My New Favorite Quote on Co-Sleeping and Attachment-Based Parenting Practices

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“Prop them up now so they can stand on their own later…”

—Christina Robert

The other day on a mothering blog someone was wondering how to get her three year old to stop screaming in her crib at night when the lights were turned out. She said she didn’t want her child to get “attached to co-sleeping” because she was three (which I am assuming means she wants to prioritize independence and self-reliance).

I replied that her child might be screaming when she is put in her crib because she is frightened. She might need the emotional support of her primary caregiver right now. I think so many people believe that it is important to “toughen up” our young children; to prepare them for the harsh realities that the world has to offer; to make them independent and strong as soon as possible.

I think that one of the greatest misunderstandings about attachment theory and the parenting practices that arise out of these theories is that the parenting adults do not want to help in the creation of strong and independent children. In actuality, they do. Just not at the age of three and not in this manner.

Between birth and five there is so much is going on neurologically in a child’s brain that it is almost unfathomable. These critical years set the stage for a child’s patterns of behavior. Their brains are developing at a quick pace and they are learning important physcial, social and emotional skills–all this and so much more. These are the vulnerable and the impressionable years. These are the years that children need to learn they can trust adults to meet their needs. This will serve as the foundation for their interactions with other children and other adults in the future..

The commonly-held misconception that children who sleep in their parent’s bed, or whose emotional needs are met consistently year after year, will somehow end up dependent and needy, is far from the truth. What many people don’t understand is that by consistently meeting the emotional needs of you child in the early years, you are paving the groundwork for future success and independence.

Children whose needs are met consistently and sensitively are more likely to be strong, securely-attached, and confident young adults and adults.
Responding consistently and sensitively to a child’s cries and needs during infancy and beyond teaches the child that they can rely on someone to help them meet their needs at a time when they are very dependent on their caregivers for survival. In contrast, NOT responding consistently and sensitively can lead to anxious and insecure young adults. When their needs are not being met, they learn to not trust those who are most important to them in their lives.

On the blog, I summed up my response with the following advice and metaphor: “Prop them up now so they can stand on their own later.”
I think this quote and idea captures the essence of what attachment theory teaches us about child development and about parenting practices that best meet the needs of your child.

So keep on responding to your child. A child screaming in the dark is afraid. He or she may be experiencing anxiety from the caregiver separation. Being left alone in a mostly dark room is not comforting and could even be traumatizing depending on the length of separation. Find out what your child needs and help them to get the input or reassurance that they need.

Again, Prop them up now so they can stand on their own later. You’ll be happy you did. Your child will be happier, more confident and better able to form happy, healthy relationships as an adult. All the things you wanted for your child and more.

Mother-Baby Separation: The First Three Years

The following article is very much in line with my thinking about parenting. As a single mother who works, it is difficult to maintain this proximilty to my child. However, I value the co-sleeping time with my child and view it as valuable parenting and bonding time. Christina.

Mother-Baby Separation

By Dr. George Wootan, M.D., Author of Take Charge of Your Child’s Health

I’m going to open up a big can of worms here, one that gets me into as much trouble as my thoughts on weaning: mother-baby separation. Imagine for a moment, that you are at the grocery store with your six-month-old. She starts making hungry noises, and you look down and say reassuringly, “I’ll feed you in half an hour, as soon as we get home.” Will she smile and wait patiently for you to finish you shopping? Absolutely not! As far as your baby is concerned, either there is food now, or there is no food in the world. Right in the middle of the grocery store, famine has struck!

Babies and toddlers, up to the age of about 36 months, have little concept of duration of time. To them, there are only two basic times: now and never. Telling a young toddler that Mommy will be back in an hour, or at 5:00, is essentially the same thing as telling her that Mommy is gone forever, because she has no idea what those times mean.

Let me submit to you that the need for mother is as strong in a baby as the need for food, and that there is no substitute for a securely attached mother. When he’s tired, hurt, or upset, he needs his mother for comfort and security. True, he doesn’t need Mommy all the time, but when he does, he needs her now. If he scrapes his knee, or gets his feelings hurt, he can’t put his need on hold for two hours until Mommy is home, and the babysitter – or even Daddy – just won’t do as well as if Mommy was there.

