I understand that most parents aren’t fundamentalist when it comes to baby methods and mostly exist somewhere along the continuum between Attachment Parenting (AP) and hard-core scheduled, routine, self-settling or cry-it-out proponents. So far I am happily living on the routine, self-settling side of the fence, with the rough goal of Tizzy Hall’s Save Our Sleep routines, which in reality is currently closer to Brian Symon’s rough 3 – 4 hour routines of the ‘feed, play, sleep’ method.
For those who are interested, this method is working well for my family. Lottie is four weeks old tomorrow and is already self-settling for most of her sleeps, which occur approximately every 3 – 4 hours day and night. We even managed a five hour sleep after a bottle of expressed milk a few nights ago, which was a glorious gift for a very-sleep-deprived me! The only sleep I’m currently having trouble getting Lottie down for is her morning sleep, as for some reason we find at this time of the day she’s too wide awake to self-settle. But I’m working on this problem and understand it will be a daily struggle, with some days easier than others. Overall I’m happy with the consistency I’ve introduced to my family’s life with a newborn. But this happiness isn’t the only reason I’m not interested in even thinking about the demand-feeding, co-sleeping, 24/7 baby-wearing malarkey that is Attachment Parenting. I honestly think it’s a really dangerous parenting method for the child and the family. And with the bravery of an atheist preaching to a room of religious zealots, I’m not afraid to say it!
From what I have seen of the AP mothers online (note, I don’t actually know any of them), those on the very militantly strict end of this continuum, who treat their parenting method as something they are, fittingly, very attached to, behave like members of a strict religious cult. That is, they believe so strongly in what they are doing that they seem to lose all sense of the dangers of the method, whilst also judging those parents who don’t want to bring up their babies in this way and being incredibly high-and-mighty about the reasons they think AP is the only ‘moral’ way to parent. AP parents think self-settling is cruel to their babies. AP parents think crying-it-out is something selfish parents do who don’t care if their children are developmentally and emotionally damaged by crying. (What a load of bullshit!) And AP parents are, from what I can tell, in complete denial about the down-side dangers of the method they have chosen. Here are the main ones I, as a mother, would be most concerned about:
I’ve already written about my reasoning for putting my baby to sleep in a her cot in her nursery, or in a bassinette during the day, and why I would be far too terrified to ever go to sleep with my baby in my arms or in my bed. But what angers me about AP advocates who claim co-sleeping is the only natural way to care for a newborn is that they never ever caveat this co-sleeping advocacy with warnings about SIDS.
This is where I’m going to be really controversial for a moment; but I actually don’t think suffocation through co-sleeping should even be called SIDS because SIDS is when babies die un-expectantly and doctors don’t know why they died. It’s a societal taboo to even talk about it, but I’ve never been afraid to call a spade a spade; if a baby suffocates in their parents’ bed by falling under the blankets, falling against a wall, or being rolled on by a parent, they haven’t died un-expectantly from a cause unknown. They’ve been suffocated in their parents’ bed. The risk of this happening is very small, but it’s a risk. It’s a risk enough that when I was visited by the CAFS midwife, I had to sign a document to say she had given me SIDS safe-sleeping guidelines which blatantly say co-sleeping is not recommended. Parents need to know the SIDS risk exists. Doctors and sleep-experts, and anyone advocating a certain sleeping method should always caveat their advice with the information that there are ways to minimise the risks of co-sleeping, but there is no absolutely 100% safe way to co-sleep. It’s completely irresponsible to pretend otherwise.
And to make matters worse, when this risk information is provided to the public, the co-sleepers, many of whom are APs, still deny the risks and attack those who point them out.
An example is this Mamamia article which quotes a study by Birmingham City University which revealed: an estimated 88 per cent of deaths that occurred while a child slept with their parents would not have happened if the baby had not been bed-sharing. Read this again and tell me co-sleeping is not a risk. Not every SIDS death occurs when babies are in their parents’ bed; some are unexplained deaths that occur in cots. But if almost 9 out of 10 SIDS deaths that occur in a co-sleeping situation wouldn’t have happened if the baby wasn’t co-sleeping, this is something the public need to know about!
