Breastfeeding wasn’t easy to begin with but we got through it and went onto to have the most beautiful breastfeeding relationship which became the centre of my mothering. I had no idea how rewarding breastfeeding would be and how well it could meet most of Anna’s needs.
Despite people’s warnings that we were spoiling our baby by feeding her on demand, co-sleeping and never putting her down we decided to follow our instincts and what Anna was telling us. This was much harder than it sounds as I was constantly worried about whether I was doing something wrong as people seemed so bothered by our parenting style. I remember one occasion when someone said to me ‘ You are making that baby really dependent on you, how selfish!’ Later that day I googled ‘Can you be too attached to your baby?’ and came across the term ‘Attachment Parenting’ for the first time. I came across Doctor Sears and his books and immediately ordered some online.
Those books will always be special to me as they really helped me through a difficult time of self doubt. It was so good to hear that what I was doing was actually a positive thing for my baby rather than negative which is what most people lead me to believe. I’ve never looked back since and continue to breastfeed and co-sleep now Anna is 4. Most people don’t get it which is why I am grateful for the API support group. It’s just great to know you are surrounded by people that understand how you have chosen to parent and encourage you to trust your baby/child and your instincts.
Before having a child I never gave much thought to how you feed a baby or where a baby would sleep. Surrounded by a society that uses bottles, pushchairs and cots I just assumed that was what you did!
During pregnancy I started to think about it much more but was, once again, swayed by the media image of having a baby and lovingly prepared the nursery and bought all the gadgets! This turned out to be the biggest waste of money as we used hardly any of the things I had spent so long choosing and researching. I wish I had invested in a bigger bed, decent sling and saved as much money as possible.
I was lucky to have a friend as my mid wife so was well cared for throughout pregnancy and birth. She encouraged me to have a home birth and to breast feed. She also encouraged me to bring Anna into the bed from the moment she was born as she knew this would help the breastfeeding relationship. So we actually had a pretty good start due to my friend’s support.
I can't say that AP is an easy approach, at least at first. It took a fair bit of adjustment in our lives to make sure we all got enough sleep for instance. As an 'older' Mum, I'm not sure I could have done it if I hadn't been lucky enough to be a full-time Mum, able to catch up on sleep during the day at times. It has all paid off though. It is still paying off in the close, trusting relationship we have with our son.
I feel very lucky to have an AP support group close by. It can be hard to AP when family and friends, health visitors etc feel we should have left our son in his own room by now to 'cry-it-out' or who look askance at our happily breastfeeding toddler. It's been so reassuring to be in a room with other AP style parents, comfortably breastfeeding, discussing parenting subjects from 'the same page'. I feel a lot less isolated in our parenting choices and, as a result, a happier Mama!
One dark, stormy night my 16 month old son woke up next to me, concerned about the wind howling outside. He didn't know what it was but looked to me to explain it and let him know if it was safe or not. I quietly told him it was the wind and softly copied the noise it made. He smiled back at me and went back to sleep in my arms.
Moments like this confirm to us that attachment parenting and co-sleeping are the right approach for our son and family life. He doesn't stop needing his parents just because it's bedtime. I know that I personally don't like to be alone during the night if I hear noises in the dark, if I'm cold or if I have a bad dream. It makes sense to us that our son would want close contact too. After all, he didn't know what was dangerous and what wasn't, couldn't pull his blankets over himself or reassure himself that a bad dream wasn't 'real'.
We couldn’t be happier! Our baby sleeps when he wants to, breastfeeds when he wants ("still" breastfeeding at 9 months!) is having the time of his life trying new foods at the table and loves being taken around in our carrier (we don’t use a pram). He is crawling and loves meeting new people.
We have had a lot of criticism come our way from family and friends that don’t understand and don’t take the time to listen to us when we talk about what we do. It is difficult being different but every time we stop and look at him, we take confidence that what we are doing is best for our child.
I am a young mum and I have found the older generation often think that this is a fad and soon enough I will realise and go back to "their way of doing things". This kind of attitude is really frustrating and very condescending. We are so happy with the way things are.
Oh just to give a bit more info on our lifestyle..... I went back to work when my son was 6 months old whilst still breastfeeding. There was no need to give up as I simply expressed two bottles each day. My husband is a stay-at-home dad and I couldn’t be happier with the way he is raising our son. I hope this gives other people confidence to parent the way they wish and not to feel they have to follow the rules but can listen to, question, and respect their instincts.
To all those manual readers out there; just remember your baby hasn't read the books you have, so just because you want them to follow the rules, it doesn’t mean they will!
I started a blog when my son was very young because I grew tired of receiving emails and reading magazines offering advice from supposed experts telling me that I should be following particular rules and keeping to routines. The suggestion was always that I couldn’t and shouldn’t have any faith in my child as a person just because he is a baby, and yet my baby seemed perfectly happy without those rules or routines!
After reading all the books I thought I was supposed to read during my pregnancy, my husband and I decided to parent the way that felt natural to us, following our baby's cues, not telling him what to do or put our schedule onto him. We read two books that changed our lives.... ‘The Continuum Concept’ by Jean Leidloff and ‘Baby Led Weaning’ by Gill Rapley. These both put into perspective what it is to follow your instincts as a parent, really go back to basics and do what feels right for you and your new family unit.
You only really start to think properly about parenting choices when you become a parent yourself. Having studied Attachment Theory through counselling as an adult I'd already gained an insight into the subject, and was fascinated by it, but had never really thought about how much of an impact so many areas of seemingly loving parenting approaches could have on tiny babies and children.
When my son was born we were overjoyed, and as an affectionate family were always going to be very attentive and committed to ensuring that he grows up with positive self esteem and a sense of love and self belief – that remains incredibly important to me.
