|Annika explores her world.
After two plus years of hanging out in the Attachment Parenting world, I have begun to think that breastfeeding should not be so fiercely held up to the world as a necessity or even as the most important measure one can take with a newborn.
My mother was a La Leche League leader, so I was told all of my life how damn great breastfeeding was, and don’t get me wrong, it is. It really is. I have seen firsthand the powers of the breast at calming an upset baby and toddler. I can also attest to it’s magical immune properties. I swear, I’ve seen extra nursing knock a cold or a fever out flat in a 24 hours. No lie.
But the emphasis that many AP moms put on nursing can be off-putting to the rest of the world. Some women simply don’t want to breastfeed. Some can’t. But for the most part, my guess is that most who don’t, simply don’t want to. And I just want to say that I think that is totally okay.
I’ve been thinking about all this lately because of two things. One, I’m realizing that extended nursing is wayyyy more difficult than I ever thought it would be. (More to come on that. Maybe.)
And Two, I’ve been noticing for quite some time now that the mainstream media portrays attachment parents like they are all loony tunes. It’s amusing, and less annoying to me than the way labor is depicted as this crazy fast and intense thing that takes a few minutes instead of several hours or days. But still. It’s inaccurate. Most of the other parents I hang out with are pretty normal. We have our good days and bad days, just like anyone else.
I think that if AP were shown as a gentler and more communicative way to parent, instead of being portrayed as breastfeeding and babywearing nut-jobs, more people might be interested in hearing about it. There are so many invaluable books and pieces of advice that I’ve gleaned from my AP community that have nothing to do with breastfeeding. It bothers me to think that there are parents out there who might never hear about these parenting tools simply because they don’t consider themselves to be “AP.”
I’m not saying that other parents might never learn about these tools or books unless they are in the AP world. But being around like-minded parents has helped me feel like a lot of this type of advice and knowledge comes in a straight shot, like a positive parenting injection.
It’s not that breastfeeding shouldn’t be regarded as a positive parenting tool. No matter how I look at it, I can’t imagine comparing formula to breast milk and saying it’s the same. I would never encourage a mother to formula feed if she and her infant don’t have any stumbling blocks to nursing.
But I have begun to think that maybe we in the AP community are a bit zealous in our promotion of nursing as super important to attachment.
I am no expert on attachment theory. But I have done some reading on it. I’ve read the book Attachment, by John Bowlby and I’m in the midst of reading A Secure Base, which is a compilation of his life’s work on attachment. You can read my series on attachment here. I’ve also read plenty of other books recommended in the AP world and spent lots of time online reading and discussing attachment with other AP parents.
As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the theory that says a woman must breastfeed in order to secure her child’s attachment. In fact, Attachment Parenting International, says it is important to “feed with love and respect.”API has greatly reduced it’s adamant stance on breast feeding to a secure attachment. The website even has a separate section on bottle feeding that discusses ways to “bottle nurse,” which can mimic breast feeding’s physical and emotional connection.
In my opinion, the relationship to nursing and attachment is similar to the relationship between being a Buddhist and meditating, or being a Christian and praying. Sure, it’s important. It’s helpful. For some it is a major stepping stone. But it’s not the only route toward the real goal.
Some recent comments by one of my regular and most loyal of readers, Liz, has prompted me to ask of my readers who consider themselves to be Attachment Parents, should we reconsider the importance we attach to breastfeeding. Or at least, should we consider stressing it less to the outside world?
I ask this question because I think that the desire to promote breastfeeding can be off-putting to the rest of the world, therefore, ultimately denying them the opportunity to learn about so many other important aspects of AP.
I came to Attachment Parenting based on my ideals about nursing my daughter. I think it’s what brings many women to know about AP. But there should be other routes toward Attachment Parenting if we want it to become mainstream, and I do. I would love to see more people become interested in a positive parenting methods.
If it wasn’t for my local AP group, I would be parenting much differently than I am. I have no doubt about that.
While I was pregnant, I held onto two ideals, breastfeeding, and knowing that I didn’t want to spank.
I wanted to have a better relationship with my child than I had with my parents. I wanted to be less punitive. I wanted my child to feel safe talking to me. But other than knowing that I would nurse her, and not use corporal punishment, I really had no idea how I would accomplish these goals.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that I had decided to breastfeed and use a sling, I’d have never learned about all the other positive parenting tools that I have now.
The AP world should consider that there are parents out there who could benefit from these other tools even though they have not breastfed their babies.
When I was pregnant, I idealized the infant years, believing that if I nursed and use a sling, somehow I would develop the perfect bond with my child for the rest of her life.
I now know that it isn’t that easy. It takes lots of work, every day, for years and years to maintain a healthy bond and secure attachment.
Breastfeeding is not going to do all that work for you.
Before you start feeling like you need to start defending the importance of breastfeeding, I just want to stress, I get it.
Breastfeeding promotes attachment in the infant years.
Nursing a newborn stimulates the same hormones that pregnancy does. It helps you to develop a physical bond immediately. It encourages a new mother to stay in close proximity to her baby. Feeding is one of the first mutual goals a mother has with her child. Nursing promotes affection for each other. All that, and breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. It is designed specifically for the baby in your arms. It’s free and it’s always available.
It makes total sense to nurse. To me.
But some women simply don’t want to nurse. And some women can’t, or it is extremely difficult due to supply issues or diet restrictions. And unfortunately, there is still a ton of misinformation floating around, therefore many women are improperly educated on the topic. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love their children, or that they don’t want to develop a close bond.
So I wonder if we should start promoting Attachment Parenting with some other values, like positive discipline, safe and healthy sleep habits, preparing for parenting, and providing consistent and loving childcare.
I wonder if more people would be interested in learning about Attachment Parenting if they didn’t think they needed to breastfeed in order to be get involved in Attachment Parenting.
I wonder if more people would be interested in AP if they were told that it is all about learning how to provide a safe and secure world for their children, and in turn that would lead them to becoming independent and secure adults.
I’ve come to learn that attachment can happen with or without breastfeeding. The most important things to developing a secure attachment to your child is maintaining a positive connection, and providing your child with a secure view of his or her world.
Secure attachment is the real goal.
When I think about Attachment Parenting, I like to think of myself as the rock from which Annika uses for her life exploration. Eventually I won’t need to be her rock. She will become her own rock. But Toyin and I are the ones she needs right now to be her base of exploration. Her parents are her rock. Her mountain. That is what attachment is all about.
If breastfeeding was the most important act of attachment, how would our children develop attachments to their fathers, grandparents, or other caregivers?