You know, there’s an awful lot of sneering about “Attachment Parenting” on the Web. (Actually, there’s a lot of sneering about all kinds of parenting, for that matter–and I’ve done my share!) But most of the snark seems to stem from a misunderstanding of what AP even is. So let’s talk about it–and how a self-proclaimed slacker mom such as myself, who openly advocates for Free Range parenting and benign neglect, can also embrace (as an ideal, mind you) Attachment Parenting.
So here is what AP is, from the actual website of Attachment Parenting International, and with a link to click if you want to know more:
Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting
Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
Feed with Love and Respect
Respond with Sensitivity
Use Nurturing Touch
Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Practice Positive Discipline
Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life
Doesn’t sound as crunchy and weird and extreme as you thought, maybe? It doesn’t mean that you have to breastfeed your six-year-old and have a family bed until middle school. It does mean that you don’t leave your baby propped up with a bottle in a crib alone in his own room as soon as you possibly can. It doesn’t mean you have to give birth unassisted at home. It might mean that you do a little research and preparation for birth instead of just believing every word that falls from the lips of your doctor. It doesn’t mean that you are a failure as a parent if you ever raise your voice. It does mean that screaming and smacking aren’t the preferred choices in your parenting toolbox.
For me, it meant extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and staying home with my kids, but you can practice attachment without doing any of those things. One thing AP theory stresses is following the cues of your child. Some kids don’t sleep well in bed with someone else. Some babies self-wean early and never look back. It’s not AP to force your children to conform to some ideal that that has nothing to do with the people they are.
Which brings me to the Free Range part of this post.
Free Range parenting also gets mocked online by parents who call it neglect, who would never leave their kids alone for one second, who hover over their big kids because they are so scared of the big bad dangerous world. But Free Range doesn’t mean leaving your baby in the car in the Kmart parking lot for an hour, or abandoning your six-year-old to fend for herself for the day. Simply put, according the website:
The short Free-Range Kids and Parent Bill of Rights is this:
Children have the right to some unsupervised time, and parents have the right to give it to them without getting arrested.
Now, how does that go along with AP? It’s all about listening to your child’s cues. That means when your kid WANTS to stay alone at home, you let him. You don’t go off for the day. You make sure he has a phone, and knows what to do in an emergency, and you go to the grocery store five minutes away for half an hour to begin with. When he wants to stay in the car and listen to the radio while you pick up some milk at the convenience store, you leave him there. When he asks to walk down the street to play with his friend, you teach him about watching out for cars and you wave good-bye.
A securely attached child, in my experience, is very likely to want to do all those things, because she has learned from experience that you are there when she needs you. She hasn’t been raised to be fearful, because her needs have been met, she has been listened to, she knows the world is a good place, and she is confident.
Our society is seriously messed up. We put babies in cribs alone and expect them to sleep through the night and do our best to put them on schedules and make them conform to our needs, and then when they are teenagers we won’t let them out of our sight. Think about the animal kingdom. Mammals keep their babies close at the beginning, then start teaching them independence a little at a time, and eventually actively push them away. That’s the way it is supposed to be for us too, and if you DON’T give your kids a little freedom at the right time, just watch how they will push YOU away.
Inquiring minds want to know . . . does that woman on the cover of Time Magazine REALLY nurse her kid in that position? And did she REALLY think she was furthering the cause of extended breastfeeding by posing for that controversial cover shot? And did it ever occur to her that she was exploiting her kid and her relationship with him for personal gain?
I hate to give this any more attention than it has garnered already. (Good job, Time; your tactic worked!) I haven’t even read the article and don’t intend to. But if anyone ever doubted that the sources we once counted on to inform us of the news are now in the business of CREATING the news, look no further than this stunt. Time doesn’t care to inform us about the truth of extended breastfeeding and the benefits of attachment; they wish to inflame us and create a controversy where there doesn’t need to be one.
The reason I’m responding instead of ignoring is because I’m an expert on extended breastfeeding. And in the interest of my passion for the truth, I want to share my experiences so that the cover of Time won’t be all that rises to your brain when the subject comes up.
Just like anyone my age, I grew up seeing babies fed mostly with bottles. For a variety of reasons having to do with the culture of the times and poor advice, four months was the longest my mother nursed a baby. My impression of breastfeeding, even when I was first pregnant, was that it was something you did for a few months and then you switched to bottles. I saved the formula coupons I received in the mail while I was pregnant.
