Loving Babies Without Wearing Them

If bloggers got year-end bonuses, this would be mine. In this note, a new mother shares her discovery of infant expert Magda Gerber’s child care approach and the profound effects it has had on her family…

Dear Janet,

I stumbled on your blog through the guest post on “tummy time” when my daughter, now six months, was about two months old.  I was totally captivated by the video of Baby Liv and then spent hours reading your whole blog.  Very quickly I just had this enormous sense of relief come over me: I hadn’t realized how tense I had been until I discovered how amazing this feeling was!  And on the same day that I started reading about Magda Gerber and RIE parenting, the baby caught my sense of peace right away.  Suddenly she started sleeping more, in part because I didn’t jump up every time she stirred.  She wasn’t taking really short naps, I found—she was having wakeful periods (sometimes very vigorous wakeful periods) in the middle of long naps that I had been destroying by picking her up too quickly.

What relief to realize that my young baby needed her own space and time: that I didn’t need to be entertaining her every minute or teaching her the alphabet in order for her to develop.  I could trust my child to grow up, and I could help her along the way.  Wow–my whole perspective shifted, and I became so much calmer.  So did my baby!

But RIE has turned out to be an unexpected source of comfort in other ways.  As a result of a rare condition, I’ve suffered several vertebral fractures over the last couple of months, and my spine is still very delicate.  This means that for the next year or so, I have to be extremely careful.  I simply can’t pick my baby up or “wear” her (you’re right, it’s a terrible term), for I risk even worse permanent disability.  I can, thankfully, still hold her in my lap if someone hands her to me.

If I was still under the sway of attachment parenting (which I do think is different from RIE, and which I believe encourages, perhaps inadvertently, the anxieties of new parents to develop into self-destructive behaviors and worries), this would be completely devastating.  After all, it would mean that my child would fail to properly attach, that I was an insufficient mother, that we would all be emotionally stunted by my physical limitations.

But under RIE, my physical value as a mother is rather limited.  I am not a beast of burden for my child.  Rather, I can sit and watch her play and comment.  I can read books to her.  I can play games with her.  I can empathize with her and talk to her.  And all of that is considered plenty.

So, I am incredibly grateful for your work and that of Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler.  You will all have made my child’s infancy so much happier for us.

With so many thanks,



“Parents often say to me, “I want to hold my baby all the time to show him how much I love him.” Most animals can show affection only through touch, but we humans have an extensive, varied and refined repertoire of ways to demonstrate love. To me, a mature, evolved person shows love by respecting the *otherness* of the beloved. You become a good parent not only by listening to your instinctive messages but by paying close attention to your baby, by observing the infant. Sensitive observation flows from respect.” – Magda Gerber

(Photo by cheriejoyful on Flickr.)


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

  1. Love this. There are many ways to be an effective loving parent, and none of them involves feeling like a failure. Kudos to this young mother for seeking and then recognising answers to her particular needs.

  2. Wow, as someone with a disability, I really can get this. I cannot always mother (physically) the way I would want. It comforts me to know that my reassuring and quiet presence is enough for my boy. In a way, it is a blessing, because at times, my disability prevents me from leaping up to his every cry. Although he has never been neglected, because I am fortunate to have help when I am ill, my disability sort of sidelined my obsessive perfectionism– in this way, I see it as a real blessing, because it requires me to really think long and hard, every day, about what is worth spending my physical (and emotional) energy on. How to maximize our lives together so that our time is spent well. How to sit back and trust that my son can and well attach to me without constant physical reassurance (and he has!) Much peace to you, friend. And yes, my disability has required many changes to my parenting… BUT I think over all it has made me a better mother, because I am more conscious of my own limits, and less able to ignore myself or my own care in favour of my son. Every decision we make, we make as a family, and I MUST consider my own needs, because if not, I can’t care for my family. I think many healthy mothers don’t hit the wall until many years of over-extending themselves. For me, hitting the wall cannot happen, and if I push myself too hard, it will, and dramatically.
    I agree that Attachment Parenting (blech) and RIE are very much different. Part of what I like about RIE is that it really seems to consider the whole family, as a unit. It also gave me the tools to encourage my son to play independently, in a way that was supportive and not neglectful, and because of those breaks, I get to rest and take care of myself.

  3. Wow, that must have been so encouraging to receive a letter like that and know that your writing has helped a mom so much! Isn’t that the goal of everything we’re doing here, really? Amazing.

