Attachment Parenting: The Benefit of Touch

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If you didn’t know already, I’m a big advocate of hugging (see my blog post on why hugging is so good for you). So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I’m a fan of attachment parenting, especially the idea that one of the best ways we bond with our little ones is through body contact and touch.

What does this look like? It’s different for every family, but usually involves some form of the following practices:

– immediate skin to skin time following birth

– as much skin to skin time/kangaroo carrying/baby wearing as possible

– co-sleeping in some form

– on-demand breastfeeding

I didn’t know I was going to be an advocate of attachment parenting.

If you’d asked me while I was pregnant, I’d probably have been confused, because I didn’t know anything about sleep training, breastfeeding, or the controversy surrounding things like contact naps or nursing to sleep.

As an overview of the background of attachment parenting, William Sears, a pediatrician and one of the first advocates of attachment parenting, coined the 7 B’s:

1. Birth bonding — minimal/no use of pain killers/other agents that may keep you from being fully alert; immediate skin to skin time spent with baby.

2. Breastfeeding — causes a release of oxytocin, the love hormone, which fosters (you guessed it) a strong attachment/bond. Breastfeeding has many benefits for mother and baby, including improved immune response for baby and improved mental health for mom.

3. Baby wearing — improves bond between mom and baby, allows mom to be attuned to baby’s cycles and needs, allows for vestibular input the baby may not get if always in a swing or on a play mat.

4. Bedding close to baby — allows for immediate response to baby’s needs, breastfeeding throughout the night. It may also help regulate sleep/wake cycle, breathing patterns, and set a clear idea of bed time. As a warning, cosleeping is NOT recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It was found that cosleeping caused increased risk of SID (sudden infant death) in the instances of: infants younger than four months when the parents were especially tired, had consumed alcohol, were smokers, slept on a sofa, or the baby was in a duvet. However, AAP does recommend sharing a room with baby for up to 1 year.

5. Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry — this is the idea that initially, cries are generalized, but that with proper and empathetic response from parents, babies learn to differentiate their needs and provide different signals.

6. Beware of baby trainers — i.e. no sleep training.

7. Balance — delegation of responsibilities, streamlining of daily routines, and a support group (your “village”) all become very important to prevent burnout.

While some of these methods are very controversial, I’m going to focus more on the actual physical touch aspects, especially birth bonding, breastfeeding, and baby wearing. This is because, as I mention in my post on hugging, physical touch can have HUGE benefits for our little ones.

First, most healthcare providers in the labor and delivery space will now agree that an undisturbed first hour (or two!) is one of the best things for a new baby.

The infant is placed skin to skin with his mother, slowing the production of adrenaline, improving production of oxytocin and prolactin (love hormone and hormone necessary for breastfeeding), and improving temperature, heart and breathing rates, and blood sugar response. Breastfeeding during this time (something babies are born knowing how to do, including locating the nipple on their own!) helps reduce risk of postpartum hemorrhage.

On that note, we’ll discuss breastfeeding as an aspect of attachment parenting.

First of all, early skin to skin contact improves the likelihood of success with this second point of breastfeeding, so these do all fit nicely together! Breastfeeding on demand is an important aspect of attachment parenting in that it provides continued oxytocin production, further bonding baby and mother and providing a mechanism for decreased stress. It boosts baby’s immune system, to the point where often, if mom gets sick with a virus, baby will not! Breastfeeding ALSO decreases the risk of SIDS, which is an important point to make regarding some of the more controversial aspects of attachment parenting. There are also numerous benefits to mom, including decreased risk of postpartum depression, decreased risk for breast cancer, and decreased COST (compared to purchasing formula).

Third, and the last aspect I’ll discuss here, is baby wearing.

For me, wearing my little one in a carrier was a benefit in several ways, including that it allowed me to get more things done and that it was the easiest and surest way to get her to nap! Babies who are near their parents for extended periods of time may also have improved/stronger vestibular (inner ear) sense as they are put in positions (upright, angled, etc) they normally wouldn’t achieve until later in life. And, as in my first point, they are near to mom, and sometimes in actual skin-to-skin contact, which again releases oxytocin and decreases stress.

As I researched the idea of attachment parenting, I realized that although I didn’t know that many of my chosen methods were all described under one umbrella term, they do mostly fit here. I am not necessarily advocating for a strict adherence to ALL the ideas of attachment parenting, but again…

I’m a big fan of the benefits of physical closeness with our little ones, so the points involving physical touch are definitely the ones I’d advocate for!

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