daughter knows that there are times and circumstances where she will need to work through her distress that I acknowledge but don’t try to “solve” for her. But of course you are right that we must be mindful and deliberate in the habits we foster, and that’s a helpful reminder.

  45. I think it’s very sad (and wrong) that so many people think Attachment Parenting means not being able to let your child cry when they are expressing themselves. Nursing “on demand” (an AP practice) does not mean “shove your nipple in their mouth any time they cry.” There are times for breastfeeding and there are times to listen or hold them compassionately. Where did you get the idea that AP meant stopping every cry with the breast? We practice both AP and RIE and have not found these styles to be as opposite as some claim. There are times my daughter cries and wants the breast for comfort or for food. And there are times when she cries and is just expressing frustration or sadness at something. Neither she nor I would ever rush to use the breast as a panacea. But she has open access to breastfeeding whenever she wants it. As she is 17 months old now she can ask for it by name so there is no confusion about what she wants. But it saddens me that AP has gotten such a bad rap. That’s just as bad as people who say that RIE parents don’t comfort their kids when they cry. For me, both AP and RIE are about respecting the child as an individual with needs who can express those needs in a multitude of ways. Both are about getting to know and respect our children, in my eyes anyway..

    1. I agree with you and I think AP and RIE are very similar in many ways or at least can coexist well together. AP focuses more on comforting and nurturing while RIE focuses on fostering independence and creativity. In short: AP = naptime; RIE = playtime. I co-sleep… but I let my son take charge during play time. I nurse on demand… but not at every little whimper. I don’t think AP & RIE are opposites at all. That’s not fair to say and a lot of people who think they are must not know much about AP.

      1. Thanks for your comment, Hannah. I realize this wasn’t directed towards me, but for clarification I wanted to respond. You sound like a great mom and you’ve obviously figured out a way of parenting that works well for you.

        My view of the differences between AP and RIE is quite different than yours… The difference in “focus” is that AP focuses on nurturing and connecting through breastfeeding and physical proximity, whereas RIE focuses on nurturing and connecting though attunement (observing, listening and responding in accordance with the baby’s communication). The RIE approach is learning about, understanding and appreciating the infant as a separate person.

        RIE doesn’t focus less on connecting than AP does, but RIE perceives infants and our ideal connection with them quite differently. RIE believes even the youngest infants are capable, competent, unique individuals who can relate to adults mind-to-mind, and need time to be initiators, explorers, self-learners. RIE parents connect through attentive physical contact, and also by appreciating the baby’s self-initiated activities. Infants are far more aware than they were once considered (and new research is proving this). Magda Gerber understood many years ago that babies know when they have our full attention and she believed that feeling this validation for “who they are” is the ultimate in emotional nurturing. I totally agree.

        The less mentally conscious way of bonding Dr. Sears recommends (i.e., keeping babies in carriers while the parent engages in activities) is not valued or recommended by RIE, except for convenience sake. At RIE we see this time as far less beneficial to the baby or for our relationship than the “independent play” model, in which babies can experiment, create, explore “self”.

        I think it’s great that there are a wide variety of interpretations of AP and that many parents are now including independent infant play as part of their AP repertoire, but Dr. Sears’ suggestion (and the “Continuum” author’s message) is to keep infants physically attached for the first 9 months at least. This was necessary in primitive times, but arguably less so now.

  46. I wonder how long this debate has been going on. Anyway, I think it’s great! I loved reading both sides of the issue. It made me think a lot and question my own attitudes.
    I think at times I used the breast when I could have soothed my son some other way. Specially when he was already a toddler. But I still think it’s almost the only way when they are very little.
    It was also interesting reading that it’s ok to cry and release your emotions.

    1. It’s actually great as a parent to see your child be able to self sooth themselves. It feels good to know they can take care of themselves. Children are born competent and resilient. We just need to sit back and observe more so we can enjoy more.

  47. I consider myself to be both AP and RIE. When my 1-year-old is upset, I encourage him to deal with his emotions in other ways, such as by talking it out with him, before offering the breast. Sometimes talking and empathizing are all that is needed, and he happily goes back to playing. Other times he seems to need a little extra “calming down,” and then I let him nurse.

    Comfort nursing can be a good thing when you deliberately and judiciously decide to allow it as the situation warrants.

  48. Thank you for posting Janet! This article and discussion will hopefully educate many parents out there. I have a 12 month old son and I’ve been highly inspired by Magda Gerber’s teachings. I am also an Early Childhood Educator.

    Due to my profession I get to experience the aftermath of different parenting styles… ( I work with 3-6 yr olds). I have to say there is a clear difference between RIE babies and others… RIE babies enter the school environment; confident, aware of their space, independent (trust me … it can be painful to see your child have separation anxiety, due to dependency issues), happy, they know what they are capable of doing or not doing, respectful, and competent. Just say’n…. I’m thankful for Magda Gerber!

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