When I was pregnant, a co-worker advised, “Don’t get in the habit of rocking baby to sleep — he’ll get used to it.” As I nodded my head and smiled, all I could think was, “Cruel woman! How could she suggest such an idea?!”
Well… six months, two broken knees, and one sleep-deprived mama later, I knew why she suggested not rocking baby to sleep. (I’ll get to the broken knees later.)
After bringing my baby home, I realized he’d dozed off after a few bouncing and rocking in my arms. Somehow he only fell asleep in mine—a fact I took great pride in: “Only mama has the special touch!” I used all sorts of crazy rocking. The side-to-side stepping to the bob-and-weave move of rocking baby to sleep. But the constant rocking plus a growing baby meant my arms were exhausted.
When my toddler was about four months old, I visited my sister and noticed she had a yoga ball. “Can I use it to bounce the baby on the ball?” Not only did she agree, she also lent us the ball—a curse in disguise as I would soon learn. The ball seemed to work miracles: my arms got a break and my baby slept immediately. 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 have to bounce him for several minutes each time before placing him in the crib.
This rocking baby to sleep business wasn’t working for us.
Below are the reasons I regret rocking baby to sleep:
- 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 unsustainable (we couldn’t rock him the whole night). They also prevented him from falling asleep on his own. He could’ve explored self-soothing techniques, such as rocking his head or sucking his thumb. But because we did all the work for him, he had few opportunities to develop this ability on his own.
- Frequent wake-ups meant the entire family felt tired. Our baby couldn’t sleep on his own and didn’t know how to fall back asleep when he woke up in the middle of the night. And our baby’s light sleeping 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. He was still napping three times a day (besides the evenings where he would wake up three times a night). While my arms got a break from bouncing on a yoga ball, my knees to a hit.
- My baby still cried despite the rocking. The “bonding experience” between parent and child brought us misery instead. Somehow the rocking itself wasn’t soothing enough, and he would in our arms the entire time. Something wasn’t working.
Were I to travel back in time, I would’ve tried a few techniques to lessen our reliance on rocking baby to sleep.
How to stop rocking your baby to sleep:
- Put him down drowsy but awake. Perhaps this is what my co-worker was referring to when she meant not to rock him too much. Rather than rocking or nursing my baby to oblivion, I would’ve rocked him only to a drowsy state. This would’ve given him a head start on falling asleep while still giving him the chance to fall asleep on his own.
- Give him a chance to lie awake on his back. It really is okay to put your baby down on the ground and not carry him every minute. Letting him enjoy time on his back would have helped him feel comfortable in his crib.
- Nurse when he wakes up. 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, not to help him fall asleep. He relied less on nursing to fall asleep, and nursing after waking up gave him energy during his awake time.
- Sleep train when your baby is old enough. For us, sleep training was the ultimate solution to stop rocking. He wouldn’t fall asleep any other way than rocking. Once he was older, we sleep trained him to fall asleep on his own.
Rocking your baby to sleep isn’t a big bad terrible thing to do. But it can be exhausting, and for many exasperated parents, one of the most draining to do over and over again. Instead of rocking, give your baby a chance to fall asleep on his own, putting him down drowsy but awake. And hopefully your baby will learn to rely less and less on rocking to sleep.
Want to read more? Check out these related posts:
- “Help! My Newborn Only Sleeps when Held.”
- How to Stay Calm when Your Baby Won’t Nap
- Your Child Won’t Nap? Read This.
- Bedtime Battles: How to Come Out on the Winning End
- Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night
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 your baby to sleep? Let me know in the comments!
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