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Study: Feminists more likely to embrace attachment parenting

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Yes, feminists breast-feed! A new study says women who self-identify as feminists are more likely do "attachment parenting."

Pop quiz: A mom wears her baby in a sling everywhere, breast-feeds her 2-year-old and co-sleeps with the kids. Is she a feminist?

The answer is likely yes, according to a new study published in the scholarly journal “Sex Roles:” Feminists are more likely to embrace attachment parenting. And that may surprise people who assume that the tenets of attachment parenting – including baby-wearing, co-sleeping and extended breast-feeding – don’t jibe with the feminist mind-set.

“Feminists who were raised with the idea that they can be the best at anything they choose… feel like since this was their choice to do this, they better get in there and do the most intensive job they can,” said Dr. Miriam Liss, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.

“Even though the evidence isn’t clear that it produces better outcomes, it’s so engaged that it feels good for their kids,” Liss said.

Her study found that mothers who identified themselves as “feminist” placed more importance on breast-feeding on demand and wearing their children in slings or backpacks to provide a sense of closeness, and less importance on keeping a strict schedule.

In the survey of 431 women, moms who identified as “non-feminist” mistakenly believed that they were more willing to embrace those time-intensive and hands-on practices.

“They were saying ‘oh those feminists are not as interested in breastfeeding as much as I am or carrying their children as much as I am. Feminists put them on such a strict schedule because they have their jobs,’ when, in fact, it was totally the opposite,” Liss said.

There’s been a spirited public debate lately about whether attachment parenting is empowering or oppressive for women and whether advocates are taking things too far. A Time magazine cover story about attachment parenting, featuring the headline “Are you mom enough?” with a photo of a woman proudly breast-feeding her 3-year-old son, took the debate from mom circles to the mainstream.

For some working women like Joan DeMeyer, a 41-year-old environmental health and safety specialist for a manufacturing company in Missouri, being an “attachment parent” helped her connect physically and emotionally with her children.

She breastfed her children until they weaned themselves (one at age 2, the other at 3). She slept in the same bed with them. Both parents wore them a lot. Sometimes her husband or mother would accompany her on business trips, with the babies, so that she didn’t have to be apart from them. It makes perfect sense to her that women who self-identify as feminist would be more interested in attachment parenting.

“They excel in their careers, and they want to excel at being a parent. They want to be the best parent they can, so it doesn’t surprise me that they would find that important,” said DeMeyer, who leads an attachment parenting group in St. Louis.

At the same time, prominent feminist Erica Jong has argued in the Wall Street Journal that attachment parenting is “a prison for mothers.” Many a mom has puzzled over how trying to meet your child’s every need on their schedule leaves room for pursuing a career, romance with your partner, and making time for the things that keep you sane. Not to mention how to get by without using a stroller (taboo for some “AP” moms).

As a mom of a four- and six-year old herself, Liss noticed that attachment parenting was pretty popular among her own friends.

“Attachment parenting has this association with a natural way of parenting and anti-consumerism—even though there are plenty of expensive slings and co-sleepers out there you can buy—that appeals to the organic food buying, love-your-body-and-all- the-things-it-does strain of feminism,” Liss said.

Kelly Bartlett, a 35-year-old freelance writer with two kids in Portland, Ore., said finding the balance between meeting her children’s needs through attachment parenting principles and her own needs (which include working, daily personal time, and sometimes sleeping on her own) makes her feel strong and capable.

The “attachment” part of attachment parenting isn’t about being joined at the hip with your child as much as bonding and communication, she said. There are lots of ways to fit those principles into a mom’s lifestyle, feminist or not.

“It’s simply about consistently and lovingly responding to your child’s needs. There are so many ways to do that,” Bartlett said.

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Dr. Bill Sears' theory of "attachment parenting" is making headlines after a Time magazine cover story featured a photo of a mother breast-feeding her 3-year-old. NBC's Darlene Rodriguez reports on this parenting technique and TODAY's Savannah Guthrie speaks with the mother in the now-infamous photo and Dr. Sears.