But, as you know, I love to read. It was inevitable that I would do a lot of reading while I was pregnant and a few books I read at that time changed my life. Emily never had a bottle of formula and I nursed her for 26 months. I nursed Jake for 38 months (and yes, that means I nursed him throughout my pregnancy with Teddy, and nursed the two of them together until they weaned when Teddy was 26 months old). William nursed at least until Lorelei was born (which is 42 months) and I don’t remember exactly but I know Lorelei was past four when she stopped. (Yes, I nursed babies for 13 years. Give me a medal.)
When Emily was born, the above would have sounded just as weird to me as it may sound to you. But it’s different when it’s your own kid, your own baby. Sure, you look at a four-year-old next to a newborn and the contrast seems extreme, But when you are in the middle of mothering, there’s little difference between nursing your four-month-old or your six-month-old, your one-year-old or your eighteen-month-old, and so on. It’s a seamless transition. Do you think anything about letting your ten-year-old sit in your lap? Would you think it was odd if he wanted to climb into bed with you if he had a nightmare? Is it strange that my eighteen-year-old son likes to hug me and say, “I love my Mommy?” I don’t know, maybe you will think it’s strange, but whatever. You probably have your own sort of strangeness in your house.
I didn’t stand around in the kitchen with my kid on a step stool. I didn’t pose for any cameras. I lay down with my preschoolers and bedtime and naptime. We cuddled on the couch. They wanted to nurse for comfort when they were hurt or upset.
There are many benefits to extended breastfeeding. The nutritional and health benefits don’t go away as the child ages. I have the healthiest children I know, bar none. Emily has not visited a doctor for illness since she was TWO YEARS OLD. We’ve had one earache per kid. No strep throat. One or two antibiotic prescriptions apiece throughout childhood. My two younger kids slept with me from birth. There were no sleep issues or problems. I never had any difficulty getting anyone down for a nap or to sleep at night or back to sleep if they woke up (once I stopped stressing about solving sleep problems, which I may post about another time). If someone was hurt or sad, I could comfort them easily. And my kids are not clingy at all. Having their needs fully met as infants, toddlers, and preschoolers helps them feel good about themselves, helps them feel secure and safe. We live in a society that pushes independence on little kids and denies it to big kids. We stick babies in their own rooms and expect them to sleep through the night and then we monitor our teenagers’ homework and grades and go with them to college orientation and tell them what classes to take. That’s BACKWARDS, people.
And you know what? Extended breastfeeding is NORMAL. It’s NATURAL. Around the world, 50% of babies are still being nursed at the age of 20-23 months. In many countries the figure is much higher. The WHO recommends children be nursed until the age of two or beyond. If you don’t want to, that’s fine. But biologically it is not strange, not weird, not abnormal. It’s what women’s breasts are FOR, and even though Time meant to be provocative, it’s pretty damn pathetic that people can be whipped into a fury over a woman using her breast for its intended purpose on one magazine cover while not saying a WORD about all the synthetic almost-bare breasts adorning the covers of all the other magazines.
According to Mothering Magazine it is World Breastfeeding Week. So I need to take a little break from musical topics to wax lyrical on the joys and the benefits of breastfeeding.
Except surely by now you know the benefits of breastfeeding, right? If you don’t, click here. (And we lactivists, by the way, prefer to talk about the deficits of formula feeding, since we believe breastfeeding should be normative.)
So I think I’ll do something a little more personal and share with you some of my own adventures in breastfeeding. And I have had a lot of them!
What do I think about breastfeeding in public?
If a woman has a right to be there, she has a right to feed her baby there. Period. Would I whip out a bare breast to make a point? No. Do I think babies need blankets or nursing aprons over their heads? Absolutely not. A nursing bra and a shirt that pulls up from the bottom will do just fine. If anyone sees a nipple during the latch on process, they were staring.
Did I always feel that way?
No, it was a process. I covered my first baby with a blanket, often left the room to nurse her, and stopped nursing her in public at six months. Baby number five was nursed whenever, wherever, for at least two years.
How long should babies be breastfed?
Exclusively, for six months, or until you can no longer stop them grabbing food off your plate, whichever comes first! After that, as long as both parties feel comfortable. All my babies self-weaned, some with more encouragement than others, depending on my mood/needs at the time. I nursed Emily for 26 months, Jake for 38, Teddy for 26, William for about 44 months, and Lorelei for about 50 months. I have breastfed for over 13 years of my life–very well spent years!
