Do you have to breastfeed to be an attachment parent?

I received an interesting question from a reader and know exactly where she’s coming from, but thought that in addition to my own answer, it’d would be interesting for her to read other opinions too. So what do you think? Do you need to be breastfeeding or nursing your baby to be a “good” attachment parent, or can you practice the basic tenets of attachment parenting regardless of if you use the breast or bottle?

Here’s her question:
“OK! Where to start… well, I just recently found out about Attachment Parenting – and was very glad to! I’ve been doing most of the things you all talk about since my son was born back in March… baby-wearing, co-sleeping – however, I was unable to breastfeed him. Trust me – it was not for lack of trying – in fact I did do it for the first 5 days of his life, but had a lot of trouble and at the time just couldn’t handle it anymore.
“Are there other AP’s who are in my same situation? I have a lot of guilt about not being able to continue… especially where it’s such a big part of this style of parenting. I guess maybe I’m just afraid that I either will never fully receive the benefits of AP without it or that I just plain won’t fit in.”
My thoughts: while it’s pretty well shown in medical research just how beneficial breastfeeding is when compared to bottle feeding, the reality is that we all have lives and there are oodles of adults who never had a single day of breastmilk and are pretty reasonably well adjusted members of society. 🙂
But the guilt, yes, it’s frustrating to see how many parenting experts become zealots about their own shtick, whether it be a particular form of discipline, approach to toilet training, or how to feed a newborn. Independent of whether there are women who just cannot breastfeed for any of a hundred reasons.
I personally believe that the key component of attachment parenting, however, is in your level of commitment to being a loving, gentle, present parent. Not handing off the baby to a nanny or day care center, not planning your quarterly two weeks with the baby at Grandma’s, not sticking them in front of the “tube” so you can pursue your own interests.
I have seen mothers — and fathers — curl up with their baby, feeding them with a bottle, but cuddling and loving them in a way quite comparable to breastfeeding (and needless to say, it’s tough for us guys to successfully breastfeed!). Are they “attachment parenting”? I certainly think so, at least in that one aspect.
So, please, continue with everything you’re doing with your baby, confident that you are offering up the best possible nurturing environment for him. No-one’s perfect, and frankly I think if you were the ideal “attachment” parent you’d probably have to completely give up your own life anyway, which isn’t a good deal for anyone in the long run.
That’s my two cents. How about you, dear reader, what’s your take on this situation?

6 comments on “Do you have to breastfeed to be an attachment parent?

  1. I agree with what you said. I do know attached mamas who bottle feed simply because they couldn’t breastfeed despite trying everything possible.
    However, I have never met a bottle-feeding AP mama who did not try breastfeeding first. Which I think makes sense. Because I wouldn’t think that a parent who refused to try to breastfeed her children b/c she didn’t want to be bothered or because she was afraid her breasts would sag would not be in the frame of mind to become an attached parent anyway. But that is MHO.

  2. I just wanted to say that I can empathize with you because I consider my start to breastfeeding to have been rough, and at first I was too “dumb” in a sense to figure out how to use any baby carrier, and so I found myself carrying my son all the time because he seriously had a need to be held. I did not quit breastfeeding, but I think that had I not done before and after weight checks, I may have quit, because I felt awkward and I just wasn’t confident about what I was doing. I actually felt I was playing with my son’s well being by putting him on my breast! Of course, what an uninformed society we lived in. Anyhow I became more successful with both babywearing and breastfeeding over time, and since he was 3 weeks I’ve done nothing but breastfeed and even cut out the pacifier as well.
    But honestly, sometimes I feel like I am really good with attachment parenting, and other times I feel that I am the reason why my son cries at all. It’s hard to be a mother, even harder when you don’t exactly feel like the brightest person on the block. But one thing that I have learned is to use guilt as my ally, because that just may be it’s purpose, a motivator to change, and Dr. William Sears talks a lot about how to bottle feed with love. I’ve also seen lots of bottle feeding moms who may be closer to their children than some breastfeeding mothers, because whether breastfeeding or not, what matters is that you are bonding with your child, and nurturing him with love rather than control and aggression. I feel guilty a lot, for example, my son hates his car seat, sometimes I feel guilty that I am the only parenting who is so incapable of dealing with baby crying that I am the one showing up at the support group with my mother or step-mother tagging along (they are his “car seat companions”). At the same time, he still cries when they tag along, and he doesn’t enjoy being around strangers, even if they are in our home. It makes me feel dumb, because sometimes I wonder is he crying because I’ve overdressed him, underdressed him, or if it’s because I am talking to a friend or family member when I should be playing with him. I hold him all the time but I always remind myself, am I actually talking to him? I realize that I am so used to interacting with him that I forget that I am doing it sometimes too.
    It’s just really hard but I guess the message here that you are already well aware of is that no one is perfectly attached, and we are all lacking in some areas. One other thing I wanted to share is that I feel guilty because a doctor (I no longer see) once convinced me that my son would never be able to sleep in his own bed because I was putting him in my bed. I was doing it more so instinctually at the time because neither of us could sleep otherwise. Out of fear I tried to put him in a crib next to the bed (I never put him in a different room) that night. I never let him cry it out, but I was angry that night that I couldn’t get my son to sleep in a crib, and so we were up for an extra length of time bickering (my husband and I) and trying to get him to sleep. I got him to sleep in his crib for a few weeks, maybe a month or so, in the crib and I never let him cry or anything, but began to feel cold and unsure of what I was doing. Then one night when he was sick it was as if he had never slept in his crib before, and I couldn’t get him to go to sleep, so finally I just put him in my bed. I have put him in my bed since then and we have never had a problem with him getting to sleep again. Now we have a bed time ritual as well to signal that sleep is expected to follow.
    I guess my moral is that parenting is so full of guilt rendering mistakes but at the same time if we count up all the love and good memories, they account for much much more.

