I have had a few people in the last week or so asking me about the term gentle /natural/attachment parenting and what is means. I thought I would write a description about what it is and how we introduce it to our family. I don’t tend to follow all of the principles so I will just stick to the one’s we do follow and explain those in more detail.
Gentle/natural parenting is relatively new to me as I have only started implementing it in our family for the last two years, once my son was about 6 months old. After trying the more mainstream forms of parenting, I found many of the norms not sitting well with me. I also found myself naturally drifting towards the more attachment parenting way of raising our babies and children. This post is not at all a post about how good gentle parenting is or gentle parenting is better than mainstream parenting. We all parent differently and I am not one to pass judgement on someone who has a differing opinion to me. This is more about the experiences we have had with this form and how it works for us.
You may have heard the term attachment parenting? Maybe positive discipline? I find gentle/natural parenting uses both of these forms and compliments them well. The best way to describe this form of parenting is to say gentle/natural parenting is an approach which is based ‘on the principle of understanding a child’s emotional and physical needs and responding sensitively to these needs. The focus is on building a strong relationship between parents and child’ according to Attachment Parenting Australia. It’s parenting like humans have been parenting for thousands of years. Back to basics. Back to listening to your intuition, listening to your baby, not listening to baby books. This form of parenting is coming back into fashion and I have met women who have done the switch like me, in one way or another. What I like about gentle/natural parenting is there aren’t ‘set rules’ of how you raise your child. You can choose to follow one, two or all aspects. These practices simply help to develop an empathetic relationship with your child; not seeing your child as bad, naughty or manipulative. I’ll look at four main areas of parenting and how we use these methods; breastfeeding, baby wearing, sleep and discipline.
I guess this is where my journey started. I heard the term ‘breast is best’ so many times while pregnant. I was an advocate for breastfeeding and really wanted to breastfeed my son once he was born. Although I did enjoy breastfeeding, I found it hard to do it while following an eat/play/sleep schedule. Keeping to a strict 3-4 hour feed regime like the baby books explain for you to do; especially if Hunter was cluster feeding or having a growth spurt. The books didn’t tend to take those situations into account. I was feeding to a schedule which suited me, not my baby.
After a few months I switched to feeding Hunter ‘on demand’ instead of by the clock. It just made more sense to me. I personally don’t feed myself on a schedule, I eat when I am hungry, so should my baby. Once I let go of the routine feeding I found myself more relaxed, and Hunter more content and gaining weight. If he wanted to feed, he did. I didn’t just breastfeed for hunger, I also fed for comfort. I would feed him if he had tummy pain, had colic or had his needles. I fed him if he had a fever or was teething. I found breastfeeding was more about bonding with your child, than just seen as milk for hunger.
I breastfed Hunter for 12 months until he self weaned, then fell pregnant two weeks later and have been breastfeeding Vaida for almost 9 months. I have followed the feeding by demand with Vaida and it is working well for us. At this stage she is feeding around three times a day and once/none overnight. I will continue to feed her until she self weaned like Hunter. Once I am back at work in April, I’ll be expressing breast milk.
I really wish that I knew more about baby wearing with Hunter! It has made my life is much easier having two children. It creates a safe and loving environment for your child and leaves you with two hands free to run after the toddler. To me it’s a win win!
When Vaida was younger I would baby wear her around the house most of the day. It was a great way of getting housework done, play with my son and get dinner cooked; all while Vaida slept. It helped her get used to loud noises too which is a plus when there’s a toddler in the house. It meant I didn’t feel restricted to have her on my hip or asleep on me on the couch where I couldn’t move an inch without the possibility of waking her. I could get on with my day. I also find baby wearing while travelling or out is so easy too. I no longer have to lug around a pram and strap the kids in. I usually have Vaida in the carrier before Hunter has gotten himself out of the car seat. I sold my double pram a few months after Vaida was born as she never used it and Hunter was more than happy to walk beside me. We bought ourselves a small, compact stroller which we only take on big walks or when we travel . Vaida has literally been in it once or twice if I have had an appointment and can’t carry her on me.
I personally believe sleep is one of the biggest differences between mainstream parenting and natural/attachment parenting. I find I tend to parent my child to sleep, instead of putting them to sleep. I parent during the night just as much as I parent during the day. I ensure that I am present each time my child cries out to me during the night.
