Attachment Parenting & Sleep Training

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: attachment parenting and sleep training are not mutually exclusive. Nope. And this may surprise some of you, but sleep training does not require you to leave your babies to cry themselves to sleep. Shocking, isn’t it? Sleep training is all about giving your baby the tools to sleep independently — which sounds at odds with attachment parenting, I know — in the sense that babies learn to go to sleep without a sleep crutch. You might even consider sleep your child’s first step towards independence.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely practicing attachment parenting in some form or another. Many parents I encounter don’t subscribe to all tenets of attachment parenting, but pick and choose the elements that work best for their family and beliefs.

Dr. Sears and attachment parenting

Popularized by William and Martha Sears, attachment parenting at its most basic involves being as close and as responsive as one can to their baby and its needs; and by having its needs met consistently a baby will grow into a well-adjusted, happy, healthy member of society. Attachment parenting materializes in the form of wearing your baby, breastfeeding on-demand, bed-sharing and responding to your baby’s cries immediately.

I’m not going to enter into a debate about parenting philosophies, except to say that I’m a neutral party here. The reality is that there is no evidence showing that attachment parenting is any better than other parenting philosophies — it merely aligns better with what some parents desire for their children.

Therefore, this blog is aimed at those parents who are in need of help with their baby’s sleeping habits, but feel conflicted; many of my attachment parenting clients share that they think that they’re “cheating” by utilizing sleep training. Look, who cares what it is as long as everyone in the family is sleeping healthily? No one needs to be a martyr here.

The Seven B’s

Dr. Sears was helpful enough to provide a bulleted list of main principles of attachment parenting that he termed, “The Seven B’s.” The Seven B’s include: Birth Bonding, Breastfeeding, Babywearing, Bedding close to baby, Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry, Beware of baby trainers, and Balance.

Original attachment parenting concepts

I would, however, like to point out that the original tenets of attachment parenting were not so rigid. In fact, an Atlantic article points out that the originators of attachment parenting theory — psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby– glossed over breastfeeding and never mentioned co-sleeping. What Ainsworth and Bowlby emphasized was the importance of a mother being engaged with her baby while feeding it, not whether the baby was fed by breast or by a bottle, and that “a mother’s attention does make a difference.” The Atlantic article also points out that sleep and babywearing were never mentioned in the original attachment parenting discussion.

Where the uncertainty stems from

So, we know that babywearing, co-sleeping, and breastfeeding weren’t explicitly mentioned by the originators of attachment parenting theory, which makes the following quote from the Ask Dr. Sears site a bit outrageous:

Attachment parenting teaches you how to be discerning of advice, especially those rigid and extreme parenting styles that teach you to watch a clock or a schedule instead of your baby; you know, the cry-it-out crowd. This “convenience” parenting is a short-term gain, but a long-term loss, and is not a wise investment. These more restrained styles of parenting create a distance between you and your baby and keep you from becoming an expert in your child.

The above quote is in response to the Beware of baby trainers ‘B’ and is a little out there; anytime a philosophy doesn’t allow for anything to stray into the gray area, I question it. Just as every baby is different, every baby’s needs are different, and a baby that isn’t sleeping well needs a little assistance to get there. Helping your baby develop healthy sleep skills and habits does not “create a distance between you and your baby and keep you from becoming an expert in your child.” In fact, you noticing that your baby is having issues sleeping, and teaching your baby sleep skills, means that you are an expert in your child.

If it ain’t broke…

Look, if your family is bedsharing and everyone is sleeping well, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re co-sleeping and your partner is now taking up residence on the couch in the other room, while you struggle to stay awake during the day from frequent night feedings and wake-ups, I’d say that bedsharing isn’t working for you and it may be time to consider other options. And one of those options is teaching your baby healthy sleep habits, which includes learning how to fall asleep independently.

The reality is that you cannot bedshare and teach your baby healthy sleep skills. Think about it, teaching babies to fall asleep independently isn’t feasible when mom is in arms’ reach at all times. And if you’re not ready to sleep in separate rooms, room sharing is a viable option for sleep training.

But the crying…

Again, sleep training does NOT require you to leave your baby to cry until they fall asleep. I do suggest giving your baby a few minutes to see if they can fall back to sleep on their own. But, the idea that sleep training requires parents to close the door at bedtime and leave their little ones until the next morning, regardless of the intensity or duration of their crying, is preposterous and, frankly, not at all accurate.

I hope I’ve alleviated any concerns you may have about sleep training and practicing attachment parenting. If you have further questions, or would like to talk about how I can help your family achieve healthy sleep, give me a call!

 

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