It’s natural to pick up your child and rock them when they’re upset. The constant movement to and fro calms any colicky or fussy baby, and this habit of rocking your baby to sleep is not a bad thing or bad habit as others might try to portray it. But there comes a time when your baby becomes too big and heavy for you to rock her around. But, hey, if you can still rock your 3-year-old baby, then that’s great, but parents who want to change this habit of rocking their baby to sleep have to adopt other methods.
Rocking your newborn to sleep doesn’t have much difference in their sleep pattern, but rocking your 5months+ baby to sleep often becomes the reason for them waking up often in the night. There are few techniques you can adapt to reduce rocking to sleep. You can introduce gentle music or lullabies for your baby to calm down and slowly become drowsy. You can also introduce baby books to their sleep routine.
If your baby tends to wake up multiple times, try rocking a little only to resettle her instead of rocking her in the beginning. The main method you can use is to let your baby explore ways of self-soothing, and this way both of you can get enough sleep through the night without the constant waking and rocking.
Table of Contents
Does rocking really help the baby to sleep?
During the first few weeks to months of a baby’s life, he or she is probably sleeping in a bassinet or crib that is placed in your room.
Rocking your baby helps him, or her feel safer and more secure, calming him or her to a level where it is easier to fall asleep. The close contact of holding and rocking your baby and the rhythmic movement helps to relax them. For newborn babies, how they fall asleep doesn’t really have an impact on their sleep. As their sleep routine isn’t established yet, they tend to fall in and out of sleep cycles, but if your baby is rocked to sleep and then placed in a bassinet or her crib, she will wake up again when she realizes you’re not there or that the constant movement she was used to sleeping has now stopped.
Also, research terms babies who have been rocked to sleep as ‘catnappers’, meaning they will sleep only for a little while before they’re up again and you’re trying to rock them back to sleep.
Remember, for babies above 5 months of age, a sleeping pattern is established, they now know a difference between day and night. So, if your baby used to sleep through the night till now, she will start waking up multiple times, and soon you’ll be exhausted from the rocking and realize that the duration of rocking your baby is increasing day by day, and it’s taking longer than usual to put your baby to sleep with rocking.
As your baby starts to sleep through the night more regularly, it’s time to encourage him or her to develop a bit more independence. Once children reach around a year of age, you might be thinking about transitioning them to a crib in their own room.
At this time, it is time to wean your baby off of rocking to sleep with a few steps that you can include in your baby’s bedtime routine.
Why rocking your baby to sleep becomes problematic?
When we say ‘rocking to sleep’, the word ‘rocking’ here is used as an umbrella term, and it covers all types of movements that you use to settle your baby to sleep like-
- Rocking in your arms on your knees
- Using an electric baby swing
- Car-rides or rocking the capsule
- Bouncing on a swiss ball with the baby in your arms or on your shoulder
- Patting your baby’s back or cuddling them
- Walking around with baby till they fall asleep
- Bouncing baby in a bouncinette
- Using the buggy to settle baby
- Jiggling or swaying the baby
- Bouncing baby in a hammock
- Any other way you move your baby to get them to sleep…
When your baby is born, all you want to do is cuddle and hold them, especially when they get upset or sleepy, and if anyone comes telling you to stop rocking your baby to sleep for your own good, you might want to either punch them or curse them away (and I won’t blame you). But, after a few months, you’ll realize what they were trying to tell you.
Your child will completely depend on rocking during bedtime
The first and foremost issue with rocking your baby to sleep in their sleep pattern or sleep behavior completely relies on you or a caretaker rocking them to sleep. They will not be able to sleep without someone rocking them, so it becomes a struggle if someone tries to put your baby to sleep without rocking.
As you’re doing all the work for your baby, she won’t be able to explore other ways or techniques to self-soothe when she wakes up in the middle of the night and will depend again on you to rock her to sleep.
Increase in nighttime waking
The second issue you and your partner will face is that your baby won’t be able to fall asleep on her own again when she wakes up often during the night. As she doesn’t know how to self-soothe herself like rocking her head from side to side or sucking her thumb, she will rely on you to rock her.
This means every time your baby wakes up, you’ll need to wake up too, because when a baby is rocked to sleep, they’ll expect to be rocked again every time they wake up, and this will last for many months if your baby’s sleep routine is not changed.
Rocking your baby will still not be enough
Rocking your baby every night doesn’t guarantee that your baby will be quick to fall asleep. There will be some days when your baby will take even more than 1 hour of rocking to fall asleep, and this 1 hour will be the most tiring time of your day, between calming your crying baby and rocking her, your energy will surely and completely burn out.
Introduce other calming methods to wean off rocking
The first step is to introduce other calming methods or external sleeping aids that can take the place of your rhythmic rocking. Your baby is used to being rocked to sleep, and if you don’t replace it with something else, it will be harder for your child to fall asleep at night.
You might want to introduce some calming music into your child’s sleep routine. The music or the lullaby you play will provide your child with something soothing to listen to as he or she falls asleep. It will help your child feel secure and comfortable to be able to fall asleep on her own. Sure, during the initial period your baby will want you to be beside her, touching and comforting her. So lie down with her on your bed or sit beside her crib.
