Time Magazine cover May 21, 2012 (Time Magazine)

The now notorious Time magazine cover showing a 26-year-old mother with a confrontational stance openly breastfeeding her almost-four-year-old son triggered a ferocious response.

 Comments to my post on the subject and elsewhere ranged from calling the cover “Kiddie Porn” to condemning the notion that any child be breast-fed past infancy.

The controversy was, clearly, the point for Time. But it also highlighted the strong feelings related to attachment parenting.

Attachment parenting is a phrase coined in the early 1990s by Bill and Martha Sears, authors of “The Baby Book,” (Little Brown) among subsequent tomes, and still the movement’s most well known proponents.

They argue that children should be attached to a mother — worn in a sling, slept next to in bed, breast-fed on demand — for as long as such intense bonding is feasible and desirable. Their philosophy revolves around what they call the Seven B’s: birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby wearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers and balance.

Controversy has erupted over much of their advice from time to time. Until now, the most highly debated has been the idea of “bedding close to baby,” also known as co-sleeping.

Medical experts advise vigorously against it and instead advise that to avoid suffocation risks babies sleep alone, in a crib without loose bedding.

Attachment parents sometimes argue that when practiced safely, co-sleeping gives babies and parents a healthy emotional foundation.

When I first became pregnant, a good friend sent me the “The Baby Book.” I knew nothing about the background and thought it a general reference book, as it was the size of a medical textbook.

When I did break it open after the birth of my daughter, I read a few pages with the perspective of an exhausted, hormone-addled, confused new mother and found its tone to be gentle and guilt-inducing at the same time.

The Sears seemed knowledgeable and loving, but they were suggesting that my inability to respond to my baby’s every cry and my overuse of the bouncy chair was causing serious long-lasting harm.

I tossed the book aside, and with it the guilt. I told myself I loved my baby and would coddle as much as I could, but that I would also tuck her into the bouncy chair when I needed a break.

I didn’t think about it until much later, when I realized that a sizeable portion of my peers had embraced the book and its tenets.

Despite the image of attachment parenting as radical, the philosophy can and has been incorporated into general mainstream parenting practices.

Many of those who practice it, do so in an a la cart way — maybe a sling, maybe separate beds, maybe breastfeeding for a year.  Those who “attach” are not necessarily judgmental about other choices, either.

But now comes along a backlash, triggered by the American publication of Elisabeth Badinter’s book “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women” (Metropolitan) and fueled by Time.

The truth that “attachment” parents are not a monolithic bloc is getting lost.

Even Bill Sears himself put out a statement reacting to Time that said his advice can be modified: “Attachment parenting is not an all-or-nothing, extreme, or indulgent style of parenting.  I advise moms and dads that the seven Baby B’s … are starter tools (remember, tools not rules) to help parents and infants get to know each other better.  And families can modify these tools to fit their individual family situation,” he wrote on his Web site.

Sometimes images are more powerful than words, though. Especially provocative images that trigger parenting debates — those can cause longer lasting harm than even a bouncy chair.

 What are your thoughts on attachment parenting?

 Related Content:

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It’s ok if you don’t breastfeed