Attachment parenting, with its focus on physical contact and responding immediately to a baby’s cries, has been met with some skepticism. Many parents worry that by responding to a baby’s cries and not allowing him to “cry it out,” their babies will grow up to be spoiled children, unable to cope when a parent denies them something they want. Some parents are also concerned that babywearing and co-sleeping may lead to clingy children who are unable to sleep alone or play independently. However, this is not the case. Studies and anecdotal evidence have shown time and time again that attachment parenting, when followed consistently, will help children to grow up to be secure, independent, and compassionate rather than spoiled and clingy.
A baby’s cry triggers a powerful emotional response in nearby adults. It is a grating sound, and while some adults may react differently than others, it is nearly impossible to experience a complete lack of emotion over hearing an infant’s cry. This is no accident of nature, and it does not signal weakness on the part of the parent, or something that the parent needs to learn to cope with. Adults are hard-wired to respond to a baby’s cry because a crying baby means that the baby is in some kind of distress, and since babies are unable to meet their own needs, adults must provide for them.
Many parents believe that allowing a baby to “cry it out” will foster independence. They believe that attending to a baby’s every cry will teach the baby that crying will always get him what he wants, and he will become spoiled. But what these parents fail to realize is that babies are not meant to be independent at such a young age. They are naturally designed to be dependent on their parents, as are babies of all mammal species. They cannot change their own diapers, prepare their own food, get their own toys, or even move their own bodies very far without help from their parents. Allowing a baby to cry unnecessarily doesn’t teach him to be independent, because by nature he is incapable of independence – it instead teaches him that his cries are not important, and that he must learn to do without the things he needs. In contrast, responding to a baby’s cries teaches him that his cries are a powerful communication tool, that his parents are listening when he needs something, and that his needs are important.
Babies have a real need for physical affection. Infants who are not touched can actually die, which indicates that snuggling and touching are not simply small acts of love to be doled out sparingly, but are instead vital to a baby’s health and well-being. Touch helps to aid a baby’s emotional development and relieves stress. Some studies suggest that frequent touch results in more rapid brain growth, stronger immune systems, more independence later in life (as well as less fear), and more rapid motor development. Babies who are touched frequently also tend to sleep better and fuss less than babies who are not. Babywearing fills this need for human touch in a way that would be difficult to achieve otherwise. Being carried close to a parent’s body simulates the warm security of the womb, which can help the baby feel less stressed and more at ease. This comfort enables the baby to focus his energies toward growing and learning, rather than trying to find ways to soothe himself. Babywearing does not, as some believe, spoil a baby or condition him to want to be held all the time. A baby who is worn does not automatically grow into a clingy toddler. In fact, studies show that the opposite may be true. A baby who is worn through his infancy may be more likely to show a healthy independence as he grows older. Because he has been given that extra security of knowing that his parents are always there if he needs them, he is more able to strike out on his own and try new things. He does not have to be clingy, because he has no fear of abandonment.
Co-sleeping, also known as bedsharing, is another way to fill a baby’s need for contact. A baby spends most of his day asleep, and if he must always sleep alone, he will be missing out on many hours of life-giving touch. Co-sleeping is an easy way to give your baby the closeness he needs. Unfortunately, many parents are afraid of co-sleeping because they worry about spoiling the baby, or worse, harming him in their sleep. But when co-sleeping is done safely, it poses no more physical risk to the baby than does sleeping alone in a crib, and many families find that everyone sleeps better when baby shares a bed with his parents. All children will sleep alone when they have reached the appropriate stage in their development, and co-sleeping will not hinder that development in any way.
Parents need not worry about spoiling their babies by following the basics of attachment parenting. Responding to a baby’s needs and allowing him to develop and grow naturally, without pressure from his parents, will not spoil him or hinder his development. In fact, allowing a child to develop at his own pace and addressing his needs as he arises will help him to feel more secure in his ever-changing world, which will lead to more independence. And a child who has always had what he needed is more likely to feel compassion for others in need. You can follow your heart, and the principles of attachment parenting, with full confidence that you are doing what is best for your baby, and for the adult that he will become.