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Attachment Parenting & Sleep Training


I’m hoping that I might be able to change some minds here today.

It won’t be easy, obviously, because when is it ever? But on parenting issues, there are so many emotional ties and hardened beliefs that enter into the equation that make swaying someone’s nearly impossible.

As parents, we bear an enormous responsibility. It’s not just about keeping our little ones alive, warm, fed and happy. We’re all looking to raise exceptional human beings. We’re responsible for the quality of our kids’ lives long after they’ve left the nest, and many of the decisions we make today are going to determine who they are 20, 30, even 50 years from now.

No surprise than that we take these decisions very, very seriously.

I’ll admit that I find the idea of attachment parenting more than a little interesting, and I can definitely see why it appeals to a lot of parents. After all, most of us want to love our kids unreservedly, especially in those first few years. Our instincts are all about holding baby close, meeting their every need the moment it arises, and protecting them with the strength and determination of a Titan. (Although if I remember my mythology correctly, those Greek gods made some pretty questionable parenting choices, so maybe that’s a bad example.)

For anyone who’s not familiar, attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy that was popularized by Drs. William and Martha Sears in their 1993 publication, “The Baby Book.” The idea, in a nutshell, is maximum closeness and responsiveness. You wear your baby, you share a bed with your baby, you breastfeed on demand, and you answer their cries immediately.

In theory, this creates a strong attachment between mother and baby, which results in well-adjusted children who grow up to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society.

Now, all of these theories have been debated endlessly and passionately, but there’s no strong evidence to show that attachment parenting is better or worse than other parenting styles. If you want more information on attachment parenting, a quick Google search will provide you with more material than you could possibly take in over a dozen lifetimes.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. This is about whether attachment parenting and sleep training are mutually exclusive.

I have worked with more than a few clients who subscribe to the attachment parenting ideology and they usually feel like they’re “cheating” a little.

You see, an important thing to note here is that Dr. Sears included a catchy bullet point list of the principles of attachment parenting that he refers to as “The Seven B’s.” They are, in no particular order...

• Birth Bonding

• Breastfeeding

• Baby Wearing

• Bedding Close to Baby

• Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby’s Cry

• Beware of Baby Trainers

• Balance

As you can see, he had to stretch a little to get these to all fit into a “B’ category, but I think he did alright. I mean hey, there are seven of them and the guy is a pediatrician, not a poet.

So, the first three have nothing to do with sleep training. You can bond with your baby as much as you want, breastfeed until you’re blue in the face, and wear your baby in a sling everywhere

you go, and as a pediatric sleep consultant, I would tell you that’s all fine and dandy.

The three that follow are the ones that tend to give attachment parenting advocates pause when they think about sleep training. Sleeping close to baby is another term for bed sharing, which Dr. Sears is a big fan of.

It’s a common myth about pediatric sleep consultants that we’re firmly against bed sharing, and I won’t act like I don’t know where that came from. The consensus from most of my colleagues is that babies sleep better, and so do their parents, when they aren’t in the same bed as you. More people in bed means more movement, more movement means more wake ups, and more wake ups means less of that rich, delicious, deep sleep that we love to see everybody getting.

So, is it a deal breaker when it comes to sleep training?

Well, yeah. Pretty much. Teaching babies to fall asleep independently isn’t really feasible when Mom is in arms’ reach at all times.

Now, I have heard a lot of parents say they get better sleep when they bed share with their little ones, and that’s 100% wonderful in my book. If your family is all sleeping in the same bed and you’re all sleeping well, I say keep doing what you’re doing.