Benefits of Attachment Parenting for the Entire Family
Attachment parenting offers so many wonderful benefits for not just mother and baby, but the whole family.
1. Mutual Giving
The more you give to your baby the more baby gives back to you. Small and quiet moments of pure joy when your baby smiles at you or gazes seriously into your eyes. There is wonder in discovering the world anew through the eyes of a child seeing it for the first time. There is peace in knowing that all it takes is your presence, your arms to soothe and calm your baby’s fears. Consider how you and baby benefit from being connected:
Enjoy One Another
One of the goals we want to shoot for is to enjoy our parenting. Mutual giving is where baby enjoyment begins.
Remember, baby is not just a passive player in your parenting game. Your infant will take an active part in shaping your attitudes, helping you make wise decisions, and helping you become an astute baby reader. For example, when you breastfeed you hold and caress your baby, you give your baby nourishment and comfort. Your baby, in turn, “gives” good things back to you. Your baby’s sucking, together with caressing your baby, releases the hormone prolactin, which further enhances your mothering behavior. The hormones associated with breastfeeding help mothers to feel calm and loving. And parents find that all their giving to their baby matures them and helps them place the different parts of their lives in a better perspective.
Here’s another beautiful example of mutual giving. When you breastfeed your baby to sleep – a style we call “nursing down” – you give your baby your milk, which contains a recently discovered sleep-inducing substance. Meanwhile, as you suckle your baby, you produce more prolactin, which has a tranquilizing effect in you. It’s as if the mommy puts the baby to sleep and the baby puts the mommy to sleep – a beautiful example of how each member of a biological pair helps the other by following a natural recipe in a way that was designed to work.
2. Mutual Shaping
Along with the benefit of mutual giving, we find that attachment parenting also leads to reciprocated shaping of behavior and personality. After becoming parents, you will never be the same – and you want the change to be for the better. Your baby can do something to you – or better, for you. An example of mutual shaping is well illustrated by how you and your baby learn to talk to each other. A baby’s early communication is a language of needs. Crying and smiling are the earliest tools used by your baby to communicate and reinforce your responses to his needs.
As you learn and respond to your baby’s language, you may feel you are regressing to the level of your baby. You will act, talk, and even think at your baby’s level. As you are mastering your baby’s language, your baby learns to speak the language of the family. The baby then learns to act, talk, and think at the parents’ level. All developed communication skills that none had before. Mutual giving and mutual shaping are what make attachment parenting so special.
3. Mutual Sensitivity
Attachment mothers speak of a flow of feelings between themselves and their babies.
In the middle of a particularly busy day I discovered that my kitchen was overrun with ants. This was the last straw and I lost it, verbally and emotionally. But as I continued to rant and rave, I became aware of what was going on between Stephen (then twenty-two months) and me. He watched me, sensing my needs. He looked into my eyes, embraced my knees, not in a frightened way, but as though to say, “It’s OK, I love you, I would help you if I could.” As Stephen got hold of me, I got hold of myself – a mother calmed by her baby’s touch.
4. Attachment Parenting Promotes Independence
Attachment and independence can be illustrated by what we call the deep groove theory. Think of your infant’s mind as a record into which life’s experiences and relationships cut deep grooves. Suppose the strength of parent-infant attachment is represented by the depth of the grooves in the baby’s mental record. Between twelve and eighteen months, a baby can recall a mental image of the most familiar caregivers. We call this person permanence. This image helps to provide a secure base so the infant can begin to move more easily from the familiar to the unfamiliar.
The mental presence of the mother allows the infant to, in effect, take mother with her as she moves further away from the mother to explore and learn about her environment. The most securely attached infants, the ones with the deepest grooves, show less anxiety when moving away from their mothers to explore toys. Periodically, these babies mentally and physically check in with mother for reassurance and a familiar “it’s okay” to explore. The mother seems to add energy to the infant’s explorations since the infant does not need to waste energy worry whether she is there.
When going from oneness to separateness (a process called “individuation”), the securely attached toddler establishes a balance between his desire to explore and encounter new situations and his continued need for the safety and contentment provided by mother. During an unfamiliar play situation, the mother gives a sort of “go ahead” message, providing the toddler with confidence to explore and handle the strange situation. The next time the toddler encounters a similar situation, he has the confidence to handle it by himself without enlisting his mother. The consistent emotional availability of the mother provides trust, culminating in the child’s developing a very important quality of independence: the capacity to be alone.
A toddler with shallower attachment grooves lacks confidence that his attachment figures will be accessible to him when he needs them. He may adopt a clinging strategy to ensure that they will be available. Because he is always preoccupied with it or else spends tremendous energy “managing” without it. This preoccupation hinders individuation, exploration, and possibly learning. In essence, the attachment-parented baby learns to trust and develop a sense of self. These qualities foster appropriate independence. Studies have shown that infants who develop a secure attachment to their mothers are better able to tolerate separation from them when they are older. As one sensitive mother of a well-attached child said proudly, “He’s not spoiled; he’s perfectly fresh!”
