Does sleep training damage attachment?

Category: Sleep coaching FAQs

Happy mother lifting and kissing baby

Does sleep training damage attachment?

Category: Sleep coaching FAQs

Some parents ask me does sleep training damage attachment? If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that parenting is a very divisive topic, everyone has an opinion on what’s ‘right’. Sleep and sleep training are often things that parents have strong views on along with attachment and attachment parenting. 

The first thing to discuss is -what is attachment? It’s important to understand that attachment and attachment parenting are two different things as they are often confused.

Attachment 

A secure attachment is based on the idea that the child has a loving warm and emotionally available primary caregiver. This helps them regulate their emotions, and feel secure and safe as they grow. Of course we all want this for our children. But you don’t have to be a perfect parent to achieve this, no one is emotionally available all the time. You just need to be emotionally connected to your child. It’s also worth noting that the majority of children in the UK do have a secure attachment with their primary caregivers. So it’s not a difficult thing to achieve. We tend to think of attachment as something that needs to happen when your child is a baby, but children’s brains keep maturing until their early 20s. This means it’s never too late to become more emotionally available. 

Attachment parenting 

Attachment parenting is a term coined by American pediatrician William Shears. It is the method of parenting he and his wife Martha used for their 8 children. It focuses on home births, encouraging touch- skin-to-skin and baby-wearing, breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping, and belief in baby’s cries. Advocates of attachment parenting say that it isn’t necessary for parents to follow all of the practices.

“Attachment Parenting International states that parents should ‘take what works and leave the rest’. And this makes sense, as we all know there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to little ones and their needs.” These practices are helpful for young babies, as contact naps and demand feeding will help manage tearful baby days. 

However you don’t need to adopt the attachment parenting method to form a secure attachment with your child. Attachment parenting doesn’t necessarily determine a secure attachment, you just need to be emotionally available so that your child feels safe and loved. Studies like the one below have determined that sleep training is safe, doesn’t damage attachment and causes no long-term problems. It improves not only the baby’s sleep but the mother’s sleep too, and therefore has all the associated health benefits for baby and for mum. A happy, well-rested mum is much more likely to be able to provide emotional availability and a loving nurturing environment for her baby. 

If you’d like to read more, this is an interesting article from the University of Warwick which looked into children whose parents had used the ‘cry it out’ method. This method involves putting your baby to bed, leaving the room and not going back in until it’s time to get up in the morning. Most sleep consultants including myself, have much gentler methods than this. 

Researchers from the University of Warwick have found leaving an infant to ‘cry it out’ from birth up to 18 months does not adversely affect their behaviour, development or damage attachment. They also discovered that those left to cry cried less and for a shorter duration at 18 months of age.

References

Divecha Diana. “Why Attachment Parenting Is Not the Same as Secure Attachment.” Greater Good, 2 Apr. 2018.

Divecha, Diana. “What Is a SECURE Attachment? And Why Doesn’t ‘Attachment Parenting’ Get You There?” Developmental Science, 3 Apr. 2017.

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