3 questions to ask about attachment parenting

Attachment parenting has become the dominant parenting philosophy in Western countries in the early 21st Century. The ostensible reason is because it’s good for babies, making them more securely attached, happier and ultimately more productive citizens.

That has been the justification for government promotion of policies that are based on AP recommendations. Such policies include the bias toward midwifery care in most industrialized countries, efforts to reduce birth interventions, C-section targets, aggressive breastfeeding promotion, rooming in during postpartum hospital stays, and baby-wearing.

But what if attachment parenting isn’t about what’s good for babies? What if it’s about what’s good for the State? Or perhaps it’s about what’s good for social conservatives?

How can we tell?

I suggest we should interrogate the individual tenets of attachment parenting by asking three questions:

Who profits? Who’s harmed? Who avoids responsibility?

C-section Targets

Consider the C-section target rate of 10-15%. There’s never been ANY scientific evidence for such a low target rate. Indeed the best scientific evidence thus far, produced by Atul Gawande, Neel Shah and their colleagues, indicates a MINIMUM C-section rate of 19% in order to ensure low maternal and neonatal mortality. So why do so many countries promote a C-section rate incompatible with safety?

Who profits from low C-section rates?

In most industrialized countries the government pays for C-sections. Even in the US, which lacks national health insurance, the government pays for a substantial proportion of C-sections through its provision of Medicaid. Therefore, the government profits when C-section rates are held artificially low.

Who is harmed?

Babies and mothers are harmed. Some babies sustain permanent brain injuries because of C-section targets. Some babies and mothers die. Groups of ethnic minorities or low socio-economic status (or both) suffer more than most since they are often more likely to experience complications that are best treated by C-sections.

Moreover any women who want maternal request C-sections suffer through labors they did not want to endure.

Who avoids responsibility?

Artificially low C-section targets allow governments to avoid responsibility for providing high quality medical care. Instead of acknowledging they are withholding needed medical care from vulnerable populations they can deny the harm they cause by pretending — in line with AP philosophy — that reducing C-section rates improve infant outcomes.


Consider aggressive breastfeeding promotion. The government has a myriad of initiatives to pressure women into breastfeeding as if how a woman uses her breasts is any of the governments’ business. But according to the tenets of AP breastfeeding improves bonding which leads to happier, more productive people who are supposedly healthier (and therefore cheaper to care for).

Who profits from aggressive breastfeeding promotion?

In most industrialized countries the government is the leading purchaser of infant formula. Forcing women to breastfeed is pure profit; the government pays nothing and the mother pays all the costs — and there are many. Breastfeeding is not free; for many women it is the difference between a steady income and no job at all.

Breastfeeding rates are socially patterned. Wealthier, white women are most likely to breastfeed and poor women and women of color have far lower breastfeeding rates. Therefore, while breastfeeding promotion appears to affect the entire population equally, it is those women who are most likely to need government support who are impacted.

Who is harmed?

Ironically the greatest harm is done to the very children who are supposed to benefit. Exclusive breastfeeding — leading to dehydration, hyperbilirubinemia and starvation — has become the leading risk for newborn hospital readmission.

Women are also harmed by aggressive breastfeeding policies that can compromise their mental and physical health. Moreover women are harmed by any policy that considers their time worthless as breastfeeding policy does.

Who avoids responsibility?

Promoting breastfeeding allows government to avoid responsibility for providing infant nutrition. Instead of acknowledging that they are saving money by foisting the costs of nutrition onto mothers, they can deny the harm they cause by pretending — in line with AP philosophy — that increasing breastfeeding rates improve infant outcomes.

Baby Wearing

There is zero scientific evidence to support baby wearing. It is a recommendation that was fabricated specifically to make it impossible for mothers to work. But wait! Didn’t Native American mothers carry their babies everywhere? They did but — in direct contrast to skin-to-skin — they used cradleboards.

According to Wikipedia:

Cradleboards were used during periods when the infant’s mother had to travel or otherwise be mobile for work … The cradleboard could be carried on the mother’s back … The cradleboard can also be stood up against a large tree or rock if the infant is small, or hung from a pole (as inside an Iroquois longhouse), or even hung from a sturdy tree branch…

So Native American mothers carried their babies everywhere for the same reason other indigenous mothers did: so they could work, NOT so they could avoid work.

Who profits from baby wearing?

Social conservative can benefit when they can disguise misogyny as “better for babies.”

Who is harmed?

Mothers are harmed by efforts to keep them immured within the home, especially when they are pressured to do by fabricated claims that their children will be damaged if they don’t stay in physical contact continuously.

Who avoids responsibility?

In this country AP helps the government avoid responsibility for mandating adequate maternity leave and providing high quality daycare. AP implies that women shouldn’t work so governments musn’t help women manage the inherent contradictions between providing nurturing care as a mother and taking one’s place in the market economy. Either they must stay home with their children (as social conservatives want) or they must devote themselves to their jobs (the imperative of a market economy).

Asking the same three questions is a good exercise to apply to any tenet of AP. You might be surprised by what you find.

The bottom line is that while Attachment Parenting is promoted as better for babies, it is often better only for governments or social conservatives.