Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep

Flashback Friday: Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep
When I was pregnant, a co-worker advised, “Don’t rock your baby too much—he’ll get used to it.” As I nodded my head and smiled politely, 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 exactly 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 quickly realized how easily he dozed off after a few bouncing and rocking in my arms. Somehow he only fell asleep in mine—a fact that I actually 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 that my arms were exhausted.

When my toddler was about four months old, I visited my sister when I noticed she had a yoga ball. “Can I try to see if I can bounce LO on the ball?” Not only did she agree, but she lent us the ball—a curse in disguise as I would soon learn. The ball seemed to work miracles: not only were my arms given a break, but the ball seemed to conk out my baby quicker than ever. 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 before gingerly placing him on the crib.

This rocking business wasn’t working out for us. A few months ago, SSBE reader Mommy Organics asked me what I would do differently if given the chance to do it all over again, and hands down I would not have rocked my baby to sleep. Perhaps with another baby or different techniques I wouldn’t have this sour experience with rocking, but as it is, below are the reasons why I wish I didn’t:

  • 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 to fall asleep, whether it’s rocking his head side to side or sucking on his thumb. But because we did all the work for him, he had few opportunities to develop that ability on his own.
  • Frequent wake-ups meant the entire family was all tired. Not only was our baby not sleeping on his own, he also didn’t know how to help himself fall back asleep when he woke up in the middle of sleep. And since our baby was a light sleeper, that meant waking up every hour and a half to two. We hardly reached deep sleep; even though we technically 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. Considering that he was still napping three times a day in addition to the evening where he would easily wake up three times a night, that’s a whole lot a bouncing. All the bouncing took a toll on my knees, and considering that my mom and two sisters already had knee issues, I didn’t want to exacerbate the pain and need surgery as well.
  • And lastly, my baby got to the point where he still cried despite all that 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 ended up crying in our arms the entire time. Something wasn’t working.

We ended up sleep-training our baby at six months old. While it’s not for everybody, sleep-training worked for our family. After two days, my baby was falling asleep on his own sans rocking. Considering that he was barely clocking in three-hour stretches of sleep, I just about died when he slept for 11 hours straight. He woke up more energetic, and we were so much happier for it.

Were I to have another baby or travel back in time, I wouldn’t jump to sleep-training as the first and only solution, but I probably could have employed a few techniques to avoid sleep issues to begin with, such as:

  • Put him down drowsy but awake. I had heard of this advice, and perhaps this is what my co-worker was referring to when she meant not to rock him too much. Instead, I ended up rocking or nursing my baby to drunken oblivion. Not only was he more likely to wake up confused as to how he ended up in a crib when he remembered being in someone’s arms, but he also wasn’t given a chance to learn how to fall asleep on his own.
  • Give him a chance to lie awake on his back. I felt this pressure to always carry my baby, and that if I even so much as lay him down I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Letting him enjoy time on his back probably would have helped him feel comfortable in his crib.
  • Nurse him when he just wakes up, not to fall asleep. I forget where I had heard of the E-A-S-Y technique (eat, awake, sleep, you), but the general idea is to feed your baby after he wakes up. We didn’t really have a routine in the beginning, but once we started getting into a rhythm, we eventually followed this technique.
  • Decrease or eliminate sleeping aids that I planned to wean him off of anyway. Darkened rooms and white noise is fine by me, but I wouldn’t have rocked, swaddled, or nursed to sleep if I intended on taking those away from him down the line. I’d rather that he didn’t need so many external sleeping aids and instead practice his own self-soothing skills.

You now know why my blog is titled the way it is. While parenting presents many challenges (ahem: tantrums), sleeping was by far the most difficult for us. I think we did our best knowing what we did, but boy if they had that time machine, I would have done a few things differently.

As for that yoga ball, we promptly returned it to my sister with the intention of never wanting to lay eyes on it again.

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?

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21 thoughts on “Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep

  1. We set up a sleep routine the day we transferred her to her crib. I think that was 3 months. She usually fell asleep to nursing, which I was extremely worried about! Around 4 months, we sleep trained and because we had a solid routine down she didn’t cry much. At that time, I also would wake her if she fell asleep nursing before bed because I wanted her to fall asleep on her own. I knew she was drowsy. I did the EASY method, too and LOVED it. I tried rocking her to sleep when she was little and she could care less. She was colicky for a couple months as a newborn…nothing could soothe her!

  2. I used a dummy a lot. I also put them both down drowsy after having their feed, and then other than feeding them during the night when they were little, I tried really hard not to pick them up again out of their cot. So I would go in and talk to them, sing, coo etc, stroke their hands (when they were little they slept in a cot in our bedroom where I could reach them), stroked tummies, foreheads etc and passed them dummies when they dropped them. But I didn’t pick them up. Which sounds awful but they very quickly got the idea that night time wasn’t play time and my eldest was sleeping through by 6 weeks, although my younger did hang on to a 3 o’clock feed until she was 4 or 5 months old, but she slept very well other than that.

