Monday, March 14, 2011

Inquisition Monday: Attachment

Last week, OneCrunchyMama tweeted, "How do you balance AP w/more than 1 child? Just meet as many needs as you can as best you can? I almost feel guilty about my divided time."

I responded with, "I try to remember that AP is about Attachment. So I do what I can to secure and strengthen those attachments and let everything else fall by the wayside."

She then asked if I could expound upon that idea in a blog post. So here I am!

To understand why I adopted attachment parenting when I was pregnant with Margaret, you'll need to understand a few earlier events in my adult life.

The first was reading a news article* that stated that a study had been done that said that a full-body 20 second hug increased oxytocin in your body. At that point in time, I read that oxytocin was the same hormone associated with orgasm- it's a bonding hormone and is the love hormone. I was engaged to McKay when I came across this idea, so I when we got married and I would sometimes have bad days, I would often ask McKay for an "oxytocin hug." And we would embrace for about 30 seconds. I might not always feel 100% better after an oxytocin hug, but I knew it was good for me so it became a thing we did sometimes.

Next story! When I was pregnant with Margaret and planning her birth, I visited UC forums and started reading about this "attachment parenting" thing. For a while it was this "thing" out there but I eventually started reading up on it and joined an AP playgroup in Provo. I read about things like cosleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, etc. And it all made sense to me. I mean, if a 20 second hug can increase oxytocin in a person and promote bonding and love, then babywearing? That's just a really long oxytocin hug! Cosleeping? Oxytocin hug all night! Breastfeeding? Oxytocin hug plus extra oxytocin from nipple stimulation! It made a lot of sense to me that doing those sorts of things as a parent would create a strong parent/child bond and promote love.

Another part in my attachment parenting learning was of the origins of attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is a style of parenting based on attachment theory. One of the ideas of attachment theory is that for children to grow into healthy human beings, their brains and bodies are wired to respond and grow when they are given attachment stimuli and are responded to. Babies' brains are wired to expect a caregiver to be close in proximity, babies' tummies are wired to be responsive to the many components of breastmilk, etc. And when those needs are met and babies get the responses their brains are made to receive, they grow in healthy ways. Attachment theory has been expanded to include more than just infants- after all, I know my marriage is healthy in part due to oxytocin hugs, me "cosleeping" with McKay, and orgasm. Those things increase oxytocin in our bodies and we feel connected and love for each other.

Now to the parent of 2 children part!

When I feel like I'm not giving my children the attention I think they need, I think back to attachment parenting, attachment theory, and to oxytocin hugs.

There are lots of lists of what attachment parenting is. Dr. Sears has 7 Baby Bs. Attachment Parentings International has 8 Principles of Parenting. From gentle birth practices to breastfeeding to bedsharing to responding with kindness, these are not ends. They are means to an end. The ultimate goal in attachment parenting is to parent in a way that their bodies are given what they need to grow healthy, their brains develop positive neural pathways, they learn how to react to the stresses of life in positive ways: with tools that build relationships and love.

For Isaac and Margaret, at this point in time, this means one main thing: oxytocin. How do I promote oxytocin in our day? No, I don't play with Isaac all day, but he spends a lot of the time in long-term oxytocin babywearing hugs. He spends some of the day crawling and exploring, too, but for our relationship and his healthy development, he gets held a lot. Because Margaret is older, she isn't held as much, but the times that she and I have the most conflict are usually the times when I haven't sat down and held her in a while: read a book, nurse, hold her hand on a walk, comb her hair, etc. She's low on oxytocin and we need to re-connect. And get more oxytocin in both of us.

Breastfeeding, cosleeping and all those attachment parenting things are great tools, but they aren't the only tools. I guess I see those lists as suggestions and not requirements. If they don't work for your family, then find something that does! I think bedsharing has been for us one of the easiest ways to build connections, especially for McKay who is gone all day. Breastfeeding has been great for me as well. But I know you can be close without sharing a bed or nursing. And that's fine, too.

As children get older, things like babywearing and breastfeeding are going to fall out of your parenting toolbox and new attachment-promoting activities will be used more. And eventually they'll leave home completely and even the oxytocin hugs will be gone, but the connections created early on will ideally stay. It's life, so in the end it's all a mess and there are no guarantees, but I like attachment theory and oxytocin and snuggling my babies, so that's what I'm going with for now.

And now I don't even know if I answered the question!

*This is not the exact article I originally read, but one like it. I don't remember where I read it originally. CNN, probably.

Look: a baby attached to my leg!
 Photo credits: Margaret


  1. My friend whose birth I was just at lives in Springville and she's originally from the North Bay. She is craaaaaving local crunchy friends. I sent OneCrunchyMama her way, but what's the AP playgroup in Provo? I think she might know about it, but I'm not sure and I'd like to send her the info.

  2. One of the ways I keep it up with an older child is that when I read her a story or something, she either sits on my lap or she sits leaning next to me and I keep an arm around her with the book on our legs.

  3. I have a somewhat related question that I was planning on asking you anyway... How does McKay bond with your kids, especially when they were newborns? For some background, I had our baby girl March 3rd, so she is just over a week old. Breastfeeding is going great and I feel like I've really been able to bond with her during feedings, but my husband feels left out. He actually worries that she doesn't even like him. I don't know how to comfort him or what he can do to strengthen his bond with our daughter.

  4. I love love love this post.

  5. great post, heather!

  6. Heather--I am prone to forgetting that being in physical contact is an absolutely necessity at times for my son to feel secure. Thank you for the reminder!

    Lisa, if I might answer your question... I totally recommend daddy-baby naps. My husband also took charge with burping our son after he nursed, held him regularly when the baby didn't specifically require me, and wore him a lot so that he could get things done while the baby slept against his heart.

    At one point, Rylan couldn't fall asleep without being on his father's chest at night and so that's what we did unless he needed to nurse.

    I hope that gives you a few ideas, and remember, eating is not the only way babies bond with their parents. There will be plenty of time for that when you start solids, though!

  7. Great post! I think we sometimes forget that being AP is not about being child-centered, it's about meeting the child's needs. Sometimes we confuse those 2 concepts, but they are not the same thing.

  8. Snuggles definitely make my day better, so it makes sense why children need it too!

  9. I totally get the oxytocin thing, although I never thought about it in that way. Being in lots of physical contact with my son has been the best parenting tool, especially when he was a baby.

    I don't know how I would manage him and a baby, though. I mean, I've started babysitting my 4 month old niece and when she is here, it's pretty rough. But, that's why we don't have another baby yet. I'm actually kind of amazed people can do AP with kids close in age, I feel like I would have to spread them out.


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