I’m an attachment parent who didn’t co-sleep or baby wear — and that’s okay!

Guest post by Daxle C.
By: Nico NelsonCC BY 2.0

I’m not certain when exactly I became convinced that I would be attempting Attachment Parenting. I do know that I started out by researching obsessively. I researched whether to have a kid. I researched how to get pregnant. I researched how to best take care of myself when I was pregnant. I researched my birth options. So, of course, I researched how to take care of a baby.

I’ve always been the kind of person who is afraid to do things “wrong,” and having a kid seemed like the most important thing in life not to mess up. So researching seemed like the best way to keep moving forward, rather than being paralyzed by fear. Yet, it turns out that research doesn’t exactly secure the future.

I didn’t get pregnant until the second month of trying (yes, I did cry, but please laugh instead of hating me!). Then, I ended up with high blood pressure despite my perfect diet (eye roll) and regular pre-natal yoga practice. Then, I was kicked out of my birth center and sent to the hospital where I asked them to please just disregard my short-sighted, idealistic birth plan.

“Ok, fine,” I thought, “but I am still going to raise my baby according to the advice of my friends Dr. Sears and Dr. Greene.” I’d watched all the videos on breastfeeding and felt thoroughly confident that it was going to go smoothly for my newborn daughter and I. By now I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it didn’t go smoothly at all. Short version: poor latch, bloody nipples, multiple lactation consultants, nipple shields, pumping, finger feedings, leaking bottles, and lots of crying.

It got a little easier, but it never got easy. We also planned to co-sleep. My daughter would toss and turn, grunt and groan, all night. Nobody got any sleep. When I moved her to a co-sleeper next to the bed, she slept a little better. When I moved the co-sleeper to the next room over, at eight weeks, she slept much better. I felt terrible guilt. The books said she would want to sleep next to me, skin to skin, but she obviously didn’t.

The books said that I could nurse her side lying and practically sleep through it, but it just wasn’t working for either of us. At about three months she only woke around 4-5am to feed and otherwise slept through the night. Instead of being overjoyed at my luck I was drowning in guilt. I got my period back and my milk supply dipped, as if to affirm my failure at co-sleeping and nursing through the night.

Ah, and then there were the baby carriers. I was so sure that the Moby Wrap was going to work out that I didn’t even try anything else. But every time we put her in it, she wailed. And yes, before you ask, we tried it every which way. Different holds, different tight-nesses, different positions, different times of day, different clothing, different levels of wakefulness, different ages. We really, really tried.

So, what did I do? I researched, of course. I started blaming my choices around her birth. Maybe if I had done hypnobirthing, maybe if I had hired a doula, maybe if I had stuck with my resolve to refuse an epidural, then maybe she’d be properly attached to me. New mothers, please do not do this to yourself! Step away from the internet forums if they start making you feel like you’re doing it all wrong.

Then, at around three-and-a-half months everything started to turn around. It became apparent that my daughter was quite happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. She still didn’t like to do any of the things Dr. Sears said she would most certainly like, and yet she was fine. Over the next few years, my guilt would come and go, but my daughter never showed any signs of being “improperly attached.”

She was happy to breastfeed or take my milk from a bottle for the first year, and easily transitioned to goat milk after that. She never cared much for a carrier and refused the stroller as soon as she could walk on her own. She’s always loved having her own sleeping space and was over the moon with excitement when we bought her first twin-sized bed at 20 months. She’s been sleeping through the night since six months.

She potty trained easily at two years. She’s very open-minded about new foods and eats a balanced diet. She’s confident, outgoing, and very clear about her likes and dislikes, though still open to negotiation. By any standard, you could call her an easy kid to parent. It turns out that nothing was wrong besides me expecting her to conform to some ideas I had read in books and on the internet.

I share my story because I don’t want other new parents to go through what I went through. My advice is simply to trust yourself and trust your child. You know what’s best for your family and your child knows what they need. Babies are born with personalities and preferences that can’t be accounted for in a one-size-fits-all parenting philosophy. Children are more resilient than we think. If Plan A doesn’t work, keep trying until something does.

Based on reader feedback, the title on this post was updated.

Comments on I’m an attachment parent who didn’t co-sleep or baby wear — and that’s okay!

  1. Wait, goat’s milk, WUT? Daxle could you pretty, pretty please share your experience with this?? I would LOVE to hear more!!

