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Can 'attachment parenting' be harmful? Add to ...

The question: I’m hearing more about “attachment parenting” these days. Is there any downside or negative health consequences of being in constant physical contact with baby?

The answer: Attachment parenting is a specific style of childrearing that usually involves ways to connect and bond, such as skin-to-skin contact, co-sleeping, carrying the child and responding to his or her cry immediately.

And it’s a subject that continues to be controversial.

Pioneers in the area, such as William Sears ( askdrsears.com) and his wife Martha, who have written extensively on this topic, are very careful to remind people that attachment parenting is not a set of rules. They see it as an approach to connect with a young child, to develop trust between parent and offspring, and to lay the foundation for future issues such as effective discipline. Some experts also refer to it as “responsive parenting” – as in being able to read a baby’s needs and responding in a way that instills trust.

Skeptics, on the other hand, say that attachment parenting can have negative effects, such as baby not learning that there must be boundaries or exhaustion in overly available moms who must wear many hats in a day. They challenge whether a culture of total motherhood should be seen as the ideal, as it can lead to anxiety, guilt and depression. And they say some moms end up neglecting their husbands completely.

The negative health consequences, mostly anecdotal, for moms may be fatigue, sleep deprivation, a weaker immune system due to stress, an increased risk for depression and weight gain if she eats to deal with stress. But no definitive studies have confirmed that.

The debate will continue between individual pediatricians such as Dr. Sears, whose books are very influential, and bodies such as the Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both these organizations strongly discourage co-sleeping. Personally, I favour a balanced approach.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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