Some albums have been specifically designed for babies who are trying to fall asleep. You can also consider the popular option of a white noise machine.
Spread some calming scent
There are certain smells or aroma that makes you relax. Remember every time you’re in the spa for a massage, there’s an aroma around that helps you feel relaxed and comfortable. So, similarly for babies introducing a calming scent in the room might help them feel relax and make them realize that it’s time for bed.
Lavender is a popular option, as this will help your child relax as he or she falls asleep. Aromatherapy can act as a great sleep aid for your baby. Remember, whatever technique you use, consistency is the key, and slowly the music you play or the book you read to them becomes small sleep cues for them. If you repeat your routine every day, as your child relates rocking with sleep, so she will start relating the same bedtime routine with sleeping.
Let your baby learn to self-soothe
Let your child explore different ways to self-soothe, and for this, you need to stop rocking her every night to sleep. Place your baby in the crib when she’s drowsy but awake. Your baby might put up a struggle in the beginning, but slowly with time, and consistency, your baby will learn different ways to self-soothe and will sleep on her own even when she wakes up again in the night.
Give your baby a safety blanket
You can also think about providing your child with a small, soft, sensory blanket that can help him or her feel safe. Sometimes, very light-weighted blankets can work as well. Wrap your baby in the blanket because this will provide him or her with a sense of safety and security, a warm touch resembling that of mom or dad.
Introducing some of these good habits will develop sleep quality and create a better sleep cue for them when it’s time to go down for the night (or even naptime).
Read Your Child a Comforting Sleep Book
For your child to fall asleep, you still need to be with him or her before he or she goes to sleep. This is a critical part of the new sleep plan transition. Sit next to his or her crib after wrapping your child in the blanket. Then, read a short story. Speak softly and watch as your child falls asleep. Use this as you transition away from rocking using the method below.
Try the eat-play-sleep routine
Many parents adopt this simple and gentle routine of first feeding their baby (breast milk or formula if your baby is under 6 months of age, and solids if they’re more than 6 months old), then letting them play it out, and letting them sleep on their own.
You can also try bathing them after their play and before their sleep. Bathing your baby before their nighttime sleep often relaxes and comforts them, so bathe your baby first and then you can try reading them a book, and place them in their crib only when they’re drowsy and not asleep.
Remember, the sudden change can be too much for your baby. A baby always being rocked to sleep is no more rocked on one fine day can be harsh for the baby. So, always start slow when trying to make changes in a particular routine. So, you can start by making her sleep in a sleep blanket while rocking her, and give her a dummy. You can also add white noise in the background while you rock her. This way, you rocking her to sleep every night doesn’t become the main association to falling to sleep. Your baby will slowly start relating other things too to sleep, and you can gradually decrease the rocking duration.
Log your rocking times and wean gradually
Once you have introduced other calming methods into your child’s bedtime routine, it is time to wean him or her off of rocking. There is a method that you should follow to make sure this transition is as smooth as possible. Consistency and commitment to the method are important.
The transitioning steps are:
- Rock your child as you normally would for two weeks after introducing the other calming methods as well as the story. During this time, write down how long you rock him or her every night.
- After two weeks, begin to shorten the duration regarding how long your rock your child.
- If you normally rock your child for ten minutes before putting him or her down, rock him or her for ten minutes on the first night.
- The next night, rock him or her for eight minutes before placing him or her down.
- The following night, rock him or her for six minutes.
- After this, rock him or her for four minutes.
- On the next night, rock your baby for two minutes.
- Do not rock your child after this.
Overall, this transition from normally rocking to eliminating rocking should take about a week. If you find that your child is still a bit fussy after you rock him or her for the designated number of minutes, then hold him or her without rocking, to ensure your little one’s well-being. This will help your child get used to the idea of going to sleep without rocking.
As with other baby habits that you are trying to break, the goal is to develop a smooth, gradual transition that prevents your child from having to go without rocking cold turkey. This is more likely to lead to a successful transition and alleviate some of the stress that you might feel otherwise.
Wean your child off rocking successfully
Rocking to sleep can become a very strong habit for parents and baby completely relying on it to make the baby sleep. So, weaning off rocking demands a huge commitment from you, and it will be necessary to introduce new methods in your child’s sleep time routine.
Your child is used to the comfort and safety of being rocked. So, as you gradually remove rocking, you should introduce something else. This is why reading books, providing soft music, wrapping him or her in a security blanket, and using soothing scents can all play an important role in helping your child fall asleep on her own.
Even though rocking your child to sleep can be effective, once your child reaches a year of age, it is time to think about weaning this process away. These gradual steps can help you wean your child off of rocking to sleep successfully. But, this doesn’t also mean to let your baby ‘cry it out’ to learn to self-settle back to sleep. There are many other ways that you can teach your child to sleep on their own without the whole house coming down on you. Slowly start the process and stick to a routine that works absolutely best for you and the baby.
Also, Mamas, remember that weaning from rocking will mean you to completely stop rocking your baby in any form and letting them sleep on their own. Consistency and total commitment are necessary for this to work, so only start the process of weaning from rocking when YOU are ready.
Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not busy cooking and running after her kid, you can find her in a corner reading, or penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best’.