If you’ve got time, check out many of the comments on this article from mothers who co-sleep and are hell-bent on justifying their decision. Would they reject outright scientific advice, and advice from coroners who have investigated SIDS deaths, if they were being told to give their child a particular medicine when they were sick, or to wear seatbelts, or to make sure their pram was safe, or to not eat certain foods that might poison them? I see it time and time again that APs and co-sleeping advocates justify their sleeping method by saying ‘my baby likes co-sleeping and I’m a good parent who lets my baby do what he likes’. I’m sorry, but would you let your child play on the freeway if they wanted to? And isn’t this usually more about what the parents enjoy than what the child enjoys? I will go even further to say to the AP advocates who claim that my four week old baby can’t learn to self-settle (even though I’m currently proving them wrong on a 3 – 4 hourly basis), can’t have it both ways and also claim that their child, who they say can’t learn anything, knows enough about the world to take responsibility for how they sleep and feed at night. Parents need to know the risks and for me, no matter how ‘nice’ it feels to sleep next to your child, the risk isn’t worth it and no-one should try to bible-bash me into thinking otherwise.
This is an interesting perspective from a mother who tried the Attachment Parenting method with her first child, and claims it almost ruined her life, including her health, so chose a self-settling method for her second child. Doesn’t she sound like someone who survived and escaped a life-sucking cult? And that brings me to the second reason I think Attachment Parenting is dangerous; because it erases the identity of the mother who is literally ball-and-chain-tied to her babies for up to 2 – 5 years at a time.
The Mother’s Identity
I am a proud feminist. When I decided to have children, I did so with the understanding that I wanted to continue to be a proud feminist and mother. For me, that means finding a parenting method that includes as much household equality as it’s possible to have.
My husband can’t breastfeed and hasn’t taken maternity leave, but where possible, we share the parenting of our child equally. Attachment Parenting doesn’t allow for this sharing. In fact, the relationship between the mother and the father is minimised by this parenting method, and the relationship between the child and the father is minimised. This is not good for the parent’s relationship, for the child, or the family unit, including older children. I also see Attachment Parenting as dangerous for the mother’s relationship, and the child’s relationship, with people outside the direct family, including parents/grandparents, aunties, uncles, siblings, friends, colleagues and anyone else who was in your life before the child arrives and would like to be in your life after you become a mother, and in the life of your child.
For instance, if you co-sleep and also want your child to have a stable bedtime of say 7:00pm, does that mean you go to bed at 7:00pm every night? When do you spend time with your husband who probably is at work all day? When do you speak to your friends who also might work all day and want to see you in the evenings? When do you go out to a movie, or host a dinner party, or celebrate a friend’s birthday with them? Or are you meant to give up all of this when you become an Attached-Parent? Are you meant to give up all your relationships for the sake of your child? Are you meant to give up doing all the things you enjoyed before you had children? How can grandparents babysit if your child is attached to you? How are you meant to keep being you with a child attached? Are you meant to give up your identity and think about, talk about and literally be attached to nothing else but your child, day and night for years? This doesn’t sound like a parenting method; this sounds like insanity.
Colleagues. This is another dangerous reality of Attachment Parenting. How do you go back to work when you’ve got a child attached to you all day and night? I’m assuming you don’t. But if you do want to go back, say after 6 months or a year, or you have to go back for financial reasons, the sudden ‘detachment’ would surely cause havoc for your child who suddenly has to learn to be an independent human. And the sleep-deprivation that would come from this forced detachment would make working very difficult for the zombie-like- mother. I would be interested to hear from mothers who have chosen the Attachment Parenting method and have chosen at some stage to break-free of the attachment as I assume it’s not an easy process to reverse.
Like most new mothers, I do find myself constantly justifying my parenting decisions and so I can’t blame Attachment Parents for doing the same. But if you’re a new parent considering Attachment Parenting, please consider these dangers and proceed with informed caution.