Attachment Parenting & Sleep Training

Infant Sleep · Toddler Sleep

Gentle parenting, conscious parenting, attachment parenting: it’s possible that you’ll hear these terms used online and in social media. As a parent you’ll likely gravitate to one style of parenting more than another. It’s not surprising that, with its focus on the child-parent bond, attachment parenting has become so popular. If you’re a parent who subscribes to attachment parenting, and your child doesn’t sleep, you may not believe that sleep training is the right answer for you. There is a lot of misinformation about what sleep training is (and isn’t). As a result, one of the biggest concerns for attachment-style parents considering sleep training is whether sleep training will affect their bond with their child.

Before the guilt and internal struggle between the part of you that is exhausted, and the part of you that wants to maintain a loving bond with your child, goes on any longer, let’s break this topic down. Hopefully in doing so, we can give you things to think about, and add insight to help guide you on your parenting journey.

What is Attachment Parenting?

Attachment parenting is focused on the nurturing connection between parent and child. Through this bond, parents aim to raise secure, independent, and empathetic children. There are 8 principles of attachment parenting: positivity around pregnancy, breastfeeding, sensitive response to child, loving touch, co-sleeping (which can mean bed-sharing or room sharing), constant care, positive discipline, and balance.

How Attachment Parenting & Sleep Training Co-exist

Many who adhere to attachment parenting feel that sleep training goes against those principles, and worry that sleep training may negatively impact the bond with their child. While some of the principles of attachment parenting simply don’t apply to sleep training, there are a few that intersect.

Sensitively Respond to Child’s Emotions

Many people incorrectly believe that the only way to sleep train a child is to abide by the “cry-it-out” method. Essentially, a child is placed in their crib and they cry until they fall asleep. A parent doesn’t respond to their child until the morning. This is not a method we utilize at Sleep Wise. When it comes to sleep training, we are creating a foundation of co-regulation so that our kids can learn a new skill.

A warm, loving, and responsive caregiver is a necessary piece of this process. While we teach this new sleep skill, we are also learning what our child needs. Space versus comfort, what position they are most comfortable sleeping in, etc. and we honor our child’s needs. Responding when needed, instead of responding immediately when our child communicates frustration. Beyond being prompt, responsiveness is about learning what role our child needs us to play as they communicate their emotions. This level of understanding strengthens our connection with our children.


Co-sleeping is one of the principles of attachment parenting. This can mean 1 of 2 things. It can mean bed-sharing, or it can mean room-sharing. Due to safety concerns, and a risk of SIDS, we do not recommend bed-sharing. Room-sharing doesn’t pose any risk and allows your child to have the sleep space to learn independent sleep skills. If you want to bed-share, sleep training won’t be a fit for your family.


When it comes to adhering to constant care, sensitive response, and co-sleeping, it can be hard to see how balance can be achieved as a parent – especially if your child is not sleeping well. Lack of sleep is detrimental to our overall physical and mental wellness. Your body’s main stress hormone, cortisol, is higher when sleep needs are not met. Sleep deprived parents are more emotionally reactive, prone to anxiety and depression, more likely to have a vehicular accident, and more irritable. Not only is there no balance, but the toll of sleep deprivation on a parent can make healthy attachment incredibly challenging.

Research on Attachment Parenting & Sleep Training

While research can be helpful, at Sleep Wise, we encourage review of research to be considered with curiosity and an open mind. Many of these studies have a very small sample size, however, here are a few studies that have peaked our interest:

1. A study on toddler sleep and behavior showed a child’s cortisol levels are lower in the morning after more consolidated sleep versus those that had more night wakings. Additionally, these toddlers showed decrease in emotional reactivity. The takeaway, for those concerned with elevated cortisol levels during sleep training, is that lack of sleep produces elevated cortisol levels in children.

2. Another small study done in 2000 aimed to determine if crying and maternal responsiveness was linked to attachment. This study showed that a decrease in response from parents, decreased the amount of crying from the child. Opponents may say that a child who is ignored, will learn not to cry. However, this study revealed that children of the most responsive mother showed an insecure attachment. This is contrary to the goal of attachment parents, and supports the idea of responding appropriately to a child versus always responding promptly. Additionally researchers gleaned that by not responding during mild fussiness, children learned coping skills. This also supports the goal of attachment parents to raise secure independent children.

3. A more robust sample size participated in a 2012 study to determine long-term harms and benefits of sleep interventions on children. The conclusion of this study stated, “Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative). Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression.”

Sleep Wise Outcomes

Attachment parenting emphasizes the closeness with your child. This can exist while you help them learn to sleep independently. We consistently hear from families that their babies eat better, and are happier, after getting better sleep. One mom of a 10 month old said, “We wanted a sleep method that was gentle and supportive, and conducive to helping our son develop secure attachment with us. We’re glad we could give our whole family this experience, especially in a way that fit with our values. Thank you for being exactly the guide that our family needed!”.

Parents have balance back and can strengthen the connection with their child. Sleep training is truly not for everyone. If you are wondering if sleep training is right for you, schedule a free call to learn what is possible.

By Katie Pitts, Founder & CEO of Sleep Wise Consulting

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