(Attachment Parenting)

The world is still going to rotate whether or not I research parenting styles or know the names of them. Like I still have to wake up every day and take care of my kid but I wanted to dive into different perspectives. 

Hi, my name is Jen and I’m reading the parenting books and articles so you don’t have to. 

To get us started, I read:

The Sears Baby Book, Revised Edition: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (from the Sears Parenting Library)

First, let’s say this; the title is a bit misleading. The title says it is about everything you need to know about your baby but it is really introducing an idea of “attachment parenting.” 

TLDR – Attachment parenting is a concept developed by Dr. Sears to help parents feel attached to their children. It is NOT attachment science. Dr. Sears developed several guidelines to help parents connect with their infants that can feel unrealistic and unattainable.


What the hell is parenting even? Parenting is this amorphous term that can be acted out in billions of ways. Every individual person who is a parent has their own style regardless of their chosen techniques. Everyone comes from their own unique background with their own histories, cultures, baggage, whatever.

In one of my recent obsessions, I was looking into Doula training and found that the first book Doulas are expected to read (for a specific training certificate program) was The Sears Baby Book. When I started reading it I didn’t realize that this has become a bit of a hot-button topic in the childrearing world. 

So specifically, to talk about “attachment parenting” we’re talking about a style developed by pediatrician William Sears and his wife Martha. Sears looked to the parents in his practice that seemed to be doing well with parenting ( in his opinion). Those who seemed “in harmony”, able to read their baby’s cues, and responded intuitively and appropriately (his opinion), were those he used for his field research. He also used his and his wife’s experience in raising their eight children as evidence of what works/ what doesn’t. 

He developed the seven Bs of attachment parenting:

  1. Birth bonding
  2. Belief in the signal value of your baby’s cries
  3. Breastfeeding
  4. Babywearing
  5. Bedding close to baby
  6. Balance and boundaries
  7. Beware of baby trainers

The whole concept is to help mothers/ caregivers be more intuitive in their parenting and develop their own parenting style while building healthy attachment with their baby. The seven Bs are meant to be building blocks to a relationship’s foundation, not steadfast rules.

Remember, this is not scientific but rather an approach developed by Sears. 

The Sears Baby Book excerpt.

So what DOES the science say about attachment? 

Scientific attachment theory was developed in the early part of the 20th century by Psychiatrist Jon Bowlby as he studied orphaned children and the adverse effects of maternal deprivation. 

To learn more about Bowlby’s theory, I looked at two articles written by Diana Devecha, Ph. D., 

“Attachment [in the scientific sense] is a relationship in the service of a baby’s emotion regulation and exploration,” explains Alan Sroufe, a developmental psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota, where he and his colleagues have studied the attachment relationship for over 40 years. “It is the deep, abiding confidence a baby has in the availability and responsiveness of the caregiver.”

A secure attachment has at least three functions:

  • Provides a sense of safety and security
  • Regulates emotions by soothing distress, creating joy, and supporting calm
  • Offers a secure base from which to explore

Again, attachment (scientific theory) is a theory of regulation. It is the brain’s ability to process emotions. Inputs from the environment become the attachment. It is the parent that provides the inputs for the child to process. Eye contact, face-to-face interaction, holding, and baby-talking, those things help the parent/child relationship to synchronize. BUT, this isn’t being done on a consistent, 100% of the time basis. 

Sroufe says that the intent behind the parent is the key thing in parenting, not so much the action. Example; skin-to-skin is great but if the parent isn’t attentive, the attachment won’t be as secure as an attuned parent not practicing skin-to-skin.

Earlier I mentioned that I learned that attachment parenting is hot-button right now. It’s because people who practice this method of parenting often do not give themselves grace. They read the 7 B’s and then feel like failures if they’re unable to follow through on all of them. For example, not being able/ not wanting to breastfeed or losing your cool when disciplining. 

From the Sear’s Baby Book: 

“The sensitivity that attachment-style parents develop enables them intuitively to get behind the eyes of their child to see situations from his or her viewpoint. Discipline is not something you do to a child. It is something you do with a child.”  

