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 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 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 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 my baby to sleep business wasn’t working for us.
Below are the reasons I wish I hadn’t rocked my 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 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, such as rocking his head side to side 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 was tired. Not only was our baby unable to sleep on his own, he also 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 (in addition to 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.
- And lastly, my baby got to the point where he still cried despite the 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 would in our arms the entire time. Something wasn’t working.
Were I to have another baby or travel back in time, I would’ve tried a few techniques to lessen our reliance on rocking, such as:
- 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 drunken oblivion, I could’ve tried rocking him only to the point of being drowsy and putting him down slightly awake. 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 or sucking to fall asleep, and nursing after waking up gave him energy during his awake time.
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 and frustrating things 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 him or her to fall asleep? Let me know in the comments!