    • Sure, what would you like to know? I am somewhat dairy intolerant, so I was concerned that my daughter might be too. I did some research and read that some people tolerate goat dairy better than cow, so I experimented on myself and found that it was true for me. As my daughter was nearing 12 months, I was having to pump like crazy (and reek like fenugreek) to keep up my dwindling milk supply. She wouldn’t nurse directly anymore. So from 12-14 months I pumped less and less and alternated bottles of breastmilk and goat milk. I felt worried and guilty, but she took to it immediately, surprisingly because goat milk is a lot less sweet than breastmilk. She was less gassy as well, which was awesome. Later on I read about why raw milk is better than pasteurized, so we switched to raw goat milk, and later, raw cow milk. I realized that both of us tolerate raw cow dairy better than pasteurized, and it tends to be cheaper than goat stuff. We still do goat yogurt though. We stopped giving her milk at all at 3 (if I weren’t compromising with dad, we would have stopped at 2). Now we do cheese and yogurt, and get protein and calcium from other foods.

      • My little one just turned one and I am burnt out on pumping all. the. time. I didn’t know that you could transition them to goat’s milk but your post gave me a “Hallelujah!” moment.

        Ideally what I would like to do is what you described – some breastmilk and some goat’s milk. Anything to lighten the load, so to speak. It seems like there is actual goat’s milk formula recommended by Dr. Sears but it sounds like you just got regular goat’s milk? Did you supplement at all with a vitamin? Some of my reading is mentioning the folic acid content of goat’s milk.

        I am very happy to hear that she was happy with goat’s milk, and that you both made a good transition.

  2. I find all these comments saying “oh you didn’t actually know what attachment parenting is” and “OP I think you’re confused about attachment parenting because you did it!” to be extremely condescending, though perhaps they were meant to sound encouraging. I may be touchy about the subject because I have had a similar experience to this author and found that those who did practice attachment parenting were very quick to judge and label me lazy/selfish/a convenient parent. All the things that have been mentioned about letting your child lead you in your decisions on how to parent are just decent parenting. Not attachment parenting. Contrary to what has been said in defense of it, I think the ‘things’ do make the label, the methods make the label, and personally I find the label off-putting and unnecessary. It’s nice to know that others have found AP unsuccessful and understand that it feels like a failure, but that doesn’t mean it is.

    • Yes, thank you. I can’t stand the label “attachment parenting” because I find it extremely smug, self-serving, and judgmental. If you’re not an “attachment parent” then you’re what? An unattached parent? A parent who doesn’t care if their babies cry for hours, feed them soda in a bottle, and hand them off to the first babysitter they find so they can go bar hopping?

      There are a lot of encouraging things being said here, but most attachment parenting books and websites ARE about the methods and the equipment. If you don’t breastfeed extensively, c0-sleep, babywear, and stay with your baby at all times, then by AP standards, you are a selfish mother who is doing it wrong.

      I reject the idea that motherhood = martyrdom, and AP seems very much about the idea that the biggest, most self-sacrificing martyr wins the game of parenting. And I think once you get off the internet and talk to a variety of women, you’ll find that most of them don’t slap labels onto everything they do. They’re women who happen to be mothers, in the variety of permutations that entails. Listening to your baby’s cues doesn’t make you an “attachment parent.” It makes you a person who is parenting.

      • I try not to judge other parents and their choices, but as a self-identified attachment parent I am feeling super judged right now. I understand it doesn’t work for you, and that’s cool, but just because it does for me doesn’t make me smug or judgmental. I feel like people who were saying, “hey, you were doing attachment parenting by listening to your kid” were being encouraging. Even if you disagree with them, it felt like they were generally saying, “Way to listen to your kid, great job!” Whereas the people who were calling attachment parents smug, etc. were the only people who seemed judgmental on this thread. I am sorry you’ve had negative experiences with attachment parents, but please don’t lump us all together.

  3. Good gravy, I hope my baby is like yours. She’s due in 2 months exactly, and I’m already worrying about things like, “She can’t cosleep forever — how the heck are we going to transition?” “How do we start getting her into a routine by 3 months so that day care isn’t a living hell?” And doing research on it is, as you said, super confusing and frustrating and downright depressing. I’d very much like to not have to worry about any of the research and just let DoughBall tell me how to parent her.

