Family

Parenting styles and approaches

Trying different parenting styles and approaches can help you to make long-term decisions about your baby’s care. Read about different parenting skills and models here.

This article has information on:
Different parenting approaches and styles
What works for your family
What about routines
Don't put pressure on yourself
Further information

When you become a parent, you will never be short of opinions and advice on how to look after your baby. As a first-time parent, in particular, you might worry about what approach to take with different milestones or aspects of your child’s development and care.

Different parenting approaches and styles

At one end of the parenting spectrum is a completely baby-led parenting approach, which generally involves keeping your baby physically close (for instance, using a sling), feeding on demand, never leaving your baby to cry and co-sleeping with them at night. This is sometimes also known as ‘attachment parenting’.

At the other end is a parent-led approach, where parents encourage their baby to adapt to life around them, often by adopting a predictable routine. This approach has been popularised by some well-known babycare books.
Research shows that babies can cry less if parents adopt a baby-led approach (although bouts of inconsolable crying can happen regardless of parenting style).

There is also evidence that babies can wake less at night after the age of three months if parents adopt a more parent-led approach, particularly at bedtime, when they try to influence their baby’s behaviour.

Of course, there is a range of parenting styles that fall between these two approaches and how one parent deals with their baby’s sleeping, feeding and crying can reflect different variations of both of these approaches.

The fact that most parents will do things differently can mean that some might worry that they are making the ‘wrong’ choices. It can help to bear in mind that there is not one single ‘right’ approach to parenting — babies will thrive in many different environments. What’s important is your love, which will help your baby feel secure and cared for.

What works for your family?

When making decisions about your baby’s care, it can be helpful to think through some of the questions and factors that can influence your approach to parenting:

  • Do you like order and structure or are you content to go with the flow?
  • Would you like your baby to start learning to become independent or do you prefer being the person who meets all of your baby’s needs rather than any other family member or carer? 
  • What’s influencing you?
  • Each approach offers advantages and disadvantages. Which works best for your baby and the rest of the family?
  • What happens if you do nothing?
  • What happens if you wait and think about this later — next week, next month?
  • Where can you get information you trust? 
  • Who can give you support? 
  • What other options do you have? Are any of those better for you? 
  • What just ‘feels’ right to you?

There are practical issues to bear in mind too, such as household chores and returning to work. You may have older children who need your attention and understanding as they come to terms with the new baby.

In addition, babies — like adults — are individuals and before you have your baby it’s difficult to know what approach will be best for you and them. Even very young babies can have clear preferences about what they like and dislike. For instance, some seem happiest when they are being carried all the time while others prefer the predictability of regular nap times during the day. Your baby’s temperament and personality is therefore likely to influence your parenting decisions.

What about routines?

Whether or not you adopt a routine is a personal decision. If you decide to adopt a routine, it is worth bearing in mind that:

  • Young babies have small stomachs and need to spread their feeding over a 24-hour period. Frequent feeding also helps to satisfy the demands for growth and brain development in the first few months.
  • Research shows that a baby’s night waking in the first six weeks is not generally affected by steps parents may take to encourage their baby to sleep more. 
  • After three months, babies generally become more settled, confident and familiar with the world outside the womb.

With these developmental stages in mind, it is often easier to wait until your baby is at least a few weeks old before you start thinking about routines. Many parents take a more baby-led approach for the first few weeks and adopt a more parent-led approach as their baby’s behaviour becomes more settled and predictable.

Don’t put pressure on yourself

In the first few weeks, try and give yourself time and space to get to grips with your new life with your baby. This is more important than worrying about what you should or shouldn’t be doing.

If following a particular approach is making you stressed and unhappy, it’s perhaps a sign to think about doing something different or to try again when your baby is a bit older.

Most parents find a middle ground or decide to adapt their approach over time as their baby grows and they get to know them. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make based on what makes you and your family feel happy and confident.

Further information

NCT’s helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.