Celebrating the Model of Attachment – World Breastfeeding Week – August 1-7, 2009

by Rita Brhel on August 3, 2009

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While I was pregnant with my first baby, I wanted to breastfeed – but because I would save money and because breastmilk has superior health benefits to formula. At that time, I didn’t know anything about attachment or how important breastfeeding behaviors are to the mother-baby emotional bond – that breastfeeding is the very model of attachment, as explained by Attachment Parenting International’s co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker in their book, Attached at the Heart.

So, then my daughter was born prematurely and due a variety of problems, I found I could not breastfeed. I had to pump and feed her my breastmilk through the bottle. By all accounts, at least according to my original reasons for breastfeeding, I should’ve been content – I was still saving money and still giving the health benefits of breastmilk to my baby. But I felt like I was missing something, though I didn’t know what. When my second baby was born and I was able to breastfeed, I realized just what was missing.

I had been looking at breastfeeding as filling purely a physical need, when it is so much more – it provides mothers and babies an emotional connection with one another that can’t be replicated in any other way.

When I first came to Attachment Parenting, I viewed each of the Eight Principles of Parenting as separate entities – like I could do one or a few but not have to do the others, too. (When you’re new to this parenting approach, especially coming from a background that is so foreign to the concept, it can be difficult to trust that this parenting approach will work for you. And trying to think of all Eight Principles is perhaps a little overwhelming at first, too!) The further into my parenting journey I go, though, the more I realize how all the principles weave together and rely on each other. It’d actually be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to just pick out one or a few principles and not do the others, too.

There are a number of ways to practice the Eight Principles, and API is impressively inclusive of a variety of parenting practices, but Barbara and Lysa do not hesitate to state that breastfeeding is the best way to practice the principle of Feeding with Love and Respect with infants. Yes, of course, we accept mothers who choose to bottle nurse, but there is a reason why breastfeeding is so boldly called the model of attachment and why, when we are feeding by the bottle, we are to use breastfeeding behaviors.

Breastfeeding goes beyond the principle of Feeding with Love and Respect to the principles of:

  • Preparing for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting – the first question expectant mothers are asked about parenting is whether or not they’re breastfeeding, so we need to learn about it to know how to make the best decision for our baby and ourselves.
  • Responding with Sensitivity – feeding according to the baby’s schedule, not ours.
  • Using Nurturing Touch – the very act of breastfeeding requires skin-to-skin contact and physical intimacy.
  • Ensuring Safe Sleep – nighttime parenting is a must for breastfeeding mothers, who often bedshare.
  • Providing Consistent and Loving Care – this is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Striving for Balance – breastfeeding is much easier on Mom and her need for sleep and other self-care activities than taking the extra time for filling, warming, and washing bottles and buying very expensive formula.
  • Practicing Positive Discipline – because the basis is teaching our children by modeling the behaviors and responses to stress that we want them to use, we’re disciplining them from day one.

By breastfeeding, we are choosing not only the best nutritional option for our babies but also the better feeding environment – one that establishes, promotes, and strengthens attachment – and that is definitely a reason for celebration this World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, 2009.

What role did attachment play in your choice to breastfeed? And, how are you observing World Breastfeeding Week this year?

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Rita Brhel (94 Posts)

Rita Brhel is the editor of Attached Family magazine and is Attachment Parenting International's Publications Coordinator. She is also a local API Resource Leader. She lives in Nebraska (USA) with her husband and three children.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica Smith August 3, 2009 at 5:10 pm

“Yes, of course, we accept mothers who choose to bottle nurse, but there is a reason why breastfeeding is so boldly called the model of attachment and why, when we are feeding by the bottle, we are to use breastfeeding behaviors.”

While I understand the intent of the article is to promote attachment behaviors through feeding, I take great issue with this statement. The majority of people who “bottle nurse” do not do so by CHOICE. Did the author choose to have her child born prematurely? I think not.

As a mother who has happily breastfed two of my babies and who exclusivley pumps and bottle nurses my third, I am saddened by the API’s choice to draw comparison between direct breastfeeding methods and those who breastmilk feed medically challenged babies. Could not a more appropriate group have been selected? There are much better ways to state the benefits of skin to skin contact, feeding on demand, and kangaroo care than to call out the amazing, brave, and very attached mothers who work so very hard to be able to “bottle nurse” babies who do not have the ability to direct feed. Words like “choice” do not begin to encompass the thousands of babies who are unable to nurse for medical reasons (or the mothers who can not nurse).

As you celebrate breastfeeding week, remember that “choice” is not something women who exclusively breastmilk feed wish to be associated with.

Those of us who find ourselves attached to the demands of a breastpump in order to feed our medically challenged babies do not do so by “choice.” We do so because despite overwhelming difficulties and enormous challenges, we want to provide the ultimate nutrition–breast milk.

And as a mother who strives to the 8 “ideals,” I would much rather see the ideal of “feeding with love and respect” expanded and explained rather than a statement of reluctant “acceptance” for a “choice.”

I hope API takes a stance of support and encouragement for ALL mother’s who breastmilk feed–not just those who are lucky enough to have the ease of feeding directly from their breast.

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ladykay August 3, 2009 at 5:59 pm

For me it was more the opposite. I learned about attachment parenting (although it wasn’t called that yet back in the 80s) through La Leche League that I joined because I wanted to breastfeed. Some AP concepts just came naturally to me, but others never would have occurred to me (such as extended nursing) if not for LLL.

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