  3. I love this post. I have the same regret, although our story is a bit different. I made the mistake of holding Eli for all of his naps (not at night, just during the day). I went back to works when we was 7 weeks old, and that’s when we realized that he couldn’t nap in his crib. It took like 2 whole months of “nap training” for him to sleep in his crib well during the day. Argh.

  4. Same regret! It was one of those things, though, were I felt like there weren’t any other options at the time. Baby had a hard go of it with reflux and colic at first so I was ready to do anything to make it easier for him. Then, he went through this phase where he would hit himself in the face while sleep twitching and wake himself up so we figured only swaddling would help (for the record, before I got to the desperation point of using those swaddle straight-jackets, I made fun of them as horrible contraptions. Oh how fate laughs at us…) Now, we are finding ourselves in the same situation that you describe where even rocking isn’t enough. So tiring!

  5. While we didn’t rock her to sleep, our kid required one of those super swaddles…for an eternity. I was worried that I would be buying an adult-sized swaddle to send her in college with. Ultimately, though, I never felt like I was taking it away from her because she eventually (though kind of late in her first year) she gave it up herself in favor of sucking her fingers. We have struggled with sleep with her for other reasons, ongoing, and while we never did an all-out sleep training (we always went in if her crying hit a certain point because without a doubt, if she reached a certain level she would throw up) we drew the line early and feel that she has been more self-sufficient as a result. I think I would transfer our second kid to a crib around the same time (2 months) but perhaps not use a swaddle unless we really, really needed it.

  6. You know, I don’t really know what we could have done differently. We did what you did and what you would do, and still we wound up with a little girl who can’t sleep unless we all go to bed.

  7. I hated rocking my baby until she was sleep trained, and now I miss it. haha Isn’t that the way it goes? We would spend like 2 hours trying to get her to sleep at night, rocking her and trading off when one of us got tired. It was so frustrating. Now we rock her for about 5 minutes and then put her in the crib and she falls asleep on her own. Sometimes I am tempted to stay and snuggle her longer. I know I’ll miss those days when she’d older.

  8. We would occasionally rock our daughter to sleep but we usually put her to sleep drowsy but awake. She’s always gone to sleep well on her own. We did do a little bit of sleep training (it took all of one night) after I weaned her around 13 months because she wanted to wake up super early.

  9. We were so desperate for ANY sleep when Monkey was a baby, I have no regrets for anything we did to get that sleep we needed. He was a naturally terrible sleeper. Whereas my friends’ babies all came home sleeping at least 2 hours at a stretch, Monkey slept 20-30 minutes at a stretch no matter what we tried. In our case, nursing all the way to sleep and nursing him back to sleep right away was the only thing that worked to let me get longer than 20-30 minute chunks of sleep. We tried all the things you are supposed to do (and a bunch of things you aren’t supposed to do like letting them sleep in a swing) and all it meant was that we were so sleep deprived after a few weeks we were verging on dangerous.

    So we co-slept and when he woke I put a breast in his mouth without necessarily waking up all the way myself. Within a few days of giving up, we felt halfway human again. We tried to be “good” parents and do things the “right” way…but the “right” way just didn’t work for us. As he got older, I periodically tried and eventually succeeded with the “gentle removal technique” (I think it was called) from The No-Cry Sleep Solution (which is similar to your suggestions above). If it didn’t work, we figured he wasn’t ready yet and went back to our old ways until we were ready to try again. Other than an occasional lapse when the time changes or he’s sick, C is a great sleeper now (age 3). Falls asleep easily and quickly, generally sleeps about 11 hours. We have a water bottle for him within his reach because most nights he wakes up at some point wanting a drink of water.

  10. Great post and discussion. Our first, Mbot, was a terrible sleeper; his little bro, Gbot, was a great sleeper. We didn’t rock either to sleep (at least on purpose) but we did superswaddle Mbot as tightly as possible–we called him Cannonball Mbot–and that helped until he was just too mobile. Gbot hated a swaddle, and didn’t need it. Into their toddler years, Mbot was still a terrible sleeper but slept when restrained in his car seat; Gbot hated the car seat restraints. He didn’t need them to calm down; he could calm himself. I had many terrible nights putting Mbot back in his crib (he began climbing out at 15 1/2 months, 2 weeks before Gbot was born–much too early to roam the house alone) and standing outside his door waiting for him to re-emerge–one night I think he came out thirty times before finally falling asleep on the pillows I’d strewn around just inside the door.