  3. i don’t think the specific substance we feed babies makes us more or less responsive to them. since i feel men can be attachment parents as much as women, i guess i don’t think breastfeeding is a “must” for attachment parenting.
    even though it’s incredibly important to me as a mother to do it. i didn’t succeed the 1st time i tried to breast feed, but the 2nd go round, i was awfully determined and armed with way more education and determination. but it didn’t have much to do with the specific attachment philosophy.
    i think whether or not you feed an infant on demand, breast OR bottle is a more crucial question, when it comes to the ap way.

  4. My best friend had her breast’s removed because of cancer in both of them. She was only 31. She went on to have 2 children and was unable to nurse them. The thing that matters the most is the love and attention that you give your children.

  5. I had a rocky start, too, with breastfeeding. Even though we made it (and still bf at 1+ years!), I have soooo much compassion for women who make a valiant effort.
    My take on breastfeeding is much the same as cosleeping (in all its forms): If you are at LEAST willing to try, then you are WAY ahead of the game. If you won’t even consider it AND have no preexisting condition/situation that precludes it, well…I hate to say it but…are you really ready for parenthood and all the physical and emotional demands it entails? Can you be vulnerable and open in a way that fosters a fruitful connection and perhaps even challenges convention? For me, that’s the essence of AP, giving people some measure of creative freedom with the nuts and bolts.
    What grieves me so much is that there are so many women out there who MIGHT make it with bf IF they had proper support from their doctors, lactaction experts, etc. I went through several LCs to find one that was willing to give me the kind of help that we needed. My son’s latch was too tight and I’m fair (and thus thin) skinned — a combination that led LCs in the hospital to say they doubted I could do it!! To top it off, I had PPA. But my ped – not an AP gal – was confident that we’d make it work. As she pointed out, some women, for whatever reasons, go weeks without bf and then are able to start it up with some effort. The human body is amazing! Her confidence inspired my own — and my quest to find someone who could put us on the right track.
    All that said, cut yourself some slack on the bf, especially since you are doing so many other amazing things. Lots of us FF babies are alive and happy and successful today. And as my hubby (also a FF baby and big proponent of BF now) says, “Smarts come from the parent’s genes, not the breast.” (Actually, there was a study recently that supported his hypothesis, too, fwiw…but I digress…)

  6. Responding to your baby’s, and also your family’s needs is the most important thing. In my opinion, Attachment Parenting is not an all or nothing proposition, it is just human beings, doing their best, in whatever situation they are in.
    For example, we can not co-sleep with our son. The reason is that when my son was 3 weeks old, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, my husband has been undergoing aggressive cancer treatment that includes chemotherapy, radiation and a major surgery. In order to survive this, he is taking major pain medications and other medications. We can not co-sleep because my husband is “on drugs”, not able to maintain the state of alertness to co-sleep safely. I believe that our decision to let our son sleep safely in a crib beside our bed is the best choice for our family, and the only reasonable option given our situation.
    Our job as parents is to be interpreters of the situation we are in, and then make informed decisions about how we are going to respond.
    Feed your baby the very best way you can-period. For your particular situation this means formula feeding. It sounds like your choice to do it was Attachment Parenting. You interpereted the situation, then responded lovingly to your baby- in this case it was with a bottle. No one can predict what your baby, or your family will need tomorrow, but it soundl like you are the kind of parent who will respond lovingly; and provide whatever is necessary, no matter what. That’s what’s important!

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