Reporter: Michael Usher
Producers: Phil Goyen, Hannah Boocock
This challenges all conventional notions about parenting.
It may offend, perhaps even anger, many of you. It's called "attachment parenting" — a back-to-basics approach to child raising that's becoming more and more popular with mums here and around the world.
The idea is that mothers agree to every demand a child makes — any time — day or night. They ask their permission to change a nappy, let them sleep in the grown-ups' bed and even breastfeed them through preschool and beyond.
But don't just dismiss all of this as new age extremism. There is some compelling science behind it.
For more information about attachment parenting guru Dr Bill Sears visit www.askdrsears.com
For Melbourne mum and author Andi Lew’s tips and experience with attachment parenting go to www.themoderndaymother.com
And for more information about SIDS and safe co-sleeping visit www.sidsandkids.org or call SIDS and Kids on 1300 308 307.
MICHAEL USHER: For Molly, breast-feeding her daughter couldn't be more natural. Her child is content, and their bond is incredibly strong. But Emilia is no baby - she's a growing toddler in pre-school.
MOLLY: My daughter is almost four, and she nurses maybe five times a week now.
MICHAEL USHER: When do you think she will wean?
MOLLY: She has decided that on her fourth birthday she'll be done.
MICHAEL USHER: But she has decided.
MOLLY: Yes, yes, yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: It's not something you've decided as a mother?
MOLLY: No, no. It's normal. You know, it might not be socially accepted or socially normal, but biologically it's completely normal.
MICHAEL USHER: This 'normal' or 'natural' approach is called attachment parenting. Basically, what baby wants, baby gets - mums and kids are joined at the hip. What was considered extreme is now mainstream, and more popular than ever. It's got mums and the experts divided.
HEATHER: My concern is at the extreme end of attachment parenting there's that sense that I actually can't manage this world on my own - which means that if I've got a problem I need you next to me as my mum.
BILL: The main quality I have seen in these children is empathy. These are kids who care. I have never yet seen a school bully who was attachment parented.
SIMONE: When I actually add up the years of breastfeeding, I've breastfed for something like six years altogether.
MICHAEL USHER: In suburbs around Australia, parents like mother-of-three Simone Casey are rejecting generations of motherly advice. Gone are the rigid routines of scheduled feeding times and controlled crying, where babies are left to cry themselves to sleep. Attachment kids share their parents' bed, and breastfeed on demand.
SIMONE: He'll call milk, 'me', and he will just go 'me, me, me', like that.
MICHAEL USHER: When two-year-old Levi wants to breastfeed, Simone obliges, whether she's working, or out with friends.
SIMONE: If you're trying to have a talk, have a coffee and have a talk, and you've got your toddler pulling you off and then he'll go and say 'me', and I'll go ok, so he'll have a bit of a drink and then I can finish my conversation.
MICHAEL USHER: Is that good for him or is it convenient to for you?
SIMONE: Look, he wants it, so you know, I think it's a bit of both really.
NATALIE: When we're not relaxed you kind of get a bit antsy, and you might think that everyone's looking at you and they're not necessarily.
MICHAEL USHER: Simone and her friends, Andi, Natalie and Justyna, have ignored advice from previous generations.
ANDI: Do you know Beaudy's never ever cried? Like, at night for me, yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: And they've gone back to basics.
ANDI: I really believe it's just what we're biologically and hormonally designed to do, and that's respond to your child's needs.
MICHAEL USHER: Andi Lew and her husband Warren have extended attachment parenting beyond just the nursing techniques, and allow 2.5-year-old Beaudy to make his own decisions.
ANDI: Even just to ask them to change their nappy - for permission - and the more you talk to them about everything that you're doing, the more they learn. So I remember him being, like, days old, and saying 'Mummy's just going to change your nappy now, would that be ok?'
WARREN: If he doesn't like something he has the option to say no, because he's a little human being.
ANDI: Hi. Did you get shy?
MICHAEL USHER: These attachment parents practice what parenting guru Dr Bill Sears pioneered in the 1970s. Does this throw out the rulebook, the parenting guides, from the 50's, 60's and 70's?
BILL: It does, it does. It discards those old guidebooks of you know get them on a schedule, bottle-feeding is just as good. Now that was really wrong.
MICHAEL USHER: His books and teaching never been more popular. Dr Sear's basic philosophy is that mum needs to be 100% responsive to her baby's needs.
BILL: Beware of baby trainers, you know, the let-'em-cry-it-out crowd. That crowd just causes a distance between mother and child.
MICHAEL USHER: Did the controlled-crying crowd, as you put it, get it wrong?
BILL: They got it wrong. They got it wrong, also it's dangerous. Baby crying in another room, unattended, bothers the brain, meaning that the stress hormones in the brain get so high that they can bother the brain.
MICHAEL USHER: You're talking about brain damage?
BILL: Brain damage, yes.
MICHAEL USHER: Seriously?
MICHAEL USHER: I can hear some mothers now saying 'come on doctor. I got my kid to sleep through the night, with controlled crying, and they don't have brain damage.'
BILL: And your child probably turned out just fine. But crying is their language, so the baby say nobody listens, I'm upset, I'm in a dark room all alone, and nobody is coming to me - so the baby loses trust in the parent.
HEATHER: I think we have to very careful, because mothers are left with extraordinary levels of guilt, extraordinary levels of fear.
MICHAEL USHER: Australian child psychologist Heather Irvine-Rundle says the demands of attachment parenting - like extended breastfeeding - put many mums under pressure that's neither fair nor helpful.
