What the hell is this woman on about?

There’s an article in the Atlantic at the mo, called “The Perils of Attachment Parenting”, carrying the scare-mongering tagline “Extremes like on-demand breastfeeding can take their toll on parents and children alike.” It’s a bit, urm, weird. I’ll quote the really weird bit so y’all don’t have to click the link:

One of the tenets of attachment parenting is that you breastfeed a child on demand. That can lead to a habit where a child will snack—eating a little bit many times throughout the day. It’s much harder to get the baby on a schedule when he’s snacking constantly, and it’s hard for the mom to get anything done, let alone take care of her own needs, while feeding her baby all the time. I also fear that breastfeeding on demand can limit the role of other caregivers. If the baby is eating so frequently, he probably just wants his mother. This limits the potential involvement of dads and non-breastfeeding parents. And though it might seem to make life easier when you don’t need to worry about feeding schedules and having bottles ready, it means the mother must be available to the baby 24/7. That is simply not sustainable. It often means that when a child cries, the first thing he gets is the breast as an offer of comfort, so he doesn’t learn other ways to self-soothe. Nighttime feeding on demand disrupts parents’ and babies’ sleep. If parents set a precedent that nighttime is not mealtime, and feed the baby when he’s hungry but not every hour or so for comfort, children can be sleeping through the night by the time they’re four months old. This leads to a happier and more content baby, not to mention much happier and more rested parents.

I’m not sure where this anti-attachment parenting pundit got her wires crossed, but breastfeeding on demand means “feeding when baby wants the breast”. It doesn’t mean “breast as the only method of soothing”. And I love the pious fear that breastfeeding limits the role of other caregivers. Last I checked, the main thing limiting the involvement of other carers is the constraints of their jobs. Feeding on demand can be done with bottles too, by the way – feeding the baby when the baby is hungry, rather than imposing a schedule. It’s not an extreme form of parenting. It’s an obvious form of parenting.

We’ve been breastfeeding on demand for just under six months. Bubs doesn’t feed all the time, why would he? He feeds when he wants food, like any other human. When he was under two months I did feel like he basically just ate and slept, which is what newborns are supposed to do. At three and four months, he would wake, eat, have a nappy change, and then have about half an hour of play, eat again, and sleep. Now, at almost six months, there is a definite pattern, if not a schedule – in his “big wake” between 6pm and 8.30pm he’ll feed two or three times; in his other wake periods he’ll only feed once, or maybe twice if he’s used a lot of energy bouncing in his Jolly Jumper (hip displasia be damned, he loves it). He still wakes in the middle of the night once or twice and feeds for 10 or 15 minutes before zonking back out, but I’m working on the basis that once he starts solids he will be able to go longer without food at night.

When I was pregnant I’d wake up in the middle of the night ravenously hungry. I knew nighttime was sleep time, not mealtime, but that didn’t help me get back to sleep. I would get up and have a snack, and then I’d get back into bed and sleep. I pondered at the time whether this was some form of evolutionary empathy-building with a hungry newborn.

The article goes on to question how attachment parenting fits into a Western lifestyle, where people need to focus at their 9 – 5 jobs. Then she says “what’s most concerning to me about attachment parenting, though, is the thread that runs through each of these practices—sharing beds, feeding on demand, keeping the baby close at all times. It is a philosophy of putting children’s needs above parents’, all the time…Children who grow up seeing that mom and dad are individuals who have needs, too, learn that there is nothing wrong with a little independence, a little patience, and a little self-reliance. ”

And this is what pisses me the hell off. The last sentence is very true, and it’s exactly why your nine year old should clean his own room. But a pre-verbal baby can’t be independent, and can’t remotely understand the concept that he is a person with capacity for self-reliance, let alone that other people are also people. He can only cry. It’s my job to interpret his cries and meet his needs. He can’t even roll from his back to his front or sit up by himself! So when he wakes in his cot and cries, he’s doing the only thing he can to try and remedy his situation. If he’s saying something along the lines of “mum, I’m hungry, I’m really hungry, it’s been hours and hours since I had a feed and my belly is only little”, why would I ignore that?

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