When I was pregnant, a co-worker advised, “Don’t get in the habit of rocking your 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 would doze off after a few moments of bouncing and rocking in my arms. He even only fell asleep in mine—a fact I took great pride in back then: “Only mama has the special touch!”
I used all sorts of crazy rocking, from side-to-side stepping to my bob-and-weave move. But the constant rocking plus a growing baby meant my arms couldn’t hold up for much longer.
4 reasons I regret rocking my baby to sleep
When he was four months old, I visited my sister and noticed she had a yoga ball. “Can I use that to bounce him 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, he began to rely solely 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.
What had once been an effective way to put him to sleep was quickly becoming a problem. Here’s why:
1. My baby relied 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—rocking in particular—were not always sustainable. 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 wasn’t able to explore self-soothing techniques, like rocking his head side to side or sucking his thumb. 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
Not only could my baby not sleep on his own, he didn’t know how to fall back to sleep when he woke up in the middle of the night. Each wake up meant we’d have to wake up and rock him back to sleep instead of hoping he’d settle himself.
And his light sleeping meant he was waking up every hour or two. The wake ups were so frequent that I never reached 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 would all wake up throughout the night many times. We’d also have to spend several minutes rocking him 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 took 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 added up to 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, even with the rocking
Rocking your baby to sleep is fine if both parent and baby enjoy the moment. But for some (myself included), the “bonding experience” brings misery instead. Somehow the rocking itself wasn’t soothing enough, and my baby would cry in my 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 at first. But over time, even that didn’t work. Everything seemed backward: I had started rocking him 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 your 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. By doing these simple steps, they were far better able to sleep on their own than their older brother was.
If you want to stop rocking your baby to sleep, take a look at these habits to start early on:
1. Give your baby a chance to self soothe
Check with your pediatrician to see if your baby can sleep through the night. Once he can self soothe and put himself to sleep, you’ll get your evenings back, perhaps the biggest turning point in your sleep and well-being.
After all, self soothing gives him the ability to stop relying on unsustainable sleep aids like needing you to rock him to sleep. This is when you start to see him sleep a solid 11-12 hours at night without waking up once.
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2. Put your baby down drowsy but awake
Not ready to sleep train? Try putting your baby down drowsy but awake.
The problem with rocking is that it doesn’t allow your baby to learn to fall asleep on his own. You’re doing all the work for him without giving him a chance to suck his thumbs or roll his head side to side. He 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 my baby 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.
3. Give your baby 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 he’s 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, especially since he’s not even crying. He’s taking in the change in environment and can still fall asleep even if you lay him down awake.
Letting him lie on his back gives him a chance to feel comfortable being alone in this position, not being rocked. He’ll have more opportunities to learn how to fall asleep when he’s lying down awake to do so.
I never believed this until I had my twins. I finally gave it a go, giving them a few minutes to fall asleep even if their eyes were open after I put them down in the crib or bassinet. Then, lo and behold, I’d eventually find them asleep a few minutes later, even though I had put them down wide awake.
4. Feed your baby after wake up time
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If you’re like me, you assumed that feeding your baby to sleep was the way to go. He likely conks out mid-feed, making it ideal to set him down for a nap.
But after hearing about Tracy Hogg’s E-A-S-Y technique (which stands for eat, awake, sleep, you), I started to feed my baby after he woke up, not before. In doing so, he relied less on nursing (and being held) to fall asleep, breaking yet another habit that relied on external sleep aids.
Instead, he began to associate feeding with waking up. Feeding after waking up also gave him energy during the time he needed it most—while he was awake—and avoided spit up from lying down so soon after eating.
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.
Personally, I regretted rocking my baby to sleep. He learned to rely on external sleep aids instead of self soothing. Frequent wake ups meant the entire family was exhausted. My knees were ready to bust, and most important, even the rocking eventually stopped working.
If you’re in the same boat, rest assured you can turn things around.
Start by giving your baby a chance to fall asleep on his own, putting him down drowsy but awake. Let him lie awake on his back, and feed him after waking up, not to sleep.
Soon, he’ll learn to rely less on rocking to sleep—and you just might save your arms and knees.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Crying from Naps
- The Biggest Reason Your Baby Will Not Sleep (Even After All This Time)
- 5 Reasons Your Baby Wakes Up Crying Hysterically
- Baby Only Wants Mom? These 6 Tips Will Solve It!
- A New Mom’s Guide to a Baby Fighting Sleep
Still struggling with putting your baby to sleep or wish he could learn to self soothe and sleep on his own? Join my newsletter and discover the 5 mistakes that are keeping your baby from self-soothing!
Whether you’ve tried to teach your baby to self soothe in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at the 5 key mistakes to avoid. Download your PDF below—at no cost to you: