Breastfeeding and the 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting


By Rita Brhel, API Leader, Attachment Parenting International

While I was pregnant with my first baby, I wanted to breastfeed – but because I would save money and because breast milk is superior to formula. At that time, I didn’t know anything about attachment or how important breastfeeding behaviors are to the mother-baby emotional bond – that breastfeeding is the very model of attachment, as explained by Attachment Parenting International’s co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker in their book, Attached at the Heart.

Then my daughter was born prematurely and due to a variety of health problems, I found I could not breastfeed. I had to pump and feed her my breast milk through a bottle. By all accounts, at least according to my original reasons for breastfeeding, I should’ve been content – I was still saving money and still giving the health benefits of breast milk to my baby. But I felt like I was missing something, though I didn’t know what. When my second baby was born and I was able to breastfeed, I realized just what was missing.

I had been looking at breastfeeding as filling purely a physical need, when it is so much more – it provides mothers and babies an emotional connection with one another that can’t be replicated in any other way.

When I first came to Attachment Parenting, I viewed each of the Eight Principles of Parenting as separate entities – like I could do one or a few but not have to do the others, too. (When you’re new to this parenting approach, especially coming from a background that is so foreign to the concept, it can be difficult to trust that this parenting approach will work for you. And trying to think of all of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting at the same time is perhaps a little overwhelming at first, too!) The further into my parenting journey I go, though, the more I realized how all the principles weave together and rely on each other. It’d actually be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to just pick out one or a few principles and not do the others, too.

There are a number of ways to practice the Eight Principles of Parenting, and Attachment Parenting International is impressively inclusive of a variety of parenting practices, but Barbara and Lysa do not hesitate to state that breastfeeding is the best way to practice the principle of Feeding with Love and Respect with infants. Yes, of course, Attachment Parenting is accepting of mothers who choose to bottle nurse, but there is a reason why breastfeeding is so boldly called the model of attachment and why, when we are feeding by the bottle, we are to use breastfeeding behaviors.

Breastfeeding goes beyond the principle of Feeding with Love and Respect to the principles of:

  • Preparing for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting – the first question expectant mothers are asked about parenting is whether or not they’re breastfeeding, so we need to learn about it to know how to make the best decision for our baby and ourselves.
  • Responding with Sensitivity – feeding according to the baby’s schedule, not ours.
  • Using Nurturing Touch – the very act of breastfeeding requires skin-to-skin contact and physical intimacy.
  • Ensuring Safe Sleep – nighttime parenting is a must for breastfeeding mothers, who often sleep in close proximity of their babies.
  • Providing Consistent and Loving Care – this is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Striving for Balance – breastfeeding is much easier on Mom and her need for sleep and other self-care activities than taking the extra time for filling, warming, and washing bottles and buying very expensive formula.
  • Practicing Positive Discipline – because the basis is teaching our children by modeling the behaviors and responses to stress that we want them to use, we’re disciplining them from day one.

By breastfeeding, we are choosing not only the best nutritional option for our babies but also the better feeding environment – one that establishes, promotes and strengthens secure attachment – and that is definitely a reason for celebration this World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, 2014.

What role did attachment play in your choice to breastfeed? 

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