This wasn’t always the case, as I did try a form of sleep training when Hunter was a small baby, see my previous blog post about sleep training. I realised training my baby to sleep was not my cup of tea and I sought out other methods which I found more gentle and respectful to my child. I found myself on attachment parenting websites; most things I read on them suited my beliefs and ways I wanted to parent. This is where my journey began! Once I was interested in these methods, I started implementing them and had great results, with both babies. You see, some babies can be put down to sleep drowsy yet awake and drift off to sleep without intervention or help. My babies weren’t these babies, unfortunately. My babies enjoyed being held, rocked or breastfed to sleep. This worked for us and continues to work for Vaida and I. Hunter now settles himself to sleep with a book and his blanket. Vaida now self settles the majority of the time, too.
I unfortunately missed the co sleeping boat with Hunter, as I had put him into his cot from day one, in his own room. I took the advice of baby books which stated this was the best way to teach your baby independence. If only I knew how many times I’d be walking up our damn hallway to settle him during the night or cluster feed…I could have saved myself many steps and time by having him in our room! Sometimes Hunter and I would share the spare bed as I was so exhausted from getting up and down multiple times a night, sometimes only dozing between wake ups. I found the first few months quite exhausting until Hunter taught himself to sleep for longer periods at night.
I tried bed sharing and co sleep with Vaida; it worked out so much better and I was getting at least 6 hours sleep a night from day one. Much more what I was getting with Hunter. Vaida shared the bed with Nate and I for 6 weeks, and then we side-carted the cot for the next 5 months. Getting up to my baby was now only a matter of leaning over and moving her onto the mattress so I could breastfeed, then move her again back into the cot for sleep. She was always in arm’s reach. Both our sleep wasn’t as disrupted as we both only woke slightly during the feeds. We always followed SIDS safe co-sleeping guidelines. The only reason we moved her into another room at 7 months was because Nate and I were waking her up when we went to bed at night and her feeds during the night had decreased to one.
I have found changing the way I discipline our children the most difficult. I find that mainstream discipline is practiced by most people I know and changing those practices took more time for me than the others mentioned above. I still, to this day, find myself sometimes using mainstream terms to my children as I am hearing it everyday. I do not know many mothers who use positive discipline so find myself ‘following the crowd’ quite a bit. I need to focus and concentrate much more on this form of parenting.
Positive discipline uses empathy more than punishment. No behaviour in a baby or toddler in deemed ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’, behaviour is considered age appropriate and parents are encouraged to explore why your child is acting a certain way, instead of trying to punish the child for the actions. I am the first to admit I have to bite my tongue when I naturally want to say, “that was naughty’ when I shouldn’t use the term ‘naughty’ at all. Child behaviour is not naughty if the child is expressing his or her self due to being angry, frustrated, scared or tired. Instead, positive discipline looks at getting down to your child’s level and being empathetic, for example ‘I saw you were angry and that is why you threw your toy car. Let’s play with something else instead’.
Do you see how easy to would be to say, ‘No! Stop throw your cars, that’s naughty’? I find I need to think more about what I say than using my voice to label my child. No punishments are used i.e time-outs, smacking, shaming or yelling. I find when I am frustrated I tend to raise my voice, so that is one area I need to work on! I find that if I take a large, deep breath and pause, I remain more calm than if I just jump in straight away. I used to send Hunter to his room if he was getting angry, whereas now we try to have a chill-out space where we can both calm down and try again.
I also try to follow the ‘no rewards’ practice. No lollies, bribes or charts to promote desired behaviour. Instead, using choices for the child so to not set them up for disappointment if they choose not to take the bribe. Instead of saying, “You can have this if you brush your teeth” I try to say, “Would you like Mummy to brush your teeth, or would you like to do it yourself?”. I also try not to label and say “Good boy” instead say, “I saw how well you did that”. I am not saying this form of discipline is easy, because I actually struggle with it everyday! However, I do believe this form of discipline helps your child become empathetic, respectful and in touch with their emotions. I keep Janet Lansbury on my phone for a quick reference each time I need some help! This woman helps me be the most respectful parent I can be and I am still learning!
I hope this post makes a little more sense about the type of parenting I do and the professionals I follow to help me out! If you would like anymore information about attachment parenting and its benefits, please visit Dr. Sears , The Milk Meg and Pink McKay. I have these bookmarked on my browser for quick reference if I ever need information or support. They are great resources!