Attachment Theory 101: How Attachment Parenting Can Help Your Baby

Parenting is so much more than our preferences for discipline. It’s a framework for how we approach every aspect of our parent-child relationships. It’s the foundation for how we set our children up for their future. Your parenting style can affect everything from your child’s self-esteem and physical health to how they relate to others.

Now let’s get this out into the open right away: every parent and every child is different. For many of us, we’ll need to create a metaphorical parenting soup if you will – a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And when you have multiple kids, you might need to serve up different soups for each individual. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting and here at Ergobaby, we’ve got a judgment free zone. 

Let’s be real. Chances are that even if we had the best and most loving parents, we might still need therapy. And chances are that your kids just might need therapy no matter what you do too. That’s ok! We’re all doing our best! Parenting is one big game of try, fail, adjust, win some, lose some, celebrate, hide in the closet, rejoice, cry, and do it all over again. 

One of our personal favorite styles of parenting is based on Parenting Attachment Theory. And one reason we love it so much is it’s based on science that says babywearing is the best! And we tend to agree with that 😉 Let’s start with some of the basics.

Attachment Theory

So, what is attachment theory? Well, decades ago, psychiatrist John Bowlby formulated the Newborn Attachment Theory, which suggests that it’s human nature for infants to seek and maintain contact with the primary caregiver. “These proximity-seeking attachment behaviors form a behavioral system or attachment strategies that can increase the likelihood of infant survival​​.” (1)

The four attachment styles are 

  1. Secure Attachment
  2. Avoidant Attachment
  3. Resistant Attachment
  4. Disorganized Attachment

Secure attachment is believed to be by far the best and most healthy attachment style by developmental scientists worldwide. Parents that are sensitive and responsive to their child’s needs become a safe haven for their children, allowing them to feel safe and confident when they explore away from home base. 

Research has shown that a baby’s secure attachment is associated with better emotional regulation and cognitive development! (2,3)

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Why is Attachment Parenting Important?

Attachment is a fundamental aspect of human development that shapes our emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships. From infancy to adulthood, the bonds we form with caregivers, family members, and close friends play a crucial role in shaping our sense of security and self-worth. 

As mentioned, secure attachments in infants provide a foundation for healthy social and emotional development, influencing our ability to navigate stress, build trust, and form meaningful connections. Research suggests that strong attachments in early childhood contribute to better cognitive and emotional regulation, impacting long-term mental health outcomes. 

Attachment extends beyond childhood, influencing the dynamics of romantic relationships, friendships, and even professional connections. Understanding the importance of attachment can empower individuals to cultivate and prioritize secure bonds, fostering resilience and emotional intelligence throughout their lives. 

What’s one large component of Attachment Style Parenting? Babywearing!

Attachment Parenting and Babywearing

Babywearing is not a new concept. It’s ANCIENT. It’s widely practiced in non-Western countries and it’s more recently that it’s made its way into our Western culture as a part of daily life and child-rearing.

Current belief has a lot of parents concerned that being too “attached” to their kids will cause codependency or “too much” attachment. But this ancient approach to parenting is actually, in our opinion, more natural. 

Natural Parenting Magazine describes it as, “no different than what you would expect to receive as an adult in today’s society. Would you like to have your food made with love, be treated with respect and sensitivity and be able to respond to others with care?When it comes to your children, the word discipline doesn’t mean yell, scream, swear, abuse or physically harm the child. This is what we as adults would expect in life, so why wouldn’t you respect and love your child in the same positive way that you would like to be treated? We all strive for balance in our family and personal lives and this is exactly what a natural parent’s philosophy is.”

Before parenting experts and books and webinars and the world wide web, parents did what felt natural to them. When a baby cried, they were held. When babies were hungry, they were fed. It was as simple as that. 

Attachment Parenting International identifies eight basic principles natural parents follow, which are:

  1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting.
  2. Feed with love and respect.
  3. Respond with sensitivity.
  4. Use nurturing touch.
  5. Engage in nighttime parenting.
  6. Provide constant, loving care.
  7. Practice positive parenting, not discipline.
  8. Strive for balance in personal and family life.

These eight principles are best accomplished through skin to skin contact, babywearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, co-bathing, elimination communication, and positive parenting! 

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Infant Carrying Promotes Attachment

In a landmark study conducted in 1990, a team of researchers from Columbia University, New York, set out to explore this very question. The study was titled “Does Infant Carrying Promote Attachment?[1]” This study was designed to test the hypothesis that increased physical contact would promote greater maternal responsiveness and more secure attachment between infant and mother. Secure attachment style has been found to correlate with autonomy and healthy independence.

The research team was greatly inspired by the work of one of the absolute pioneers in the field of Attachment Theory, Mary D. Ainsworth. In her classic studies, in 1967, in Uganda and the United States, Ainsworth found that the amount of time mothers held their infants was related to the “security-of-attachment rating” that the infants received.

Mothers who, in the first months of life, held their infants for relatively long periods, and were tender and affectionate during the holding, had infants who, at 12 months of age, had developed secure relationships with them[3]. In contrast, if mothers were inept in handling their infants and provided them with unpleasant experiences during holding, the infants developed an anxious-ambivalent pattern of attachment.

Several studies have found that mothers of avoidant infants had rejected or sought to minimize physical contact with their infants[4],[5],[6]. Thus, the research team argued, there is evidence that the amount and quality of physical contact between mother and infant is related to security of attachment. 

By increasing the quantity of physical contact, the experimental treatment of baby carrying may afford the mother opportunities to show affectionate and tender behavior, thus affecting the quality of interaction.

Compared to other types of attachment-related interventions for at-risk mothers, the intervention of providing baby carriers turned out to be extraordinarily effective. The research team speculated on the mechanisms that might be involved in the dramatic change of the mothers’ caregiving skills. 

Research in monkeys has demonstrated that mothers who have been exposed to maternal neglect in their own childhood tend to be negative towards their offspring, and, also, spontaneously reject physical contact. However, if exposed to sufficient amounts of physical contact with their offspring, their behavior would be modified. 

Research conducted in the decades following this study indicates that the neurohormone oxytocin might be involved in the remarkable effect of baby carrying that the study brought to light.

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Why People Criticize Attachment Parenting

A lot of criticism of Natural or Attachment Parenting comes from the idea that kids will be too dependent and needy, but studies have actually shown the opposite! Providing a “secure base” allows your baby the confidence to safely explore the world around them, and seek independence when they are ready. (4)

A few studies have also discovered that babies raised in the Attachment Parenting style tend to be more agreeable, conscientious, and less anxious when they’re older. (5) 

Having a responsive parent generally makes babies less fearful of the world around them, and helps them have a more relaxed general temperament. (6) 

Like we said before, no parent is a perfect parent. And most often, we need to pick and choose pieces of different parenting styles for each kid that work best for our unique personalities!

Here’s the message to remember: YOU’RE DOING YOUR BEST! 

Looking for more resources? These mamas are creating content that is relatable, helpful, and insightful…right at your fingertips! 

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  2. Shaver P, Hazan C. Being lonely, falling in love. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. 1987;2(2):105.
  3. Baldwin MW, Fehr B, Keedian E, Seidel M, Thomson DW. An Exploration of the Relational Schemata Underlying Attachment Styles: Self-Report and Lexical Decision Approaches. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. Published online December 1993:746-754. doi:10.1177/0146167293196010

Vittoria Allen

Vittoria is a writer based in San Diego. A lover of good food, slow living, and a good novel, she shares her life with her husband and two daughters trying to squeeze out the beauty in every moment.

October 24, 2022