5. Attachment Parenting Improves Baby’s Behavior
Attached babies cry less. They are less colicky, fussy, whiny, and clingy. A very simple observation lies at the root of this observation: A baby who feels right acts right (operates from a sense of well-being). An in-arms baby whose cues are read and responded to feels connected, valued. Because of this inner feeling of rightness, the baby has less need to fuss.
“If attached babies cry less, what do they do with their free time?”
6. Attachment Parenting Improves Development
They use their cry- free time to grow and learn. During the last twenty-five years, we have watched thousands of mother-infant pairs in action and interaction. We are constantly impressed by how content babies are who are worn in a carrier, breastfed on cue, slept with, and sensitively responded to. They just seem to feel better, behave better, and grow better, and here is why: Attachment parenting promotes the state of quiet alertness (also called attentive stillness).
There seems to be some, as yet poorly understood, connection between a baby’s behavioral state and the inner workings of his or her body. A baby in the quiet alert state is more receptive to interacting and learning from his or her environment. The state of quiet alertness promotes an inner organization that allows all the physiological systems of the body to work better. Babies divert the energy that they would have spent on fussing into growing, developing, and interacting with their environment.
The growth-promoting effects of attachment parenting can be summed up in one word: organization. An attached baby is organized. In their early months, babies spend a lot of energy trying to become organized – that is, adjusting to life outside the womb. For an attached baby, the womb lasts a while longer, birth having changed only the manner in which the attachment is presented. Healthy, attached mothers and fathers act as behavioral, emotional, and physiological regulators for their baby. They act as conservators of their baby’s energies, diverting them into growth and development, not into anxiety and fussing.
In essence, attached babies thrive. All babies grow, but not all babies thrive. Thriving means that your baby grows to his or her babies fullest potential. Attachment parenting and caregiving helps babies be all they can be. Researchers have long realized the association between good growth and good parenting.
“If attachment parenting helps babies act better and grow better, does it make them smarter?”
7. Attachment Parented Babies are Smarter
Attachment parenting is good brain food, and here’s why. The human brain grows more during infancy than at any other time, doubling its volume and reaching approximately 60 percent of its adult size by one year. The infant brain consists of miles of tangled electrical “wires,” called neurons. The infant is born with much of this wiring unconnected. During the first year, these neurons grow larger, begin to work better, and connect to each other to complete circuits that enable the baby to think and do more things. If nerve cells don’t make connections, they die. The more connections they make, the better the brain develops.
Brain researchers suggest it is these connections that we can influence to make a child smarter. Many studies now show that the most powerful enhancers of brain development are:
- the quality of the parent-infant attachment (such as skin-to-skin contact) and;
- the response of the caregiving environment to the infant’s cues
I believe that attachment parenting promotes brain development by feeding the brain with the right kind of stimulation at a time in the child’s life when the brain needs the most nourishment. Attachment parenting helps the developing brain make the right connections.
Components that Increase Brain Development
Many studies show that a secure mother-infant attachment and an environment responsive to the cues of the infant enhance brain development. Basically, these studies show that four relationships enhance a baby’s intellectual and motor development:
- Parent sensitivity and responsiveness to infant cues
- Reinforcement of infant’s verbal cues and frequency of interchange during play
- Acceptance of and going with the flow of the baby’s temperament
- Providing a stimulating environment with the primary caregiver and play activities that encourage decision making and problem-solving.
A simple explanation of how this style of parenting contributes to early learning is that it creates conditions that allow learning to occur. Infants learn best in the behavior state of quiet alertness. Attachment parenting fosters quiet alertness, thus creating the conditions that help a baby learn.
If you are beginning to feel very important, you are! What parents do with babies makes them smarter. In the keynote address at the 1986 annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, infant development specialist Dr. Michael Lewis reviewed studies of factors that enhance infant development. This presentation was in response to the overselling of the super baby phenomenon that emphasized the use of programs and kits rather than the parents’ being playful companions and sensitive nurturers. Lewis concluded that the single most important influence on a child’s intellectual development was the responsiveness of the mother to the cues of her baby. In caring for your baby, keep in mind that relationships, not things, make brighter babies.
For more benefits of Attachment Parenting, see:
- How AP could reduce SIDS risk
- The Body Chemistry of AP
- How AP makes discipline easier
- The Attachment Parenting Book : A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby
BENEFITS OF ATTACHMENT PARENTING – A SUMMARY
- is more trusting
- feels more competent
- grows better
- feels right, acts right
- is better organized
- learns language more easily
- establishes healthy independence
- learns intimacy
- learns to give and receive love
- become more confident
- are more sensitive
- can read baby’s cues
- respond intuitively
- flow with baby’s temperament
- find discipline easier
- become keen observers
- know baby’s competencies and preferences
- know which advice to take and which to disregard
Parents and baby experience:
- mutual sensitivity
- mutual giving
- feelings of connectedness
- more flexibility
- more lively interactions
- mutual shaping of behavior
- brings out the best in each other
- mutual trust