Well… six months, two broken knees, and one sleep-deprived mama later, I knew why she suggested not to rock my baby to sleep. (I’ll get to the broken knees later.)
After bringing my baby home from the hospital, I realized how he’d dozed off after a few bouncing and rocking in my arms. Somehow he only fell asleep in mine—a fact that I took great pride in: “Only mama has the special touch!” I employed all sorts of crazy rocking, from the side-to-side stepping to the bob-and-weave rocking. But the constant rocking plus a growing baby meant that my arms were exhausted.
When my toddler was about four months old, I visited my sister when I noticed she had a yoga ball. “Can I try to see if I can bounce the baby on the ball?” Not only did she agree, but she lent us the ball—a curse in disguise as I would soon learn. The ball seemed to work miracles: my arms got a break, but the ball seemed to conk out my baby quicker than ever. But with our ever-growing dependence on the ball, my baby grew to rely on motion to fall asleep, so much so that we would bounce him for several minutes before placing him on the crib.
This rocking business wasn’t working out for us. A few months ago, SSBE reader Mommy Organics asked me what I would do differently if given the chance to do it all over again, and I said I would not have rocked my baby to sleep. Perhaps with another baby or different techniques
I wouldn’t have this sour experience with rocking, but below are the reasons I wish I didn’t:
- My baby relied exclusively on external sleeping aids. We all have sleeping aids, some of them as common as sleeping in a dark room or hearing white noise. But my baby’s sleeping aids were not only unsustainable (we couldn’t rock him the whole night) but prevented him from falling asleep on his own. He could have explored self-soothing techniques to fall asleep, whether it’s rocking his head side to side or sucking on his thumb. But because we did all the work for him, he had few opportunities to develop that ability on his own.
- Frequent wake-ups meant the entire family was tired. Not only was our baby not sleeping on his own, he also didn’t know how to help himself fall back asleep when he woke up in the middle of sleep. And since our baby was a light sleeper, that meant waking up every hour and a half to two. We hardly reached deep sleep; even though we clocked in eight hours, our bodies weren’t rested.
- My knees gave out. Our baby required at least 10 minutes of ball bouncing per sleep session. Considering that he was still napping three times a day in addition to the evening where he would wake up three times a night, that’s a whole lot a bouncing. All the bouncing took a toll on my knees, and considering that my mom and two sisters already had knee issues, I didn’t want to exacerbate the pain and need surgery as well.
- And lastly, my baby got to the point where he still cried despite all that rocking. In what is supposed to be a nurturing act—a bonding experience between parent and child—brought us both misery instead. Somehow the rocking itself wasn’t soothing enough, and he ended up crying in our arms the entire time. Something wasn’t working.
We ended up sleep training our baby at six months old. While it’s not for everybody, sleep training worked for our family. After two days, my baby was falling asleep on his own sans rocking. Considering that he was clocking in three-hour stretches of sleep, I just about died when he slept for 11 hours straight. He woke up more energetic, and we were so much happier for it.
Were I to have another baby or travel back in time, I wouldn’t jump to sleep training as the first and only solution.
I could have employed a few techniques to avoid sleep issues to begin with, such as:
- Put him down drowsy but awake. I had heard of this advice, and perhaps this is what my co-worker was referring to when she meant not to rock him too much. Instead, I ended up rocking or nursing my baby to drunken oblivion. Not only was he more likely to wake up confused as to how he ended up in a crib when he remembered being in someone’s arms, but he also wasn’t given a chance to learn how to fall asleep on his own.
- Give him a chance to lie awake on his back. I felt this pressure to always carry my baby, and that if I even so much as lay him down I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Letting him enjoy time on his back would have helped him feel comfortable in his crib.
- Nurse him when he just wakes up, not to fall asleep. After hearing about Tracy Hogg’s E-A-S-Y technique (eat, awake, sleep, you), I learned to feed my baby after he wakes up. We didn’t have a routine in the beginning, but once we started getting into a rhythm, we followed this technique.
- Decrease or eliminate sleeping aids that I planned to wean him off anyway. Darkened rooms and white noise is fine by me, but I wouldn’t have rocked, swaddled, or nursed to sleep if I intended on taking those away from him down the line. I’d rather he didn’t need so many external sleeping aids and instead practice his own self-soothing skills.
You now know how I titled my blog. While parenting presents many challenges (ahem: tantrums), sleeping was by far the most difficult for us. We did our best knowing what we did, but boy if they had that time machine, I would have done a few things differently.
As for that yoga ball, we returned it to my sister with the intention of never wanting to lay eyes on it again.
Want to read more? Check out these related posts:
For parents who rocked their babies to sleep: did you love it or hate it? For parents who didn’t rock their babies, how did you get him or her to fall asleep?