Where should breastfed babies sleep?
In bed with their mothers.
Did I always do this?
Somewhat. Emily had a cradle next to my bed. I started nursing her in my bed, in my sleep. I had never heard of co-sleeping, couldn’t believe this great secret I had discovered. I was never tired! It was wonderful. With my first three babies I was always trying to get them to sleep through the night, so at some point I would be sitting up on the sofa in their bedrooms nursing in the middle of the night and falling asleep sitting up as often as not. I gave all that up with four and five. Lorelei never had a cradle or crib. She has always slept with me and still usually does.
What are my favorite books on breastfeeding?
Nursing Your Baby by Karen Pryor. I don’t mean the updated version, which I have never read. I mean the original 1970s version, which is charmingly dated and yet full of good advice. Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley. If you aren’t interested in child spacing you can ignore that part and concentrate on the theme of mother-baby togetherness.
What about schedules?
No. When the nurse asks how often your baby is eating, make something up. Don’t even look at a clock. If your baby wants to eat every thirty minutes, so what? This time will not last forever. Maybe he isn’t hungry. Maybe he just wants to be comforted. That’s okay; breastfeeding is about more than just food. And no, I did not always know this, and baby #1 ate every two hours like clockwork, and slept with a pacifier.
What about pumping and bottlefeeding?
I worked part-time when Emily was a baby, starting when she was four months old. She flatly refused bottles, and learned to wait till I came home. Jake got a few bottles (twelve ounces worth) ONCE when I went to the symphony when he was three weeks old and his godparents kept him. I never pumped any more after that. I don’t think Teddy ever had a bottle. I never left him until he was about nine months old. William never had a bottle. Lorelei is a separate case–see breastfeeding challenges below. I HATE pumping. I am terrible at it. I can’t get any more than four ounces out EVER, even with a double electric milking machine pump. I am in awe of women who cannot breastfeed for whatever reason who then pump and feed breastmilk exclusively for a year.
What were my biggest breastfeeding challenges?
I can think of three big ones. #1 A few days after William was born I was rehospitalized due to chest pains, shortness of breath, and a terrible headache. Turns out I just lost a lot of blood giving birth to him (he weighed 13 lbs. 5 oz. and was my first vaginal delivery). But while they were figuring this out, I was subjected to a radioactive test and told I could not nurse my newborn baby for some undetermined amount of time. My lactating sister (her baby was 17 months old), her baby, and my mother spent the night at the hospital so that she could nurse the baby for me. My step-sister also donated pumped milk which my mother and I took turns feeding William by syringe. The nurses thought I was crazy, but he never had a drop of formula. #2 When William was about seven months old, and pretty much exclusively breastfed, I suffered through a terrible attack of thrush which lasted for weeks. The pain was excruciating. I tried every ointment available, stopped eating almost everything that can promote the growth of yeast (sugar, milk, bread), and finally had to pay $60 for one Diflucan pill. #3 Lorelei did not gain any weight from two months to four months. Although she was taking in enough milk to stay hydrated, she was not getting enough calories to grow. I took every galactacgogue that existed–even got an online friend to mail me some domperidone. We visited a lactation consultant regularly. We had her medicated for reflux. We rented ($100) a double electric breastpump so that I could build supply and feed her the extra via SNS (a royal PITA!). Finally we had her hospitalized and tested for a variety of problems, eventually reaching the conclusion that a recessed chin was preventing her from effectively milking the breast. Formula was prescribed by the doctor, and from four to eight months she had about 15 ounces each day. I was fortunate to have a doctor who was 100% committed to breastfeeding and worked with me in every possible way until we were both convinced that this was a rare case in which a bottle was needed. We kept nursing as well and the nursing continued long after the formula was discontinued!
Where is the strangest place I have ever breastfed?
When Lorelei was about nine months old, my Aunt Wilma died. I had her with me at the funeral home, of couse, and I was getting ready to nurse her there in the chapel when my mother got all weird about it and wanted me to go find a private place (which annoyed me but it was hardly the time to have an argument about it). So I asked the funeral director if he could direct me to a private room. At which point he showed me into a vacant parlor, saying, “There’s no one in here but Mr. Smith. And he won’t mind.” Yes, I nursed my baby in a room with a STRANGER’S CORPSE.
How’s that for an adventure?