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 many sleep deprived nights later, I knew why.
(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, from my side-to-side stepping to my bob-and-weave move. But the constant rocking plus a growing baby meant my arms felt exhausted.
4 reasons I regret rocking baby to sleep
When my son was four months old, I visited my sister and noticed she had a yoga ball. “Can I use it to bounce the baby to sleep?” Not only did she agree, she also lent us the ball to use at home—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 began to rely on the bouncing motion to fall asleep. So much so that we’d have to bounce him for several minutes each time before placing him in the crib.
This rocking baby business wasn’t working for us. Here’s why:
1. 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. While I could keep white noise all night with no problem, there was no way I could rock him for hours on end.
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 I did all the work for him, he had few opportunities to develop this ability on his own.
2. Frequent wake-ups meant the entire family felt tired
My 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 his light sleeping meant waking up every hour and a half to two. I’d never reach deep sleep—even though I’d clock in eight hours, my body didn’t feel rested.
So rather than everyone sleeping through the night, we all would wake up throughout the night. Not only would we wake up many times, we’d also have to spend several minutes rocking baby to sleep before we were finally able to sleep as well.
And that’s on the good nights when he’d actually fall asleep—sometimes he’d wake up the minute we set him down.
3. My knees gave out
While my arms got a break from bouncing on a yoga ball, my knees to a hit. My baby required at least 10 minutes of ball bouncing per sleep session. Since he was still napping three times a day and waking up about three times a night, that’s at least six times of bouncing throughout the day.
And again, that’s assuming he’d fall asleep when I set him down. Many times, I’d bounce for 10 minutes only for him to wake up the minute I put him down. That means another set of 10 minutes of bouncing all over again.
4. My baby still cried despite the rocking
Rocking baby to sleep is fine if both parent and baby enjoy the moment. But the “bonding experience” brought us misery instead. Somehow the rocking itself wasn’t soothing enough, and my baby would cry in our arms the entire time. Something wasn’t working.
I even tried bouncing harder on the yoga ball, which seemed to calm him down a little. But over time, even that didn’t work. Everything seemed backward. I had started rocking baby to sleep to avoid his crying. But it turns out, he was still crying regardless of how much or how long I rocked him.
How to stop rocking baby to sleep
I later learned a few techniques I should’ve started from day one. These sleep habits helped my baby learn to fall asleep on his own and rely less on rocking.
Then, when I gave birth to twins three years later, I vowed not to repeat the same mistakes. I wanted to rely less on rocking to allow my twins to put themselves to sleep.
Here’s how to stop rocking baby to sleep, and the habits to start early on:
Put him down drowsy but awake
The problem with rocking is that it doesn’t allow your child to learn to fall asleep on his own. We’re doing all the work for them without giving them a chance to suck their thumbs or roll their heads side to side. They can’t even experience what it feels like to drift off to sleep alone in a crib.
Perhaps this is what my co-worker was referring to when she meant not to rock him too much. Rather than rocking or nursing your baby to sleep, try rocking him only to a drowsy state. This gives him a head start on falling asleep while still allowing 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 and not carry him every minute. Let’s say your baby is drowsy, so you slowly lay him down in his crib. Except the minute you do, his eyes fly wide open.
It’s tempting to scoop him back up and rock him back to a drowsy state. But give him a chance to lie awake. He’s taking in the change in environment and can still fall asleep even if you lay him down awake.
Letting him lay on his back gives him a chance to feel comfortable being alone on his back, not being rocked.
I never believed this until I had my twins—I’d often find them asleep a few minutes later, even though I had put them down wide awake.
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After hearing about Tracy Hogg’s E-A-S-Y technique, which stands for eat, awake, sleep, you, I fed my baby after he woke up. I didn’t nurse 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.
By feeding him after he wakes up, he stopped relying on nursing (and being held) to fall asleep. Instead, he began to associate feeding with waking up.
Sleep train when your baby is old enough
Sleep training was the ultimate solution to stop rocking and all its external sleep aids. Whereas earlier he was able to fall asleep for a few hours at a time, not until I sleep trained him did he sleep an astonishing 11-12 hours at night without waking up once.
Check with your pediatrician to see if you can sleep train him to sleep through the night. Getting my nights back through sleep training was by far the biggest turning point in my own sleep and well-being.
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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. Give him a chance to lie on his back awake. And down the line, consider sleep training if he’s old enough. Soon, your baby will learn to rely less on rocking to sleep—and you just might save your arms and knees.
Want a step-by-step guide to helping your baby sleep through the night? I created a guide just for you! Grab your copy of How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe right here:
Tell me in the comments: What are your biggest struggles with rocking baby?