Babywearing. Breastfeeding. Cosleeping. I knew that I wanted to incorporate these practices and any others that I could find to keep my babies close.
My desire for as much skin-to-skin nurturing as possible wasn’t due to reading a bestseller; the drive I felt for an “in-arms” approach was natural and instinctive from the moment I had my firstborn placed upon my chest in all of her gunky, bloody glory and heard her first cries.
As I researched methods that would compliment this passion I had for bonding, I stumbled upon two different parenting styles, Attachment Parenting and the Continuum Concept. Both of which emphasize following “natural” parenting instincts for physical closeness & the ability to identify and tenderly address your child’s needs.
At first glance the two might almost seem interchangable, but there are a few things that set them apart. Today I am going to summarize each style, touch on some of the differences, and tell you where our family falls.
WHY: The style is based on attachment theory, which suggests that the bonds and attachments children experience in early childhood have life-long effects. These bonds (or lack thereof) are thought to be powerful enough to affect social skills, the ability to form healthy relationships in the future, and even the potential onset of psychological disorders.
HOW: Because the pure & simple goal of AP is to promote healthy attachment between a baby & their primary caregiver, Dr. Sears acknowledges that there is a lot of flexibility within this style. He encourages knowing your baby and trusting your innate parenting and nurturing instincts, offering the “the 7 Baby B’s” to assist in achieving healthy attachment:
- Birth bonding. The biological needs of both mama & baby to nurture & be nurtured are especially strong in the first hours (and weeks) of life.
- Breastfeeding. Vital nutrition, hormonal rush, special bonding, and learning to read your baby.
- Babywearing. Constant cuddles and affection while washing diapers or cleaning the house? Yes,please! Not only does baby get to smell their mama, hear her heartbeat, look up into her eyes, and all the while feel her warm touch, but they also get to experience and learn from parts of life they’d never be exposed to in a playpen.
- Belief in the signal value of your baby’s cries. Babies cry to communicate, not to manipulate. Caregivers are encouraged to respond sensitively and to try to figure out what the need is.
- Bedding close to baby. Many people understand this to be co-sleeping (bed-sharing between mother and baby), although Dr. Sears also promotes “Wherever all family members get the best night’s sleep is the right arrangement for your individual family.”
- Balance and boundaries. Frequent closeness with baby is key, but balance is absolutely vital: balance that says no sometimes; balance that allows for a baby-free date night or sex; balance that lets mama squeeze in a shower. In order for mama & papa bear to provide “whole” care for their young, they too must be intact & taken care of.
- Beware of baby trainers. This is basically a caution against training methods, systems, and how-to crazes that minimize the importance of listening to your own baby and following your natural parenting instincts.
WHO: The Continuum Concept was written by Jean Liedloff, an American who spent three years in the deep jungles of Venezuela with stone-age Indians of the Yequana tribe.
WHY: As she observed the “natural” parenting methods of the Indians (i.e. completely void of how-to books), she came to believe that their innate nurturing styles matched up with the innate expectations babies had due to evolutionary adaptation. She suggested that evolution prepared infants to expect certain experiences (like constant contact with their mother). Fulfilling these would be necessary for optimal health & development. If the continuum was not met, she theorized alternate compensation would be sought throughout life, possibly resulting in social/psychological disorders.
HOW: In attempt to fulfill the innate expectations of babies, Liedloff promoted the following practices:
- Immediate placement after birth in mother’s arms. She believed that humans are born expecting their first contact be with friends, not foes, and that it is perceived as a threat when they are immediately weighed, measured, cleaned up, etc.
- Constant physical contact and being carried by mother. Parents are encouraged to continue living their daily lives, toting babies along to all activities until they initiate crawling on their own. The physical contact is an obvious plus here, but another driving force is implementing adult-led activities as opposed to centering everything around the child.
- Breastfeeding on demand. This is encouraged until the child self-weans (somewhere between 2-8 years of age).
- Co-sleeping. Bed-sharing is encouraged until the child leaves of their own choice.
- Immediate response to babies’ cries or body signals. Being attentive & responsive to baby’s communication leads to a deep understanding of their needs, down to when they need to nurse or even eliminate. (Interested in elimination communication? Check out why we let Darla start peeing on the floor HERE.)
- Absolute trust in the baby’s social, cooperative, and self-preservation instincts. Put simply, if you raise the bar, your child will rise to it. If they are expected to behave and be social beings, they will. If they are presumed (as in “western civilization” ) that “boys will be boys” or that “terrible twos” are among us, children will follow that lead.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Though the two styles bare resemblance, their foundations differ. Attached Parenting prioritizes experiences based on the future development of the child while the Continuum Concept focuses on the experiential requirements an evolutionary past has dictated. These presuppositions seem to communicate different levels of urgency and flexibility.
In my experience, Attachment Parenting allows for balance and personalization, while the Continuum Concept appears to be all-or-nothing, thus making it more difficult to apply.
For example, in our home we all sleep much better when the babies are in their own beds for the first half of the night, and then they come in at some later point throughout the night. At a couple different points, the girls slept so well that they never made it into our room at all. Since co-sleeping wasn’t always feasible, we made sure to implement morning & evening snuggles, frequent co-bathing, & share meals together as just a few other ways to achieve healthy attachment. I feel “attached.”
Though I can appreciate (and support) many aspects of the Continuum Concept, a quick review of the list puts me at failing level: continuum disrupted! How can this be? I’m following my natural instincts. But because each of my children were born prematurely, they were whisked away from me and “threatened” soon after birth. My back-to-back pregnancies lent to my milk drying up sooner than planned and my first daughter had to wean at only 7 months of age (until I was able to unwean her several months later). I babywear daily, but not constantly. When my babies both cry simultaneously, I cannot always tend to them immediately. I already told you we are part-time co-sleepers.
Like I mentioned in my post on Parenting Values, it is important to look through the lens of our own values, taking away what is right for our specific family and worldview. That is what I strove to do here. I’ve broken the continuum, I’m afraid, but I do think we are attached!