Book Review: “The Attachment Parenting Book,” by William & Martha Sears

About 14 years ago, my friend Roxy gave birth to her daughter Isabelle. She told me that she and her husband were following the “attachment parenting” philosophy. I was new on the birthing world scene, and hadn’t heard of it before. She described attachment parenting to me, and I was so inspired that I went out and purchased this book, “The Attachment Parenting Book,” by William and Martha Sears. It has sat on my bookshelf for the entire time, waiting for me to have my own children. When I became pregnant with my daughter this past year, I knew it was time to read the book. After I read it, I set it down for seven months. When I was getting ready to write this review, I thought I would need to read the book again, but while I was leafing through it, I realized that I’ve just seamlessly integrated the attachment parenting philosophy into my life.

Attachment parenting is the philosophy that babies become smarter, healthier, happier and calmer when you are bonded to them. “Attachment” means both having them literally attached to you through breastfeeding, babywearing and co-sleeping, and also bonding with them — paying close attention to and responding to their body language, communication, and energy signals. This philosophy focuses on the emotional development of the child, and argues that children who grow up having their needs met grow up well-adjusted and confident in themselves and in the world. It’s not a new philosophy, but really validates parents’ natural intuition of how to take care of their babies, and returns more to how indigenous cultures raise their children.

This book has seven focal points (the 7 “B’s”) that it uses to explain attachment parenting:

  1. Bonding with your baby at birth
  2. Breastfeeding
  3. Babywearing
  4. Bedsharing
  5. Belief in baby’s cries
  6. Balance and boundaries
  7. Beware of baby trainers

Birth bonding asks parents to spend lots of quality time with their babies immediately after birth and beyond. Skin-to-skin contact is very important to calm and soothe the newborn, as is giving them lots of touch, making eye contact, talking with them, and noticing them when they are in a state of quiet alertness, which is when they are most receptive to their environment. Bonding is better achieved by delaying medical procedures that are commonly administered to newborns, breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, and always staying in the same room as your baby. To help you bond with your baby better after birth, they recommend taking maternity and paternity leaves, ignoring baby advice that is counter-intuitive, getting help when you need it, eating well and often, getting exercise as well as lots of rest, and learning to delegate tasks to Dad so that Mom can get her needs met.

I feel like breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing are at the core of the regular practices of attachment parents. The book goes on and on about the benefits of breastfeeding, which includes better eyesight and hearing, better smiles, healthier lungs, fewer respiratory and food allergies, healthier digestive tracts, healthier skin, better eating habits that protect them from becoming obese as adults, immune protection from childhood illnesses, and healthier moms. Because of the close contact between breastfeeding moms and their babies, moms learn to read their babies better, and can respond quickly to babies’ cues that they are hungry, tired, or something else. The chapter on breastfeeding is a pretty good pep talk for helping moms breastfeed successfully, including where to go for support. It includes a list of long-term benefits of breastfeeding, and again advises moms to follow baby’s signals and their intuition for breastfeeding, rather than trying to put their baby on a feeding schedule.

The babywearing chapter is also a good pep talk. Babywearing is all about the baby being in the arms of one of its parents most of the time (at least three hours a day). Your baby is literally attached to you with a sling or a carrier, and feels comfortable and safe. It can be a witness and participant in your daily activities and learn about its world through your eyes rather than being on a mat or in a stroller with some toys shoved in its face. Babywearing helps babies be calm and content as they are close to mom. They travel around in a state of quiet alertness and learn about the world as you go through your daily actions. Babywearing enhances speech development as they are tuning into your conversations and listening to your voice. It makes you attentive to their needs with them so close to you. Babies breastfeed better in slings, so wearing your baby can help eliminate breastfeeding difficulties. You can also run errands and go out in the world more easily with them on you as they slip into that state of quiet alertness instead of fussing and crying, and doing chores around the house is easier as well when you have a quiet baby on you instead of them crying for you on an activity mat.

The co-sleeping chapter was very useful to me personally. The message is: “If William and Martha Sears could do it, I can do it too.” Parents have been co-sleeping with their babies for thousands of years, and it’s only been recently that co-sleeping has been looked at with fear and horror by society. Everyone says, “You’re not supposed to sleep with your baby,” and yet we seem to be the only mammals that put our babies so far away from us when we sleep. The chapter encourages attached parents to sleep either in the same bed, with an attached co-sleeper, or at least in the same room. Mothers who bedshare with their babies continue that empathic bond all night long. Babies cry a lot less at night because they are close to mom and their needs can be met easily. Mothers sleep better because they don’t have to trek down the hallway, nurse the baby, put the baby back to sleep, and then trek back to their bedroom multiple times each night. They just nurse the baby and then fall back to sleep. They are very responsive to their baby in bed, and babies love it. The chapter includes safety tips for how to co-sleep without putting your baby in danger, and includes a very informative piece on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and Dr. Sears’ hypothesis that SIDS is caused by a sleeping disorder in young infants. He argues that attachment parenting and co-sleeping allow mothers to pay close attention to the breathing of their babies and respond if the breathing changes in any way. There is also advice for weaning your baby off co-sleeping and nighttime nursing when it’s time.

Belief in the value of a baby’s cry continues the close bond you have formed with your baby. This chapter in the book emphasizes that whenever your baby cries, it is communicating with you rather than “manipulating” you. Babies stop crying when parents respond to them, and develop and strong sense of trust that their needs will be met. By paying attention, you can also notice the baby’s “pre-cry signals,” and you can address their needs before they even start crying. As a result of this close attention and response, attached babies cry less. Of course, there are times when a baby needs to cry to alleviate tension, but having a loving, supportive parent right there for them helps them through it. According to this chapter, letting a baby “cry it out” is not only unhealthy for the baby, it has been scientifically debunked as a parenting technique. Babies who are allowed to “cry it out” without receiving comfort by their parents actually cry more and are more clingy and dependent on their parents. The end of the chapter includes some advice for parents whose babies cry a lot.

The rest of the book includes advice on creating balance in your life and in your relationship with your baby and your partner by setting boundaries with your baby so that you can avoid burnout. It also advises attached parents to avoid “baby trainers:” people who give you counter-intuitive advice on how to raise your baby and put them on feeding and sleeping schedules, rather than relying on your own biological signals to tell you what is right for your baby. There is a chapter on staying attached while being a working parent, a chapter on being an attached father, a chapter for attachment parenting in special situations, and a chapter of testimonials.

All in all, I feel like this is one of the only books that parents need to read about how to take care of a newborn. If you read this book and “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” you’ll be set for months after your baby is born. What really struck me about “The Attachment Parenting Book” was how very intuitive this book is. The advice made sense to me on a very deep level. I have followed its wisdom ever since my daughter was born. She is bright-eyed, inquisitive, and has a look of calm observation when we go walking together with her in the baby carrier. We have a sidecar co-sleeper that she uses for the first stretch of the night, and then she sleeps next to me and nurses on and off for the rest of the night. I feel well-rested and deeply bonded with this amazing little being. When she cries, I address her concerns as soon as possible, and we rarely have complete meltdowns. I am grateful that I read this book, and grateful to my friend for recommending it to me.