To me wearing my children close to my body, co-sleeping (at least part time, as needed), and feeding on demand is an integral part of attachment parenting.
The bonds you create with your child in those early days, weeks, months and years set the foundation for all future development for your child. I think that a firm early attachment that fosters a deep trust is the best for my kids. I have worn all 3 of my girls in slings or soft carriers from birth to toddler, even preschool aged. I don't think that it made my children dependent on me. In fact, for the most part the opposite is true. I have 3 little (well 2 little and one big) girls that are extremely independent. They are often headstrong and very opinionated about the world that they interact with on a daily basis. What my arms provided for them in the early years was the ability to trust.
Erik Ericson, a theorist in child development, writes about the stages of psychosocial development that children go through. The first stage he calls the trust vs. mistrust stage (birth to one year old). During this time of development babies are looking to their immediate caregivers to learn how to trust their world. They are the most venerable at this stage. Their very survival is dependent on the people trusted with their care. Children who are provided positive and consistent experience that their basic needs will always be met learn to trust. The opposite is true for children who have inconsistent and negative experience; they learn to approach the world with fear and suspicion.
All of the things, that I am talking about today help to foster this trust in children.
How does babywearing foster trust? Well it's quite simple really. When you hold your baby close to your body, wrapped snugly in a sling you are mimicking the womb. This is where your baby spent 9 months growing and developing. This is a place where his need for food, oxygen, and warmth were met immediately. This was your baby's first safe haven. So now that your baby is out of the womb, a sling reminds him of that peace and security. From this position you have the most control of your baby's needs/wants. You are able to see and feel the early hunger cues; you can tell if he is too hot or too cold and adjust accordingly, you have the most power to provide protection for your child. From this new safe haven your baby can experience his world, knowing that you will make sure that he is safe and taken care of.
My youngest girls taking part in babywearing with their toys and their mom-made slings
Ah co-sleeping, I know it may not be for all families. For me, I don't see how your child's need for your comfort and protection end just because the sun went down or the hands on the clock read 8:00pm. Caring for a child is a 24 hour a day commitment. This is also why I don't even bother with night time sleep training. I don't mind my baby waking in the middle of the night because she is hungry and wants to nurse. This is where co-sleeping even if just part time comes into play. This is what it looks like in our house:
For the first year or so, the baby will have a crib right next to my bed. This way baby can have a safe place to sleep until I am in bed for the night (I tend to be a night owl, that's when I get all my creative work done). When baby wakes for the first time of the night to be fed, changed or just loved, I bring them back to my bed, where they remain till morning. I honestly couldn't tell you after that first wake up how many more times my kids wake at night. Everything the baby needs is right there in bed with us, or really close by. I sometimes call this lazy parenting, because I honestly like not having to fully wake up and go down a hall to get the crying baby. If she is right next to me, in a half awake state I can quickly change a diaper, then nuzzle her to my breast where we can both fall back to sleep safe in each other’s arms.
Can you see how this sleeping arrangement fosters trust? If, not let me explain. When your baby is in bed with you (or even right next to you in a bedside co-sleeper) you are telling your baby that you are there for them, that they are important even in the middle of the night. No matter how many times a baby wakes you are right there, ready to comfort and protect them. It's kinda like saying, "I got your back kid." Co-sleeping makes it so much easier for you to recognize your baby's early cues that he needs something, long before the crying begins.
Now let me also touch on the fact that there are times when baby should not be in your bed, for safety reasons. If you or your partner have been drinking or taking medicines that effect your alertness, then the safest place for baby to sleep would be his own crib. I know that there have been times when I have had to take pain medicines and it sucked having to get up out of bed and feed my baby in a chair so that we didn't fall asleep in bed. This is why I call it lazy parenting, because co-sleeping is so much easier.
Lastly, feeding on demand, ah to me this is just common sense. Do you as an adult eat and drink on a strict schedule, regardless of what your body is telling you? If it is a hot day and you feel thirsty you grab a drink, don't you? I know I do. To me it just makes sense... Why would I tell my brand new baby that they can't nurse, because it's only been 1 hour since the last feeding? Seriously, if I eat and an hour later feel hungry again, I get a snack. Shouldn't we offer the same to our children? Why are schedules so important? I personally think ignoring and teaching your children to ignore their natural hunger cues is very dangerous. I think it plays a big role in childhood and even adult obesity. Your body knows what it needs, and when it needs it, so does your little baby.
Also, when you have a baby that is showing signs of hunger and you ignore the early cues and watch the clock instead, you are sending a message to your baby that their natural instincts don't matter, the clock does. Your baby will have plenty of opportunities to "watch the clock" as they grow up. Right now they need to learn to trust themselves and you, and the best way to do that is to learn to listen to their cues.