Attachment Parenting and Baby Sleep

Interview with Annie - Author of

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Interview Phd In Parenting Blogheader

Through her successful attachment parenting blog, I have met Annie as an open, well-informed woman with a strong social and political awareness which she focuses on parents, women and children.

She has been blogging at her PhD In Parenting Blog about the art and science of parenting since 2008. Annie is a mother of two young children and a strong believer of attached parenting.

There are two aspects I appreciate in particular about PhD In Parenting, the blog:

First, there is the amount and variety of issues Annie addresses: a wealth of topics of value and interest to parents and women around the world.

Second, I like how she writes openly, in a caring and very involved way and always respectful towards people with different beliefs and opinions.

On to the interview now! It gives a crisp intro to attachment parenting and its approach to baby sleep.

Annie, you are a convinced attached parent. What is, to you, the essence of the attached parenting approach?

Annie: I believe that attachment parenting is parenting the way we would if we were free of societal influences and interventions. It is natural for us to want to nurse our babies, hold them close, and respond to their cries.

When people think of attached parenting, they often think of Dr. Sears and his 7 Baby B’s . This includes birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby wearing, bedding close to baby, etc. A lot of people misinterpret those as the "rules" and think that if they don’t do one of them, it means they are not practicing attachment parenting. My belief is that those are tools that might help parents who are practicing attachment parenting and that may make it easier to follow the philosophy, but they are not rules.

I prefer the 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting from Attachment Parenting International and think that they give a balanced and realistic idea of what it is about. The long-range vision of Attachment Parenting International is to "raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection".

For a full understanding of what attachment parenting is to me, you can read my post What is Attachment Parenting? .

Among the standard sleep principles that help a baby sleep well are predictability, regularity and reassurance. These can be translated into a gentle consistent approach with a well adapted sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
But they are also at the basis of the rigid sleep training schedules and even crying-it-out "sleep methods" How are the basic sleep principles generally incorporated in attachment parenting?

Annie: There are two ways that I see the sleep principles being incorporated into attachment parenting.

First, the predictability and reassurance factor generally comes from creating a strong sleep association with the parent or other caregivers. Some children can only sleep in their own crib. Or they can only sleep with their pacifier. Or they can only sleep with their teddy bear. In our case, our children can sleep anywhere and everywhere, as long as one of their trusted caregivers is there to parent them to sleep. I wrote more about sleep associations and attachment parenting in "Sleep Associations: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly".

Second, with regards to regularity, attachment parenting tends to rely on creating routines rather than schedules. A consistent bedtime routine helps give a baby sleep cues and tells them that it is almost time to sleep.  Ideally, it happens at approximately the same time each night. However, instead of looking at the clock, parents should look at their baby. Look for signs that they need to start the bedtime routine earlier or that it isn’t time yet. Look for signs that you need to move a bit more quickly or more slowly through storytime. Being in tune with their child’s needs helps attached parents to follow a routine predicated on regularity while still respecting their child’s needs.

I think within attachment parenting there is also less tendency to blame the baby for poor sleep. People who practice attachment parenting are not likely to say that their baby is trying to manipulate them if they cry out for them at night or  if they protest going to sleep. Instead, they look for other gentle methods to encourage better sleep.

One of the very important caveats I learned from your blog, is that if you start co sleeping after you have become exhausted (say after several weeks of very poor sleep) it may be dangerous. You are not easily awoken and therefore will not react well to your baby during the night when co sleeping.

However, when they're extremely tired is exactly when some parents decide to "give in" to co sleeping, to get a bit more sleep themselves. Can you suggest how to transition towards co sleeping in this situation?

Annie: I would suggest that any parent considering co-sleeping read through the guidelines for co-sleeping safety in great detail and ensure that the area they plan to sleep in with their baby is as safe as possible.

If parents do want to transition towards co-sleeping and are concerned about being too exhausted, I would suggest using a cosleeper of some sort. That can include one of the bed top ones, one of the ones that fastens to the side, or side-carring a crib.

When and how to transition from the family bed to a crib or toddler bed is surely something that is very dependent on the child and the whole family. But is there an advised or well suited age or method?

Annie: There is no one specific age or method. It really depends on the child and the family and what their preferences are. Within attachment parenting circles, there are two broad approaches (with many variations on them).

The first is that the child shares a room with the parents until he asks for a room of his own. It is the child’s desire for privacy that results in the child moving out, not the parents desire to kick the child out.

The second is that the child gets a room of her own when the parents decide it is time. Some parents, like us, will continue to lay down with their child and go to their child at night as needed even once they have their own room. In our case, this meant that we didn't buy toddler beds or twin beds for our toddlers, we transitioned them from our bed into a double bed in their own room where there was space for us to lay down with them. Other parents will try, gently, to teach their child to go to sleep on their own and to stay in their room on their own at night. This usually involves a lot of going back and reassuring the child at the beginning as they get used to it, but shouldn’t involve leaving the child to cry themselves to sleep.

A personal question if I may: your children will be 6 and 3 this year. What do you see in them now, probably daily, as a result of your attachment parenting approach (confidence, attachment, bonding, openness, independence, …)? And in particular: how do they sleep? Do they enjoy going to sleep, do they sleep confidently, …?

Annie: I think (and know from the reading I’ve done) that most of a child’s personality comes from their genes and their outside environment, rather than from a particular parenting approach. I’ve chosen attachment parenting because I think it will allow me to have the healthiest and most rewarding type of relationship with my children (i.e. a strong bond). In terms of confidence, openness, independence, what I see in them is a reflection of mine and my partner’s personalities more than anything else.

With regards to sleep, they both still prefer parental presence at bedtime. My son, who is 5, will go to sleep on his own if one of us is sitting in the next room (e.g. reading a book, on the computer) and we leave the door open while he goes to sleep. He generally sleeps through the whole night on his own. My daughter, who is 3, still needs parental presence at bedtime and still usually wakes up at night if she is left alone. However, if she is with us, she sleeps all night. As a result, I usually go and get her from her bed and bring her into ours before I go to sleep or I go and join her in her bed when I’m ready to sleep. That way, I don’t end up being woken up again! On the whole, I would say our kids sleep well. But like most humans, they often prefer to have someone with them.

Thank you Annie for this interview.

Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.

Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.

Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.

As well as the award-winning baby sleep programs, Heidi also offers in-depth 1:1 consults (email to enquire) and easy-access 30-minute SOS Sleep sessions.