Ideally, this is great but what happens if you’re overwhelmed or lose your cool with your kiddo? The argument that professionals are making is that Sears isn’t really allowing room for grace in those situations. 

“Attachment parents also seemed to enjoy parenting more; they got closer to their babies sooner. As a result they orchestrated their lifestyles and working schedules to incorporate their baby. Parenting, work, travel, recreation, and social life all revolved around and included baby—because they wanted it that way.

As the years went on I noticed one quality that distinguished attachment parents and their children—sensitivity. This sensitivity carried over into other aspects of life: marriage, job, social relationships, and play. In my experience, sensitivity (in parent and child) is the most outstanding effect of attachment parenting.” – Sears

Note; it seems that those who choose to use “attachment parenting” are already the type who want to have a positive relationship with their child. A parent who wants to have a positive relationship with their child will of course want to include them in their activities. And if “sensitivity” is one of the things Sears noticed most in the attachment parents it’s not because they were attachment parents but they were attachment parents because they were sensitive people…

So in reading the Berkeley article, it is saying that Attachment (scientific) actually occurs EVEN THOUGH “misattunements” happen, and they happen about 70% of the time! ⅔ of the time, parents and children are not in tune and still have healthy attachment. 

So again, to go back to Sears, his 7 Bs can create anxiety in parents who are trying to comply with his list as though they are rules despite Sears offering them as guidelines. When you’re a new parent, and you’ll know, it is already peaking anxiety. Parenthood is a learn-as-you-go thing and because of this, it is inherently stressful. And to really drive that point home, parents are looking for actionable things they can implement in their relationships to have a more harmonious household. 

Sroufe says;  “A tight attachment—together all the time—might actually be an anxious attachment.”

From personal experience, I can say I feel this. I feel this because I can recall when my daughter was tiny, her crying physically hurt me. Now, I was in the throes of severe post-partum depression so the physical pain response may be an outlier to other mothering experiences but, I couldn’t take a shower without feeling like I was failing my child because she would cry if she wasn’t being held. She’d cry in her bouncer outside the shower while I cried in the shower for the two minutes that I took to wash my hair, you know? Like that is an anxious attachment, I wouldn’t call that healthy. And that attachment is a two-way street, right? Relationships are a duality. 

Another point to this is the idea of room sharing. Safe Sleep – American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines say to room share for the first year. This is a safety thing and I get that and I’m not voting against it but my anxiety about SIDS had me waking OFTEN to check that my child was still alive and breathing (and she was a healthy baby). I’d put my hand on her chest to be sure it was still rising and falling. This is anxiety. Around four months, we took to bed sharing because my daughter wouldn’t rest in her bassinet, she’d cry until she was held. This is still very much a part of her personality now, she wants to be held and comforted and wants to be nursed at night and 2 years old. 

It’s freaking hard, right? When my kid was about a year old my mother-in-law talked about how she did cry-it-out with my husband and I thought, oh my god, never. NEVER can I do that! When the pediatrician suggested it, and even a psychologist, I thought they were the devil incarnate. I couldn’t imagine doing that to my kid, especially when her cries physically hurt me. Now that I’m starting to come around on those topics, I feel a little silly but hindsight is 20/20 right? 

Yet another point is that when our friends had a young son before we had our own child, my husband and I had discussions on why they wouldn’t let him cry. “It’s OK to let him cry,” we’d tell each other. When we had our kid we had a 180. Never would we let our daughter cry. While a lot of it was about comforting her, a large portion was us trying to allay our anxiety and stress because it’s hard to hear your baby cry and scream. 

ANYWAY, back to Dr. Diana Divecha;

“Attachment parenting has also been roundly critiqued for promoting a conservative Christian, patriarchal family structure that keeps women at home and tied tightly to their baby’s desires.  Additionally, the philosophy seems to have morphed in the public consciousness into a lifestyle that also includes organic food, cloth diapers, rejection of vaccinations, and homeschooling. The Searses have sold millions of books, and they profit from endorsements of products that serve their advice.