    I’m going on a little tangent here, but I was interested in the mother’s distaste for “Attachment Parenting.”

    I’m seeing here that there seems to be a difference between Attachment Theory, as introduced by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, vs. Attachment Parenting vs. RIE. It seems that these words mean different things to different people. I wonder what a clear definition of each one would be?

    It would be interesting to clearly define, too what specific practice a person is referring to when they dismiss a parenting style, like “attachment parenting.” Or what the term “attachment parenting” means to that person. I would just hate to throw out the whole concept of secure attachment, because it is such a key part of development. Which it doesn’t seem is happening, but it’s a little bit unclear what is meant.

    1. Thanks, Leslie! Yes, this letter was a big morale boost for me.

      I have no idea how this mom’s negative opinion of Attachment Parenting was formed, but I can speak to the difference between Attachment Parenting and Bowlby’s Attachment Theory…

      Attachment Theory is complex and multi-faceted, but I’ll attempt to oversimplify by saying it’s about responsiveness, consistency and continuity of care, all of which are necessary for forming secure attachments.

      Attachment Parenting is the invention of Dr. William Sears and the route he recommends for fostering secure attachments. His recommendations include babywearing (a term he invented) and “18 months in the womb” — meaning babies kept next to the parent’s body 24-7 for the first 9 months.

      The RIE Educaring approach was founded by infant specialist Magda Gerber and is a somewhat different route to the same “end goal” — a securely bonded relationship of trust and respect between parent and child. Her recommendations are what my blog is all about…and Lisa Sunbury writes extensively about Gerber’s approach on regardingbaby.org.

      There’s a book that I highly recommend for an overview of Attachment Theory… Theories of Attachment: An Introduction to Bowlby, Ainsworth, Gerber, Brazelton, Kennell and Klaus by Carol Garhart Mooney. I’m unclear as to why she doesn’t include a chapter on Attachment Parenting and the work of Dr. Sears.

  4. Hello! Just stumbled on the site today and love it! I have read a couple of Aletha Solter’s books and Holt’s books too and am rapidly trying to implement these methods with my just turned 2 year old. However, I often find myself forgetting what I have learned and being at a loss when it comes to the right words and phrases to use with my lovely toddler! Do you happen to have a list of an easy “when your child does this, you say this” type of thing? I know you have a few posts, but I would love a printable page or two. For example a list that includes these pearls of wisdom: Rather than saying, “you can do it!”, which can create pressure and set the child up to believe he disappoints us, try saying, “You are working very hard, and you’re making progress. That is tough to do. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?”


    Containing our impulse to cheer loudly or say “good job!”, and instead smiling and reflecting, “You pulled the plastic beads apart. That was really hard.”

    That would be super helpful for my husband and I… we would put it front and center on our fridge! LOL!

    Thanks again for all this wonderful information!

    1. Erin I just love the examples you gave, often times I wish I had a list too 🙂

      1. Erin and Vanessa, okay! I’ll get the list together…just give me a week or so. Thanks for your encouragement! 🙂

        1. Oooh! Thank you! Will be watching for it!

          1. Thank you Janet, looking forward to it!

  5. How wonderful that your blog helped this mother feel better about herself! I think the key here is that she realized there isn’t just one way to raise a child and finding something that was a fit for her and her babies helped her relax and be the best mom for her kids.

    P.S. I can’t wait to see that list you’re going to be working on. 🙂

    1. Hi Fran! Thank you, those are my sentiments exactly. And, okay, when the wonderful distractions of these holidays are over and I get my brain back…I’ll be back to work! The pressure’s on. 🙂

  6. Interesting post. I had often thought of RIE as a part of attachment parenting, taking attachment parenting to mean responding respectfully to the baby’s needs. Space, “belly time”, and quiet discovery are also needs. I’d never considered baby-wearing to be such a constant (24-7?!) either. Until reading this article, I would have considered Gerber and Sears to be saying much the same thing but in slightly different ways. This article puts quite a bit of distance between the two perspectives.

  7. This is exactly how I felt when I found your blog just two weeks ago. So relieved! I always felt guilty if I was not holding my baby. Now, I feel assured that I am doing the right thing by allowing him to exercise on his back and discover the world on his own time. Thank you!

    1. Yes, Amie, this way isn’t everyone’s choice, but I guarantee you that it brings wonderful results.

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