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 styles – 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.
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 (Sears, 2020). This is sometimes also known as attachment parenting.
At the other end of the parenting spectrum 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.
Which parenting style is best?
Some research shows that babies can cry less if parents adopt a baby-led approach (St James-Roberts et al, 2006; Miller and Commons, 2010). But of course, bouts of inconsolable crying can happen whatever you do.
On the other hand, there is 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.
Whatever parenting style you choose to start with, it’s common to learn that what you thought would suit you actually doesn’t work. Each baby is different, so what works with one, might not work with another. And as they, and you, grow and learn, you might find yourself shifting your ideas about what’s important to you. So think of parenting styles like hats – you might need to try a few on to work out which suits you.
It can be helpful to think through some of the things that can influence your approach to parenting:
- What was your experience as a child, and is that something you feel was a good model, or would you like to do something different? Perhaps you have friends who parent the way you would like to.
- What works for your family? Taking into account practical issues like going back to work, siblings, household chores, etc.
- What’s unique about your situation? If you have twins, health issues or are a lone parent, these factors will all affect your approach.
- Where can you get information you trust?
- Who can give you support?
- What just ‘feels’ right to you?
Listening to your baby
Babies — like adults — are individuals. Before you have your baby it’s impossible 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, personality and health 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, change and adapt based on what makes you and your family feel happy and confident.
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.
(Basis, no date)
With these developmental stages in mind, it is often easier to wait until your baby is eight to 12 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.
In the first few weeks, give yourself time and space to adjust to 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 February 2022.
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Basis. (no date) Normal sleep development. Available at: https://www.basisonline.org.uk/normal-sleep-development/ [Accessed 24th February 2022]
Miller PM, Commons ML. (2010) The benefits of attachment parenting for infants and children: A behavioral developmental view. Behav Dev Bull. 16(1):1-14. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0100514
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://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2005-2387
St James-Roberts I. (2012) The Origins, Prevention and Treatment of Infant Crying And Sleeping Problems. Routledge, London.
Sears W. (2020) Attachment parenting. Available at: https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/attachment-parenting/ [Accessed 23rd February 2022]