These [attachment parenting principles] are all fine things,” observes Sroufe “but they’re not the essential things. There is no evidence that they are predictive of a secure attachment.”


Allan Schore (apparently you must be named Alan/ Allan to study attachment science), a developmental neuroscientist in the Department of Psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine said this:

“What a primary caregiver is doing, in being with the child,” explains Schore, “is allowing the child to feel and identify in his own body these different emotional states. By having a caregiver simply ‘be with’ him while he feels emotions and has experiences, the baby learns how to be,” Schore says.

Meanwhile, an excerpt from Sears says this: 

“Discipline is not something you do to a child. It is something you do with a child. In a nutshell, discipline begins with knowing your child and helping your child feel right. A child who feels right is more likely to act right and eventually operates from a set of inner controls rather than from an external force. Parents who can read their child are able to pick up on the real meaning of a child’s actions and channel these into desirable behavior. The connected child desires to please. Discipline is a relationship between parent and child that can be summed up in one word—trust. The child who trusts his authority figure is easier to discipline. The authority person who can read the child gives better discipline. Attachment parents are better able to convey what behavior they expect of their children, and attached children are better able to perceive what behavior is expected of them. Connected kids are easier to discipline.”

These two ideas aren’t that far apart. Sears does seem to pull from attachment theory quite often until you get to this passage:

“Difficult discipline situations occur when a distance develops between parent and child. The distant parent becomes frustrated by the “nothing’s working” feeling and approaches discipline as a trial-and-error list of somebody else’s methods—many of which promote an even greater distance between them. Disconnected children are more difficult to discipline because they operate from a basis of anger rather than trust.” 

This concept is problematic. Example: tonight as I’m writing this I have just put my two-year-old to bed. I feel we are strongly attached yet I grew impatient with her dragging out bedtime. I’d say it’s unfair to classify me as a distant parent but a parent who already worked a 9-5, cooked dinner, took an evening walk with my family, and is in need of rest. 

 Types of scientific attachment include: 

  1. secure attachment (the goal), 
  2. insecure-avoidant attachment (just what it sounds like, an indifferent child to its caregiver. However, and this is worth pointing out, just because the child may “fail to cling” to the parent, it does not mean the child does not want the attachment. It means that the cues from the parent elicited a response from the child to suppress its needs.)  
  3. Insecure- ambivalent/ resistant attachment occurs when a child doesn’t know how to interpret the changing cues from the parent and responds with both distress and clinginess to angry resistance to comfort measures. 
  4. Disorganized attachment occurs after abuse or maltreatment of the child by the caregiver/parent, this type of attachment presents as dissociation as a defense mechanism by the baby. 

Secure attachment can be described as “confidence and trust in the goodness of me, you, us” psychotherapists Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper, and Bert Powell. In their book, Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom to Explore,

What attachment is not: It is NOT a list of hacks but a true connection and confidence in the parent/ child relationship. 

There is a difference between Sear’s attachment parenting principles and the actual definition of attachment and then even “secure attachment”. 


Sear’s principles are: 

  1. Birth bonding
  2. Belief in the signal value of your baby’s cries
  3. Breastfeeding
  4. Babywearing
  5. Bedding close to baby
  6. Balance and boundaries
  7. Beware of baby trainers

Don’t let these things overwhelm you, guilt you, or make you doubt your parenting abilities. 

The science of attachment allows for you to have moments of “missteps” but then make repairs. 

For example, if my baby gets upset because I’m preparing her lunch and can’t pick her up at that moment, I can turn to her after and hug her and help her feel better about the situation. We typically work things out pretty quickly. Her base needs still eat, potty, love/safety. 

Parenting is also a relational thing between parent and infant/ child. It’s a back-forth relationship in which both parties use cues from each other to suss out needs. It isn’t me versus them. 

Next read – Part 1/ Chapter 2 Ten Tips for Having a Safe and Satisfying Birth read now

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