The great attachment-parenting con

It is 11.49pm and I have just breastfed my10-month-old daughter to sleep for the third time tonight.

To sayI’mdreading the sound of her wakingup again would be an understatement.I’mactually fearful of it – I startedtrying to put her sleep at 7pm.

It’s not just a night-time problem. She won’t sleep during the day either – unlessshe’s in the car or in bed with me. She literally won’t sleep for more than 10minutes unlessI’mlying down next to her.

She won’t sleep in a cot, my husband and I havegiven up on self-settling and, six weeks out from her first birthday, the onlyway to get her to sleep at night is to put her “on the boob”.

It’s exhausting, it’s demanding and it’sfrustrating. When other mums I know have their babies fast asleep by 7pm everynight and are sitting down to a civilised dinner with their partners, it’s hardnot to feel as though somewhere along the lineI’vegone terribly, terriblywrong.

So, how did we get here? Well, we got suckedin by whatI’venow coined, “The Quick-Fix Guide to Surviving Those First FewMonths With Your Baby”, otherwise known as attachment parenting.

Attachment parenting, it’s a touchy-feelyapproach which can see parents wearing junior in a sling, spending as littletime away from them as possible, responding to every cry, co-sleeping andbreastfeeding on demand. Advocates claim it not only leads to happier, moreemotionally stable children but makes parenting a more enjoyable experience allround.

Like many first-time parents, we fell intoattachment parenting by accident. It started when we put our daughter – who wasunsettled – into bed with us one night. Of course it worked a treat and ateight weeks seemed like a fairly harmless, inconsequential thing to do. Infact, it was beautiful. We loved having her close to us, and it was easier. Sowe kept doing it.

From that night we also became more laxabout putting her in the cot during the day. She went to sleep more easily andslept for longer when she was being held or lying next to me on the bed.

I’ve never enjoyed following convention sowhile other mums were going through the hard yards of bassinette-to-cottransition, trying every trick in the book to get their babies to self-settle,I airily announced we were putting Leila in with us at night.

“Yes”, I agreed when met with anynay-saying, “It might create problems down the track but we’ll cross thatbridge when we come to it.” Hmmm.I’mnot so much crossing the bridge as dragging myself over it with two brokenlegs, a blindfold and a 60kg rucksack balanced on my head, all while dodgingenemy fire.

When Leila got to six months and startedsleeping diagonally between us, alternating between kicking me in the head andwaking up for two-hourly comfort feeds, we decided we’d had enough.

It was time for our child to start sleepingin her cot at night. Ha! Because it was always going to be that easy, right?When neither of us could take the screamingany more we started finding excusesto put her back in bed with us “just for tonight and then that’s it.” I don’tthink either of us wanted to admit it, but we were well and truly trapped.

Fast forward a few months and Leila’snew-foundmobility posed the next problem. It was no longer safe to leave herasleep on the bed alone – even for a few minutes – in case she woke up andtumbled off. We dismantled the cot and replaced it with a single mattress onthe floor, complete with sheets and a fluffy pink doona.

Fortunately – or unfortunately, dependingon how you look at it – the mattress serves another purpose. It enables me tolie down next to her and “shush” her to sleep. However, these days, unless Iphysically restrain her she simply crawls away. Tizzie Hall would have a fit.

At three weeks old Leila successfully fedfrom a bottle of expressed breast milk. Unfortunately, wedidn’tpersist. Ilove breastfeeding, it’s been an incredible experience but now I’d do anything for my child to take abottle.

She won’t let a plastic teat or formulanear her which has limited the amount of time I can spend away from her, seriouslyimpacting on my freedom. Nights out for my husband and I are now virtuallyimpossible.

Don’t get me wrong – my daughter is my veryheart and soul. She has enriched my life so much I feel I could burst with lovefor her. None of this is her fault. Sheknows what she knows – sleep is something that happens when she’s lying next tomum, or on dad’s chest or in our bed. Milkcomes from mum and mum only. It’s the “normal” that we have created for her.

This rut we’re stuck in has left mefeeling guilty, icky and, yes, like a bad mother. And that’s my point.Attachment parenting will set you up for -I’mnot going to say failure – butfor a very difficult time.

In the short term, it works. You will havea content baby. It’s a quick fix but you’re not actually fixing anything. Indeed, you’re creating problems. And one day it dawns on you – you have a 10-month-oldwho won’t settle in her cot, will hardly sleep during the day and whodoesn’tlook like being weaned until high school.

Such is the insidious nature of theproblems caused by attachment parenting. Yet the idea of it is so appealing tomany parents.

What new mumwouldn’twant to hear that constantlyholding her baby, breastfeeding him on demand and by-passing sleep-time dramasby co-sleepingisn’tall part of a legitimate, tried and tested parentingstrategy that will safeguard his emotionalwell-beinglater in life and make himan all-round better person?

Pfffft! Take it from me, when it’s 11pm andyour baby is a screaming, over-tired mess whodoesn’tunderstand why you won’tjust put her on the breast like you usually do, you won’t feel like you’refostering any kind of emotional stability in your child at all.

Attachment parenting has its place. If youhave absolutely nothing else to do but parent – no job, no housework, no sociallife, no other children to look after and no marriage or relationship to maintainthen what are you waiting for – attach away. But the reality is that in thisday and age, either by choice or necessity, most mums do have other things todo. The least we can do for ourselves is make it a bit easier to wear ourdifferent hats.

My advice – don’t think that by familiarisingyour baby with a bottle, insisting on cot-sleeping, self-settling and movingthem into their own room at six months you’ll be depriving them of love andnurturing. In fact, I think the opposite is true. There’s nothing wrong with abit of routine, order and discipline. You’ll be sparing yourself a lot ofstress, screaming and lost sleep down the track which will ultimately leave youin a better frame of mind to do your best parenting.

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