dad playing with baby

Trying different parenting styles and approaches can help you to decide about your baby’s care. Read on to find an approach to suit you.

Who said parenthood didn’t come with a manual? You can pick from thousands of parenting books, and hundreds of theories and approaches. In fact, if you search ‘parenting book’ on a popular mail order site, you’ll get 100,000 results. Crikey. 

What's more, when you become a parent, you will never be short of others' opinions and advice on how to look after your baby.

It’s fair to say the prominent parenting styles out there aren’t mutually exclusive. Many overlap. Yet others are poles apart. We’ve taken four of the more common – attachment, parent-led, positive and mindful parenting – and looked at these in detail. But you’ll likely have your foot in a number of camps. 

The spectrum of styles

Attachment parenting

At one end of the parenting spectrum is a completely baby-led parenting approach. It generally involves keeping your baby physically close (for instance, using a sling), feeding on demand, being highly responsive to their cries and co-sleeping with them at night. This is sometimes also known as attachment parenting.

Parent-led approach

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. Some well-known babycare books have popularised this approach.

Some research shows that babies can cry less if parents adopt a baby-led approach (St James-Roberts et al, 2006). But of course, bouts of inconsolable crying can happen whatever you do.

On the other hand, some evidence that babies can wake less at night after the age of three months if parents adopt a more parent-led approach (St James-Roberts, 2012). This is particularly true for the bedtime routine.

Of course, a whole range of parenting styles fall between these two approaches. 

How do I choose a parenting style?

By exploring our articles, you could try to see what works for you. Chances are, after looking at the various approaches, you’ll find you’re already doing bits and pieces of each. And you might be inspired to try other elements too. 

The main thing is to cherry pick tips that chime with you. You’ll probably spot what you think will work best with your child’s temperament and your family’s needs.

Feeling bamboozled? These pointers might help...

It can be helpful to think through some of the things that can influence your approach to parenting:

  • What works for your family? Taking into account practical issues like going back to work, siblings, household chores, etc.
  • 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? 
  • How does your baby respond to different styles?
  • 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 or perhaps 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?

Listening to your baby

Babies — like adults — are individuals. 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. Some seem happiest when they are being carried all the time. Others prefer the predictability of regular nap times during the day. So your baby’s temperament and personality is likely to influence your parenting decisions.

What if I make the wrong choice?

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.
Ultimately, the decision is yours to make based on what makes you and your family feel happy and confident.

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.
  • 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.

This page was last reviewed in April 2019.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 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. To find out when an NCT nearly new sale is happening near you, search here.

For more advice and ideas when it comes to all aspects of parenting, see our other articles on parenting styles, such as our one on understanding your child’s needs through to how to raise my child to be happy, confident and considerate.

St James-Roberts I, Alvarez M, Csipke E, Abramsky T, Goodwin J, Sorgenfrei E. (2006) Infant Crying and sleeping in London, Copenhagen and when parents adopt a “proximal” form of care. Pediatrics 117(6):e1146-55. Available at: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/117/6/e1146.long [Accessed 20th March 2019].
 
St James-Roberts I. (2012) The Origins, Prevention and Treatment of Infant Crying And Sleeping Problems. London: Routledge.

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