So, yes, this is what I’m saying: A mother shouldn’t leave her baby for an extended amount of time until about the age of 36 months, when he has developed some concept of time. You’ll know this has begun to happen when he understands what “yesterday,” “tomorrow,” and “this afternoon” mean, and when your toddler voluntarily begins to spend more time playing away from you on his own accord.

Of course, if you know that your child always sleeps during certain times, you can leave her briefly with someone while she naps. If you do this, however, the babysitter should be someone she knows well, as there is no guarantee that she won’t choose this day to alter her schedule and wake up while you’re gone. This could be traumatic for her if the person is someone she casually knows, and doubly so if the babysitter is a stranger. It is important to make every effort to be available to her when she is awake and may need you.

I realize that not separating a baby from his mother for the first 36 months of life may be difficult. Living up to this presupposes that the family is financially secure without the mother’s paycheck, and, unfortunately, this is not a reality for some people. I would not argue that a mother who must work to support her family is doing less than her best for her children by working. However, I believe that many women return to work not out of necessity, but because they (or their spouses) want to maintain the two-income lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. These parents need to do a little soul-searching about what they really need and not sacrifice their child’s best interests.

If you must leave your baby for several hours a day, there are some things you can do to try and compensate for the separation. One of these, of course, is nursing until the child weans himself. Another is sharing sleep with your child until he decides he is ready for his own bed. If you have to spend 8 hours away from your baby, make an effort to spend the remaining 16 hours of each day in close physical contact. That extra effort will go a long way toward helping him feel secure an develop a healthy attachment with you.

In our family, we have found that many events that would require leaving our baby or toddler at home are the ones that we don’t particularly mind missing. We also have found that because our children have their needs attended to promptly, they are happy and secure, and we are able to take them to most social gatherings. I don’t mean to suggest that you’ll never encounter any problems, but generally, you’ll find that if you take care of your baby’s immediate needs by holding him, nursing him, and loving him, he’ll be a pleasure to have around, well into the toddler years and beyond.

George Wootan, M.D. is a board-certified family practitioner and medical associate of La Leche League International. He and his wife, Pat, are the parents of eleven children and the grandparents of twenty-one. Dr. Wootan has practiced medicine for 33 years with a focus on pediatric, family, and geriatric care and chronic illness. He speaks nationally on the subject of children’s health, healthy aging, nutrition, wellness and Functional Medicine.


High Needs Babies: Read Dr. Sears

My baby was most definitely a High Needs Baby. I think it would have been helpful if I had known about these types of babies before I had here! The only way to soothe her was to hold her and to swaddle her. The sling is still the best way to get her to settle down because she simply gets too overstimulated. The sling is our miracle worker and she is three!

Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone


GUEST POST: Demystifying Attachment Parenting: It’s About Meeting Your Child’s Needs

Written by Sheryl Senkiw

I am a mother of a wonderful, energetic three year old boy.  When he was a year old, I found a useful tool, a philosophy of child rearing called “Attachment Parenting.”

To this day, my husband has never heard of “Attachment Parenting.”  He has gone with me to gatherings in a room full of parents who follow, to some degree or another, the Attachment Parenting philosophy.  All he saw was families. There was no special label on them.  Yet, surprisingly, it was my husband who led me to find Attachment Parenting.

When our son was about a year old, I was advised by a family member of how to get him to sleep through the night in his crib.  Put him in his crib, close the door, and make no contact with him until morning.  No matter how much he cries, do not communicate with him.  I fully intended to try it.  But my husband said “No.”  He heard our son’s cries, and said, “Don’t let him cry like that; you are traumatizing him.”  Thanks to my husband, I found an approach that felt better to me.”

I did some online reading, spoke with other parents, and found that there was a style of parenting that was different that what my family member and TV nannies had been teaching. It was called “Attachment Parenting.”

Attachment Parenting is a parenting philosophy.  Dr William Sears, a pediatrician, father, and parent educator came up with the term “Attachment Parenting.” It is meant to be a style of parenting that focuses on doing something parents naturally want to do: be responsive to the needs of your child. It is a way we can think about and look at how we raise our children, and make choices about how we interact within our families each day.