As he slept in our room in his cot for the first six months I only discovered the concept of cosleeping via the practical choice to take him into bed with me when at 4mths he started waking every 2hrs to feed. Tiredness won! So we'd spend the first part of the night in beds next to each other, and the next together.
After six months we tried transitioning him to his room - sometimes he slept ok in his cot, but still woke around 3am so came back in with me. At Christmas he decided he didn't want to sleep in his travel cot nor his cot, so pretty much came in with us from then.
We did first off gently try encouraging him to sleep - 'baby trainer' recommendations of gently shushing with a hand on his tummy, moving slowly out the room. But mostly he didn't want to be there - the health visitor told me it was behavioural and to try the 'cry it out' method. We tried it for a couple of minutes - I was in agony, everything in me screamed it was wrong for my baby to be so distressed. I decided from that moment on I knew better than the health visitor. I researched online books for sleeping without crying it out and came across Elizabeth Pantley - which via Amazon led me to the Sears book on Attachment Parenting. Having studied attachment theories before, I jumped to order it.
And so started my attachment parenting journey... The relief I felt by reading that book was immense - I WAS RIGHT! I wasn't alone, my instincts were God given, natural and how it should be. From that point on I read more into AP, and formed an online Facebook group for my area to support other Mums. I'd already been breastfeeding and babywearing and cosleeping - there were several local breastfeeding support groups nearby, but no one had heard about AP before, although several of the mums were using that parenting approach naturally, without knowing it had a name.
A midwife friend who supports AP recommended the book "What every parent needs to know" which was immense reading - and so revealing to see the scientific reasons and literal affects AP (and lack of it) can have on brain development.
By starting my group online I discovered an old friend had gone through a similar journey to me, and was a bit further ahead as her kids were that much older now. She (along with the other AP groups on Facebook and in Devon and all the way over in New Zealand) has provided valuable support, advice and encouragement to me.
I want to shout about AP from the roof tops, and in my own small way hope to continue to educate and encourage others about these valuable tools. And my son? Well, we don't meet another person who doesn't comment on what a happy, sociable, loving, contented and balanced little boy he is. Obviously to us he is very special and probably would be anyway - but I am positive that AP has had a lot to do with it.
Attachment Parenting Twins
When I was pregnant, my partner and I read Why Love Matters (Sue Gerhardt) and What Every Parent Needs to Know (Margot Sunderland), and also the twin breastfeeding bible Mothering Multiples (Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, La Leche League) which I would highly recommend. I was determined to breastfeed, and the only other thing I was sure of was that I would never leave my babies to cry alone.
My girls were born by caesarean at 39 weeks (late for twins), and although they were well, feeding quickly became a major issue. My birth story is another story (more of a saga really), but it’s enough to say here that I was still unable to stand upright when I was discharged from hospital after three days, and I was only finally able to stop taking painkillers completely when the girls were about eight weeks old. I vividly remember the day my milk first came in at seven weeks. Up until that point I was expressing regularly, putting the girls to the breast and topping up with formula. After that we were able to stop the formula for good.
The girls slept in a cot bed with one side removed, pushed up against the side of our bed, for the first six weeks. I thought this arrangement would work for much longer, but they quickly outgrew the space and were waking each other up, so then we moved them into their own cot-beds. We are lucky enough to have a large loft conversion so there was space for a double bed and two cot-beds all in the same room.
At six months of age we moved them into their own room, but this only lasted two weeks as they woke each other up constantly. So finally we moved them into their own rooms where they still sleep. They slept better, but it did mean we were up and down several times a night as soon as either of them cried. I fed them to sleep throughout this time, and frequently during the night as well. Both my partner and I spent many, many hours standing over their cots holding them, stroking them, singing to them – soothing them back to sleep and telling them they were safe, warm and loved. Sometimes one of us would take one of them into the spare bed, and later on I started getting into their cots with them and cuddling up with them if they were at all upset or unsettled. Now they are two they sometimes ask me to get in with them, and once I’ve also been told to get out!
I breastfed both my girls until about 13 months, by which time they were both walking and able to roll off the twin breastfeeding cushion and run away. One of my daughters simply decided to stop feeding one day, for no apparent reason. I kept offering the breast for a while thinking it was a nursing strike, but she completely refused it from then on and has also refused to drink milk of any sort ever since. Apparently such abrupt weaning is more common in twins – no-one knows why.
My other daughter was less keen to wean and carried on for another month or so, gradually feeding less during the day until eventually she wasn’t interested in it at all in the daytime. Because I am midway through my training to be a paediatrician, I had to return to work part-time after my maternity leave and so the girls started nursery three days a week. She started wanting to feed several times a night, just when sleep was becoming essential for me. I weaned her then as slowly and gently as I could – Mothering Multiples calls it “mother guided” – trying to soothe her in other ways first, only offering the breast if that didn’t work, and not offering it out of routine if it wasn’t being demanded.
What else? Kit? I have owned seven baby carriers and two double buggies – we have carried and pushed them according to what felt right or was necessary in the moment. Now they are able to ask to go in the sling, and to get out of it. They are happy, healthy girls with increasingly strong opinions about the world. I am incredibly proud of them and also of us – I could never have fed them for so long without my amazingly supportive partner. There is no doubt about it – the decisions we made had consequences for us. We spent most of that first year feeling utterly exhausted and I totally understand now how sleep deprivation is a form of torture. More than once I found myself standing in the formula aisle reasoning that I could always come back tomorrow – I could manage one more day. It was important to me that I fully owned the decisions I had made so I was able to keep coming back to why I had made them. Reminding myself that I could always make a different decision actually helped me to continue. Would I do it again? Absolutely and without hesitation – and more so, because I have learned so much along the way.
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