    It doesn’t help that I’m doing a home birth, and around here home birthers are also attachment parents, so everyone assumes that’s the philosophy I want to follow. It isn’t. I refuse to let Mom be my all-consuming identity and I’m thrilled about DoughBall going to daycare (she can make babyfriends and I can meet mommies!). I refuse to follow any parenting mindset that’s focused on guilt… and everything I’ve found re: AP is verrrrry guilt-driven.

    Don’t get me wrong — I want so badly to co-sleep and BF on demand for the first few weeks, and I’m PYCHED to spend a week in bed with my DoughBall. I already can’t believe how much I love her and want to keep her close forever – and she’s not even an outdoor baby yet! But I won’t deny that I hope she has a personality that makes the necessary transition from co-sleeping, feeding-on-demand newborn to flexible, happy-away-from-mommy infant easy.

    • One thing I didn’t mention in my article, that might be helpful to you, is that I was surprised how my daughter’s needs kept changing. For the first 2 months she’d fall asleep by breastfeeding. Then when that didn’t work, she’d fall asleep by sucking on one of our fingers (but wouldn’t take a pacifier). Swaddling worked until 5 months (fairly late). Then she used a pacifier from 6 months to 2 years. We bounced her to sleep for awhile. Rocked her in the rocking chair to sleep for awhile after that. Now we just lay with her for about 10 minutes after reading a couple of books (since approx 2 y/o). An essential aspect of parenting my daughter has been learning to recognize when something isn’t working for either her or us, and then experimenting with different solutions until something does work. And sometimes the new thing takes a period of adjustment for one or both parties. Sometimes you have to let yourself grieve a little. IMO, as long as changes are made with love and kindness, there’s no lasting harm. I think your self awareness and flexibility will be excellent assets in your coming parenting journey.

  4. Thank you so much for this article. I had these grandiose plans – all natural birth! Breastfeeding! Cloth Diapers! Huzzah!

    Well, 24 hours of contractions 3 minutes apart and I got the epidural (she was born 12 hours after that!). Breastfeeding was so painful that I didn’t even want to hold her for fear of her grazing my poor, bloody nipples. Also, in less than than 3 weeks we’ve dealt with mastitis AND thrush. I’m ready to just strictly formula feed her at this point, even though I’m pumping around the clock. I can’t keep up with laundry (plus she sleeps through the night, and I don’t want to wake her every hour to change wet diapers), so she’s in disposable diapers.

    I was crying every. single. day because I felt like a failure. At 3 this morning I made an emergency run to the store to get disposable diapers and had an epiphany. This infant stage? It’s a “run out the clock” situation. Once we get through this I’ll have a kid with a personality, who is (hopefully) healthy and happy. These frustrating infant days will pass, and the only important thing is that she’s being fed, changed, and loved. It doesn’t matter if I failed at breastfeeding. She’s still getting some breast milk, but the important thing is that she’s getting food. Cloth diapers? We can still go back to them once I’m in a better rhythm. The epidural? It happened. And it’s ok.

    I happened to hear Amy Grant’s “Takes a little time” this morning while I was wandering around in a new mommy haze. The lyric “It takes a little time sometimes, to get your feet back on the ground…” really hit home for me. Even if I’m not the picture perfect crunchy mama I envisioned, everything is going to be ok.

  5. When my son was born I started co-sleeping just to make nursing easier, and held him all the time just because he’d cry if he wasn’t held. I didn’t know what attachment parenting was until he was a few months old, then I realized I’d been doing it. Now with my daughter, who is 5 weeks old, things are completely different and it’s been nice albeit odd. She sleeps better on her own and sleeps longer than he ever did. She loves swinging in her swing instead of the constant holding my son wanted. All babies are different. There’s really no right way to do things. Why is it no matter how many times we hear that we feel guilty or feel like we’re parenting wrong?

  6. My son and I are JUST like that! We both enjoy sleeping alone and he’s been sleeping through the night since he was 2 weeks old (he is 3 now). Neither of us love to cuddle for too long and breastfeeding wasn’t an option. He’s lactose intolerant and I have personal space issues. Attachment parenting would have been a NIGHTMARE. Especially since my mother recalls me being the exact same way as a baby. It’s like we were made for each other 🙂

    I personally think you can do all the research in the world, but no one has ever had anyone like your baby before, so you have to do what feels right for the two of you! I love this article! Good job, Momma!

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