Attachment Parenting International ( is an organization that “promotes parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents.”

There are 8 basic principles as outlined by the Attachment Parenting International (  I am listing their principles, and giving my own examples of what the principles mean to me.

Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting

Before your baby is born, and if possible before you get pregnant, read a book or go to a class.  Inform yourself about good nutrition for mom and baby.  Find out about different birth options.  Read about breastfeeding, or better yet, find a friend who is breastfeeding and watch how it is done.  Get different viewpoints about raising children, and know that regardless of how you go about it, it will be challenging.

Hold your baby as soon as possible after birth, talk to your baby, connect with your baby, and learn how your baby communicates with you.

Feed with Love and Respect

Breastfeed if possible. Breastfeeding is nutritionally better for the baby, and can have hormonal benefits for mother and baby.  Whether you breastfeed or formula feed, feed your baby when he or she is hungry. Hold your baby and interact with him or her while feeding.

Respond with Sensitivity

From the first day of life, your baby is learning about the world.  You want your baby to be able to trust you, so it is important to respond to your babies needs.  As your child grows older, this means responding to your child, treating him or her with respect, and treating him or her as you would like to be treated.

Use Nurturing Touch

Hold your baby frequently.  Wearing the baby in a carrier is one way of doing that, and can make it easier to go through your day with the baby close.  Give your older child hugs.  Physical contact is good for children.

Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally

Keep your baby within arms reach at night.  This may mean a crib next to your bed. Respond to your baby’s needs to be fed and soothed during the night.   For an older child, continue to pay attention to their needs, even at night time.  Crying it Out, which means having them cry alone in a room until they fall asleep from sadness, fear, and exhaustion, is discouraged.

Provide Consistent and Loving Care

Make sure there is always a trusted, loving person taking care of your child.  If it can be one of the parents, that is best. However, children will attach to other adults and substitute caregivers that a child feels close to can serve as another trusted, loving person.

Practice Positive Discipline

Learn about gentle ways of disciplining your child that don’t involve hitting.

Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life

Know that the physical and mental health of everyone is important.  Ask for help from friends and family members, house cleaners, babysitters…Try to get enough sleep.

Pretty simple, basic stuff, right?  I think so.

The Attachment Parenting philosophy is a tool.  It is something parents can use as a guide for making daily decisions about how to raise their children.  There is a lot of good science behind some of the soecific practices, and a lot of loving, nurturing ideas.  The Eight Principles are pretty basic, and many families already use them, without knowing they are part of the Attachment Parenting philosophy.  Take from the toolbox what works for your family.

Attachment Parenting is Not a Four Letter Word


When you hear the term Attachment Parenting probably the first thing that comes to mind is a zealot, hippie parent who breastfeeds their child until five, who only uses cloth diapers and who carries their baby in a sling 100% of the time. Although these behaviors are true to some degree, yet different for each parent, the overall image in a stereotype and not to be believed. Nor should it deter you from learning about Attachment Parenting.

The term Attachment Parenting (AP) was recently coined by author Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician and parent of eight children. The basic thrust of his parenting style is that the connection or attachment between parent and child is the most important component of child rearing. According to Dr. Sears’ website, Attachment Parenting is simply “a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents.” It “implies…opening your mind and heart to the individual needs of your baby, and… develop[ing] the wisdom on how to make on-the-spot decisions on what works best for both you and your baby.” Parenting behaviors that are typically encouraged with Attachment Parenting include co-sleeping, baby-wearing, extended breastfeeding and baby-led weaning.

Dr. Sears’ ideas about Attachment Parenting are based in part on Attachment Theory which began in the 1950’s when John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth studied the attachment styles of babies to their caregivers. In their study they observed babies who were briefly separated from their mothers and were left in a room with a stranger for a brief period of time. They filmed the babies while their mothers were gone and when they returned. They later categorized the babies as either securely attached or insecurely attached based on the baby’s behavior when their mom returned. They found that the securely attached babies responded appropriately when they were reunited with their mothers. The insecure babies did not respond well. Some babies became angry at their mothers and others rejected them. The researchers determined that the securely attached babies were ones that were being raised by caregivers who consistently and reliably responded to their babies needs. The researchers learned that it was very important for babies to be responded to on a very consistent basis during the early months of their lives.

