Attachment Parenting And Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding isn’t only about nourishing the child, but is also an important component of attachment parenting. Read on to know more.

By Aarti C Rajaratnam

Attachment Parenting And Breastfeeding

The term attachment parenting was coined by the American paediatrician William Sears. The concept of attachment parenting is influenced largely by the attachment theory. The idea is to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of a child to help her feel securely attached to the parent. Attachment parenting, unlike other parenting practices, stresses on treating children with as much dignity, love, and respect as that afforded to an adult. It is guided by the following eight principles:

  • Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting
  • Feed with love and respect
  • Respond with sensitivity
  • Use a nurturing touch
  • Sleep is physically and emotionally safe
  • Provide consistent and loving care
  • Practice positive discipline
  • Strive for balance in both personal and family life

Mother's milk is one of the primary needs of an infant and breastfeeding is the healthiest infant-feeding choice. The physiological changes brought about by breastfeeding enhances maternal responsiveness and has several positive outcomes. Breastfeeding plays an important role in teaching infants that parents will listen to their cues and respond to their needs. This creates a sense of trust and security in the baby and helps develop secure attachment. The attachment parenting principle of 'Feeding with Love and Respect' is facilitated greatly by breastfeeding. It helps in developing a deep bond between the infant and the mother.

Attachment Parenting And Breastfeeding

The skin-to-skin contact in breastfeeding increases awareness of each other. As a result, the baby feels nurtured all the time. Being close to a responsive mother helps the growing child become aware of his emotions and develop emotion-regulation skills. These skills are the two most important components of early childhood development and, lead to emotional intelligence later in life.

Breastfeeding and attachment parenting

  1. Breastfeeding is the primary exercise used in attachment parenting to help the mother learn 'baby reading'. The mother keenly observes the baby's cues and body language to understand what they mean, to respond in a timely and effective manner.
  2. Breastfeeding helps the mother 'know' her baby. The mother begins to understand the meaning of every sound made by the baby. In India, mothers and elders usually assume that every 'cry' indicates the need for a feed. This leads to the habit of emotional eating, because the baby learns to associate distress with food.
  3. Feeding is considered an essential component of attachment and bonding, particularly in attachment parenting. The mother respects the child's need for a feed and responds to it — thus, treating him as an equal in the mother–child relationship. This makes the baby feel emotionally safe and become more aware of affection through touch.
  4. No request for a feed is ever turned down by the mother.
  5. There is no pressure to wean the baby at a particular time. Breastfeeding is associated with providing nourishment as well as strengthening the mother–child bond. This contributes to the overall well-being of the baby.
Attachment Parenting And Breastfeeding

How breastfeeding benefits the child

The feeling of secure attachment which develops through breastfeeding and the mother's response to the child's needs, helps build an infant's trust in the mother. Research shows that this helps in better:

  • physical growth
  • emotional growth and adjustment, intimacy, empathy and love
  • communication between parent and child, resulting in enhanced language development
  • organisational skills

How breastfeeding benefits the mother

When the mother is more attuned to her child’s needs, she is better able to communicate with and later, discipline her child. She becomes more aware of her child's competencies and preferences as the little one grows.

The relationship between the mother and the child encourages mutual sensitivity, trust, connectedness and flexibility — all of which bring out the best in each other.

Aarti C Rajaratnam is a psychologist specialising in childhood and adolescent mental health, a best-selling author, and an innovative education design consultant.

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