HEATHER: We know that breastfeeding is great, no one is going to argue with that, but why would you want mums at their most vulnerable time to feel worse than they already do?
MICHAEL USHER: What level of guilt do mums feel if they can't breastfeed all the time?
HEATHER: Extraordinary guilt. If you haven't held a crying baby for three hours please don't tell a mum how she should be managing her child. We just don't know what goes on in another mother's experience. We just don't, and until we do, let's just say, I see that works for you, congratulations, power to you.
MICHAEL USHER: Attachment parenting hit the headlines after this recent Time Magazine cover. With that strident pose with son Aram, and the provocative question 'Are you Mum Enough?', Los Angeles mother Jamie Grumet was suddenly the poster-Mum of attachment parenting.
JAMIE: My goal with doing this was to show people that this is a healthy option for your child, and it shouldn't be stigmatised.
MICHAEL USHER: Aram is four years old, he's an active toddler.
MICHAEL USHER: Isn't he old enough? Isn't it time to give it up?
JAMIE: Well no, because he's not ready, and scientifically, if you look at other primates, they wean in relation to human beings, we should be weaning 2.5-7 years. That's the normal range.
MICHAEL USHER: You were breastfed for quite a long time yourself. What are those memories of being breastfed for six years?
JAMIE: It feels like home. That's the best thing I can describe it. I remember breastfeeding by mum and feeling completely safe and secure.
MICHAEL USHER: Jamie's photo became a rallying cry for attachment mums around the world. Hundreds of other women, like Molly in Chicago, posed for similar photos and spread them across the Internet in support of attachment parenting.
MOLLY: I'm just doing what feels natural for me. I have two wonderful children who I love dearly, and I couldn't see it any other way. I don't see it as a sacrifice at all.
MICHAEL USHER: Perhaps one of the most contentious parts of this whole debate is how to put your baby to sleep. Attachments parents believe in co-sleeping or bed-sharing. And there's hard scientific research to support what they're doing.
JAMES: Babies need to sleep with their mothers. Mothers are designed to respond biologically to what makes their babies happy. What makes their baby happy? Being with their mothers. It goes on and on.
MICHAEL USHER: Sleep expert Dr. James McKenna from America's prestigious Notre Dame University is challenging the conventional parenting advice about the safest way for babies to sleep.
JAMES: I'm trying to document here the secret life of babies in cribs.
MICHAEL USHER: After 20 years of research, he says the baby who falls into a deep sleep, in a separate room - like this - is a bad thing.
JAMES: What does 'sleep like a baby' really mean? Biologically, it means wake, feed, sleep, wake, feed, sleep, wake, feed sleep. Not sleep. It just isn't there. And we can't keep pretending that it's okay to ignore what parents need to know.
MICHAEL USHER: Dr McKenna say sleeping close to or sharing a bed with mum teaches the baby crucial skills to awaken and correct irregular sleep - something he says the baby learns from being in tune with mum's sleeping and breathing patterns.
JAMES: Here, the mother has a little apnoea - she pauses, she opens her eyes, she looks up, checks down at the baby, she goes back to sleep. Well unbeknownst to her, as you say, about plus or minus two seconds later, her baby does the same thing.
MICHAEL USHER: The baby stirs as well. So the mother and baby become synchronised.
MICHAEL USHER: And that's a good thing.
JAMES: Yes. So one of the major hypotheses about why babies die from SIDS is that they have an arousal deficiency, meaning they aren't able to awaken up quickly or effectively or efficiently to terminate an apnoea.
MICHAEL USHER: But a warning here - there's a big difference between co-sleeping and just having the baby in the bed for convenience. Like in this case - where Dr McKenna says the child is at risk. The mum is exhausted and unresponsive - and as recent cases in Australia have shown, the baby is at risk of any number of dangers, among them suffocation.
JAMES: I would suggest that you should have your baby in at least the room, because we know that babies that are at least in the room and they get stimulated by something, or maybe more inspections by the parent - they have a reduced risk of dying.
ANDI: You know, you wake up and you're like 'why am I awake?', and then a minute later they want a feed.
MICHAEL USHER: For these attachment mums back in Melbourne, the science validates what their instincts have always told them.
NATALIE: I think the biggest thing that women are often worried about is rolling onto their baby or hurting their baby, but you again instinctually know where your baby is.
SIMONE: I actually despair when I hear a mother of, say, a three- or four-week-old baby trying to actually detach themselves from the baby, to get the baby to sleep on their own, to learn to self-settle, and that makes me feel sad because, you know, you have this baby to be attached to the baby, and to have this baby with you. And then suddenly you're trying to push it away already?
BILL: It's not a trend. It's really in some ways going back to our roots. It's rediscovering the art of parenting and the science of parenting.
MICHAEL USHER: What are the benefits of children raised by attachment parents?
BILL: They're connected kids. When they get to school I've had many teachers come up to mums and dads and say 'you know, tell me what you've done to rear such a nice child.'
MICHAEL USHER: Molly certainly says that Amelia is proof of all of that. And she doesn't care how people judge her style of parenting - confident she's done exactly the right thing for her children.
MOLLY: They know they are safe, and I think that's part of attachment parenting - it creates a very, very secure, securely-attached child.
MICHAEL USHER: It doesn't make them clingy?
MOLLY: In my experience, no. They love being held, they love being cuddled, just as much as they want to get away.