Other components of AP parenting came about as a result of Dr. Sears observing his wife co-sleeping with one of their newborns. He noticed that his wife’s and baby’s breathing patterns became synchronized while sleeping closely to each other. Dr. Sears began to hypothesize that co-sleeping was beneficial to the baby for several reasons: 1) the mother is immediately available to meet her baby’s needs; 2) the baby’s breathing patterns improve when sleeping with the mother and 3) the sleep patterns of the baby are better when sleeping close to mother.

As a parent of a three year old, I engage in what some would consider practices of Attachment Parenting. I carried my baby around in a carrier when she was young, I co-sleep, and I breastfed until my baby was pretty much ready to give it up. However, these parenting choices were based on my own observations of nature. I looked at the animal kingdom and at primates in particular. Does an orangutan mother ask her baby orangutan to sleep in a neighboring tree, I asked myself? Of course not. And why not? Because babies are dependent on their caregivers and form attachments with them in order to survive. Primate mothers also carry their babies on their backs and hold them close to them most of the time. Why? For protection and for comfort. (For a good research article on the biological importance of co-sleeping read Kathy Dettwyler’s “Sleeping Through the Night.”)

Although I practice the behaviors of a self-identified AP parent and I belong to an online AP parenting group, I do not tell people that I am an AP parent nor do I identify as such. For me, the term Attachment Parenting is a new word for an old concept. Other cultures have been practicing the behaviors defined under Attachment Parenting for thousands of years. Look to any culture other than the U.S. or Europe and you will find mothers carrying babies on their backs, families sleeping together and toddlers nursing—perhaps even from a woman who is not her own mother. Breastfeeding past the age of three is common in many places around the world.

It is also only in the U.S. that babies are encouraged to sleep through the night at an early age or to sleep in a separate room from his or her mother. Few societies have houses large enough for each child to have their own room. It’s only been in the past 100 years and in the more “developed” countries that every child having their own room starting at birth has become the norm. It is the way that we have socialized our children in response to wealth and an individualistic society versus a collectivistic society.

The one place that Attachment Parenting practices differ most radically is from the socially accepted practice of sleep training or Cry it Out (CIO). Attachment Parenting does not support letting a newborn or young baby cry themselves to sleep because it does not fall under the behavior of meeting their newborns needs repeatedly and consistently.

In my opinion, “teaching” a baby to sleep independently is a behavior that we as a western culture have imposed upon our children for the sake of convenience. The individualistic society that we live in socializes children to become independent more quickly and for mothers to separate from their babies and toddlers sooner than is biological or developmentally appropriate. In today’s Euro-American society, parenting has changed to fit the lifestyles of people who work, who want independence from their babies earlier, and who own homes with multiple rooms.

If you think about it, the practices associated with Attachment Parenting are probably not that much different than what you are already doing if you are caring for an infant or young child. Most parents admit that they end up sleeping with their babies even if they have a crib set up in the next room. It’s very common to see moms and dads carrying babies in front carriers these days. Even so, it’s not mandatory that you do any of these things. You can be a member of an attachment parenting group just to have solidarity with other parents who want what is best for their baby. The most important thing is that you value the physical and emotional connection that you have with your baby and that you do what is best to meet your baby’s needs.

The goals of the Attachment Parenting International (API) are “to educate and support all parents in raising secure, joyful and empathic children in order to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world.”  It is like anything else – there are extremists, moderates and conservatives. This holds true even in AP world as well. So don’t be afraid. Being part of an Attachment Parenting group can give a parent a sense of identity in terms of parenting choices or it can be just another tool in your toolbox. Basically, Attachment Parenting is just a more elaborate way of saying let your baby be a baby and give her the attention she deserves by responding to her needs. It’s okay. You can be an AP parent. I won’t tell anyone…