The attachment parenting theory is a method of parenting which advocates immediate and continued bonding between parent and child from the moment of birth. Parents who practice attachment parenting bond immediately and intensely with baby as soon as he or she is born and continue to do so. The baby is kept with the mother in her room at all times while mother and baby are in the hospital, as much as is possible. After mother and baby go home from the hospital, this intense and constant bonding continues between the parents and the baby.
Parents who practice attachment parenting believe that a child's needs for constant care and attention do not stop when it is bedtime or when the child reaches a certain age. They believe that, through constant bonding with their child, they are uniquely in tune with their child's needs and will be able to respond immediately and appropriately. Accordingly, parents who practice attachment parenting follow their child's cues to determine what the child needs. If the baby cries, he or she will be held and cuddled and will not be left to cry. When parents move around the house or outside the house, baby is carried in a sling attached to one of his or her parents, so that baby is still held close to the parent's body at all times. Baby is breastfed exclusively and on demand for the full first six months of baby's life. Baby is allowed to continue breastfeeding until he or she signals that he or she is ready to give up, often long after the first year. Parents who practice attachment parenting homeschool their children in order to maintain the parental bond and be available to their children 24 hours a day.
Parents who practice attachment parenting also believe that a child's needs continue 24 hours a day and do not stop at bedtime. Accordingly, these parents practice what is called "co-sleeping" once their child is born. The parents and child share a bed for sleeping each night and continue to do so unless and until the child signals a different need. Advocates of attachment parenting believe that this is a sacrifice parents happily accept for this period of their lives.
The attachment parenting theory has drawn a lot of criticism from groups who believe that attachment parenting discourages the development of independence and autonomy. Critics say that babies who experience attachment parenting grow up to be spoiled children with blurred boundaries and an inability to self-soothe. These children will grow up needing constant reassurance and attention from their parents and will be poorly socialized to the outside world.
Proponents of the attachment parenting theory, however, point out that teaching a child to live with separateness from his or her parents by having him or her sleep alone, letting him or her cry or ending breastfeeding before the child seems to be ready, does not guarantee that the child will grow up to be mature and independent. In fact, they say, when a baby's needs are not met as a child, this is what creates a condition of constant neediness and dependence as an adult. Parents who practice attachment parenting argue that they do teach their children autonomy and independence, but do so by different means. These parents say that they learn to recognize their child's attempts at independence as the child grows. For example, they may regard unruliness and stubborn refusal to follow instructions not as defiance, but as a sign of the child asserting his or her independence. They say that autonomy and independence can be encouraged in many ways along the child's developmental path, such as by allowing the child to pick out his or her own clothes, even if they do not match, and supporting the child's efforts at exploration of the world around him or her.