Forget attachment parenting, it’s all about experimental parenting

If you wear your baby in a sling and breastfeed through the night, you’re an attachment parent. If you instil a routine for your baby – feeds, naps, night-time – you’re taking a parent-led approach. But what if you like trial and error; is this experimental parenting?

Before becoming a parent, I had a few ideas about how I’d do things. I planned to breastfeed. I bought a buggy and would be using it. I’d also bought a sling, and liked the idea of giving that a shot, too. Other than that? I didn’t give it much thought.

My daughter was born, I got into breastfeeding and – a few bouts of mastitis aside – I absolutely loved it. We bonded through it, it was a chance to sit still (and check Instagram on my phone) and we continued until she was 15 months old.

Co-sleeping? Absolutely not. I wanted my bed to be for me and my husband. If she woke early in the morning, I’d feed her in bed then keep her in with me – maybe from 4am till we got up at 8am. But not through the night.

The wrap sling I used a few times. It was nice having her snuggled into my chest. But she was a massive baby; and it began to hurt my back. Also, I liked lying her in the buggy then having a break when she feel asleep – to drink a coffee, read a book, have my body to myself for half an hour.

Attachment parenting

So in some areas, I was adopting attachment parenting principles but in others I wasn’t. And when it came to sleep training, we definitely took a parent-led approach: we taught her to get herself to sleep by leaving her to cry a bit at night.

She’d stopped falling asleep while I was feeding her. Rocking didn’t work. Nor did bottles. Shushing and patting and ‘gentle sleep training’ made it worse. After three nights of leaving her to get herself off to sleep, she was happily nodding off and sleeping through.

People are quite divided on the ‘cry-it-out’ method. There is the suggestion that leaving your baby crying will give them emotional issues later in life. But this has been disproven. For us, it worked. For our baby, it worked (she thrives on routine, and she absolutely loves sleeping).

Co-sleeping worked for us

When my son was born, though, I did things differently. Again, he was huge so the sling didn’t work but we co-slept for the first eight weeks of his life. It worked well, helped with his reflux and we loved it. But then I wanted my bed back, so encouraged him to sleep alone by putting him in a Sleepyhead.

Breastfeeding was much harder to establish but after lots of blood, sweat and tears – we got there. He’s still breastfeeding, 10 months on. We’ll continue to 15 months, as I did with my daughter. It feels like a nice way to be close in the morning, and at night.

In terms of sleep training, the ‘cry-it-out’ approach was going to be harder this time. We now had a three-year-old sleeping in the room next door. Also, he has always fallen asleep on the boob so it hasn’t been necessary. Every night, I feed him, he nods off, I put him in his cot – and he sleeps there until 7am.

It could be said that with my son, I’ve taken more of an attachment parenting approach but if I have, it’s simply because that’s what’s worked for us. I’ve used my intuition and gone with both his and my needs. But I’ve also got him into a fairly strict napping and night-time routine.

Baby-led weaning? Sometimes

When it comes to food, I fed both babies puréed food. When they were happy with that, I left some lumps in. Snacks would include something they could hold: a piece of banana, a strawberry puff, a piece of oatcake. A combination of baby-led and parent-led weaning. They both love food and eat well (most of the time).

In terms of discipline, we say “no” when either child is doing something dangerous or that we don’t want them to do. I know other parents think the word “no” should be avoided. But we think it’s important in terms of setting boundaries. We’ll follow up with an explanation about why the behaviour is not acceptable to us, but it starts with a big fat NO.

That said, I’m fairly soft. I let things go when it doesn’t seem important. They test my patience but I generally stay calm and verbally negotiate my way through disobedience with food, clothes, nappies, getting in the buggy. Generally.

I also sometimes get angry just because I’m tired – and this affects the way I behave with the kids. With my three-year-old, I now apologise if I take my anger out on her. It does happen, but I will apologise for having a shorter fuse that day. She appreciates the gesture.

Parent-led activities…

Some days we go to the park – for the kids. Some days we go to the pub – for us. Though my daughter has become as fond of the pub as she is the park: toys, fizzy water, crisps (that we don’t allow at home). She thinks it’s a treat. So there’s a mix of child-led and parent-led activities.

My point is this. With parenting, you may have a very clear idea of what type of parent you’ll be but the likelihood is that your baby will have their own ideas. You might want to co-sleep but perhaps they’d prefer to lie alone in their cot. Or the other way round. And the same with breastfeeding (or not), weaning, discipline, leisure time.

Parenting is fluid; ever-changing. To get through it, there needs to be flexibility and an open mind. The least happy parents I know are those who have very rigid ideas about how things should be and aren’t willing to veer, even if it clearly isn’t working. I’ve been like that at points, but have done my best to loosen up and go with the flow.

Experimental parenting

So while I’ve adopted various principles from both a parent-led and baby-led approach to motherhood, on the whole – I’m winging it. I’m calling it experimental parenting; it means taking each day as it comes and trying out different things.

You know how I gauge the effectiveness of my experimental parenting approach? By looking at my kids. They are both calm, happy and secure. And that’s all that matters.

What do you reckon: attachment parenting, a parent-led approach or experimental parenting – which one have you gone for?