By Sophie Aitkin
**Originally published in the Summer 2008 AP in a Non-AP World issue of The Journal of API
My first baby, Howard, was born in the back seat of our family car on the way to the hospital. My husband continued driving, and I had precious minutes in the back of the car alone with my new baby. As the intense pain of childbirth ceased, I was flooded with an ecstatic love for this little, naked bundle, and the natural process of bonding began.
From that moment, my instincts took over, and I found myself naturally following the principles of Attachment Parenting (AP), although I was not aware of the literature in this area until later. I slept with him against my body, breastfed him on cue night and day, wore him in a sling wherever we went, allowed him to sleep when it suited him, and tried to be highly attuned and responsive to his needs. I did not leave him with anyone else until he was comfortable to be left, which was when he was nearly two years old and he said emphatically, “Go ‘way, Mama!”
A Non-AP Society
However, I was somewhat surprised to discover that this parenting style, which felt so intuitively right to me, was out of sync with the way that much of society here in Australia expected me to parent.
Although the hospital staff was very supportive of breastfeeding, they did not believe in feeding on cue. Rather, they immediately introduced me to the “Feed, Play, Sleep” mantra that continued to be pushed by the community midwives that I saw upon my discharge from hospital. The idea is that the baby is fed every three hours but not allowed to go to sleep after the feeding. (I saw one nurse instructing the mother to wake her baby with a cold cloth to the chest if she did try to go to sleep!) The baby then has a period of play time before being tightly wrapped and placed in the cot. If the baby doesn’t go to sleep, then “controlled comforting” (otherwise known as controlled crying, or crying it out) is used.
When I first saw the community midwife, I was told that feeding on cue would rot the child’s teeth. I was shown graphic pictures of decaying teeth as evidence. I was also referred (as were all new mothers) to a controlled comforting workshop. We had to watch a video of a baby as it cried itself to sleep (as proof that they do in fact fall asleep eventually), but as a new mother, I found watching the video of a distressed baby quite traumatic!
I was advised against sleeping with my baby, due to so-called risks associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and because it would supposedly be difficult to ever get him into his own bed. However I found sleeping with him to be such a joy, and so natural, that it was not something I would even consider giving up! I also found that I got a lot more sleep if he was able to breastfeed when he wanted to, as I continued sleeping.
I remember the pictures the midwives showed me of how a baby should be sleeping to be safe – alone in a large cot without any toys, pillows, or comforters, and flat on his back – and it looked so sterile and lonely for a little being that had just emerged from the warm comfort of his mother’s belly. It seemed to me that too much emphasis was given to the child’s physical well-being at the expense of his emotional needs.
AP in a Non-AP World
Despite the advice of the midwives, I continued to feed my baby on cue, feed him to sleep, and share my bed with him, but I learned to bend the truth a little with my midwife to save myself a lecture.
Apart from the midwives, I also felt pressure from family and friends to compromise my preferred parenting style. From soon after my son was born, there were invitations to attend social events without him. The intention of such invitations was undoubtedly well-meaning, to give me a break from mothering, but I did not feel comfortable leaving my baby at this stage.
As I continued to decline these invitations, it was clear that many people felt I was behaving strangely. One friend even suggested that men who murder their mothers had been parented this way! I preferred to socialize with people who included their children in their social gatherings, so that I could get out without having to leave an unhappy baby.
Pressure to Have a C-section
When Howard was two years old, I became pregnant with twins! As soon as this was discovered by my doctors, discussion turned to the risks associated with twin pregnancies and births. Toward the end of the pregnancy, when it became clear that the babies were both in a breech position, I was strongly advised to have a Caesarean section.
I did not want to do this, as I had found that a vaginal birth was an important part of the bonding process for me and Howard. I saw a number of obstetricians who thought I should have a Caesarean section, talking of the risks (and the possibility that they would be sued if anything went wrong).
Despite this advice, I still felt that I wanted to have an opportunity to deliver my babies naturally, so I contacted the Independent Midwives Association. They advised me that there was no reason I couldn’t naturally deliver twins in a breech position. They gave me the name of an obstetrician who has one of the lowest rates of Caesarean deliveries in our home state. I saw him when I was 37 weeks pregnant with the twins, and he agreed to deliver them vaginally! Thankfully, all progressed smoothly, and the twin boys were delivered five minutes apart after a short labor.
Independent Midwives Association
Founded in 1985 and based in the United Kingdom, the Independent Midwives Association (IMA) works to support independent midwives by holding training workshops for midwives, educating the public, and lobbying for the traditional role of the midwife. The IMA can also help connect women seeking an independent midwife. For more information, go to www.independentmidwives.org.uk.
AP with Multiple Children
Adopting an AP style with two babies (and a toddler) proved a lot more difficult than it had been with just one infant. Feeding two on demand meant I spent most of my time on the couch, breastfeeding. Letting them sleep when it suited them meant I rarely got a break. (In fact, I did resort at times to driving them around in the car so they would sleep at the same time!) Co-sleeping with two (and sometimes three) left no room in the bed for my husband. And carrying them both in a sling proved too difficult.
And yet despite the difficulties, I never wavered from my conviction that I was doing the best thing for all of us. I was delighted to discover the API website, www.attachmentparenting.org, and downloaded all the articles contained there to confirm my intuitive belief that AP held numerous long-term benefits. Although I had little time for reading, I always managed to read The Journal of API when it came and was heartened to read of other peoples’ experiences.
I also found support from my mothers’ group, a lovely collection of local women who had their first child at the same time as I did. None of them followed the principles of AP, and they thought me quite an oddity, but they also showed respect for what I was doing and were always there to listen when it got too hard. Also, their own horror stories of controlled crying, “sleep school,” and child care assured me that I was doing the right thing.
My immediate family kept me sane with frequent visits and support, helping me in many different ways, from cooking meals, holding babies, sharing holidays with me, and spending precious time with my boys. Close family support makes AP a great deal easier!
I feel fortunate to have had the education, family, and financial support to enable me to parent in the way that I felt was best. I have seen other families without these supports being influenced by medical advice or peer pressure to parent in a way that is contrary to their intuition, and that makes me sad.
Why Society Doesn’t Like AP
In my mind, AP is the most natural way to raise a happy baby. However, it requires the primary caregiver to devote these early years to the children, so that she can respond to their needs for attention, feeding, sleeping, and cuddles. Much in our society is not supportive of such a style.
Often the expectation from others, whether family, peers, or the media, is that we will return to our pre-baby lives as quickly as possible. To do this, the baby needs to fit in with our adult schedules, which requires set times for feeding, sleeping, and playing. We are also expected to leave the baby with others, so we can return to work, or to socialize, or to go to the gym. It takes some strength to resist these pressures, but having done so, I feel the rewards for myself and my children have been immeasurable.