    At almost 4, Mbot still claims he doesn’t need to sleep (HAH) and fights it while Gbot climbs into bed announcing “I need a nap” when he’s drowsy. I guess the moral here is that two children treated virtually the same from birth still have such different sleep habits. I was a zombie for the first five months of Mbot’s life–but at least I didn’t ruin my knees! What we do for our children. Motherhood is so not easy–but to quote Deni Lyn (Diary of a Reluctant Mother blog), “we all try so hard, don’t we?” Those words stuck with me. We are all trying so hard! And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, and we only have partial control over any outcome.

  11. I wonder the same thing as what’s been mentioned: would he have continued to be a terrible sleeper even if I *had* tried different things? A part of me feels like we did what we did based on what we thought he needed. Then again, I also learned about not rocking, putting down drowsy, EASY method and such *after* the fact, so who knows! And like Betsy says, even if a family were to have baby #2, there’s still no guarantee that doing the same or even different methods would work for that kid. Sigh… We indeed are all trying so hard!

    • It’s funny that you mention baby #2… My hubby and I had the worst time figuring out how to get #1 to sleep. We didnt sleep train untill 18 months when a friend intervened and gave us “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby.” It was a miracle. She cried it out for 2 nights then slept for 10 hours straight. In 2 nights!!! So, when we had #2, we thought we had it all worked out. And he is the easy baby.
      We still really struggled with putting him down drowsy, and still don’t do it, and I hold him for all of his naps. All things we thought we’d be tought about. But, we did sleep train at 5 months when I stopped breast feeding and he sleeps through 10 hours. So, one battle won, a war to go…

  12. What great advice, I always tell new mums don’t rock or demand feed your babies I did that with my first and we didn’t sleep for 14 months, we then also did the sleep training and he went from sleeping 2 hrs to 10 hrs straight. My second pregnancy was triplets and from the moment they come home they were taught to self settle and schedule feed. Best thing I ever did.

  13. My first baby was brilliant! A little co-sleeping for mama to nurse without getting out of bed, and she began sleeping through the night at 3 months, moving to a crib was no problem then. My second was a little demon in a cute body. She would scream inconsolably for 6 hours EVERY night beginning at 9pm. There was nothing we could do. Nothing.

  14. I feel the same way about the pacifier. At first, that thing worked so good at putting my daughter to sleep, I totally ran with it. But then her sleep got worse and worse cause it would always fall out until we were at a point that she was waking up every 60 to 90 minutes all night long. I was going to crazy. So we had to sleep train too. It was hard at first, but man, did it work wonders. Last night we got our longest stretch ever at 10.5 hours, plus a couple more to close out the night.

  15. Roarke had the strongest sucking reflex the baby yoga techer had ever seen… At five months he drank a full 8oz (might have been ten, not sure) feed in under 4 minutes, and she was gobsmacked!
    Yes, I used a dummy from a young age (3 days) but that was also due to him being in hospital and waking every hour or two for something to suck on, mainly for the comfort (he rarely actually drunk anything).
    He stopped using it himself at about 18 months. I was planning how to get rid of it, when I went to town without it and he didn’t care. I hid them as soon as I got home and he never bothered about them again!
    He also slept in our bed until he was ready to go into his own because no matter how many times I tried to put him down, hubby ended up undoing any progress I made by falling asleep feeding him in our bed/falling asleep with him.
    At the time I regret it, and I do still occasionally, but now (well, before the potty training began) he had 2 minute cuddles, I read in a chair outside his room until he fed asleep and daddy took him his juice when he got back from work. He has to have the hall light on, but as it’s pitch-black in our flat at night with no lights, I let him off!

  16. Jessica Baker and jrsgifts, I had to look up what you guys meant by “dummy” lol. According to good ol’ Google, it means a pacifier, but Jessica, when I first read your post I thought it meant a stuffed toy, like a way for your kiddo to feel like there was still someone there haha. Then I saw jrsgifts’ comment and figured, okay maybe they mean pacifier.

  17. Rocking was something I was determined never to do right from the word go! I had seen too many friends around me lose patience while rocking their babies to sleep. It seemed they needed increased energetic rocking as they grew older, gentle bounces didn’t cut it after a time. I would place my baby in the crib while he was awake after a feed, I would not let him fall asleep at the breast. Thank God for that because he has learnt to fall asleep on his own no matter where we are. Frankly, I just did not or do not have the patience to rock!

  18. I appreciate your thoughts and am hopeful many new moms read it to gather ideas when they are in desperate need for help. I unfortunately had a velcro baby that didn’t want to be out of my arms awake or asleep. If I had put her down drowsy, she cried. If I had not let her nurse, she cried. If I gave her to someone else, she cried.

    I bounced her. I swaddled her. I rocked her. I nursed her. I turned on white noise. Yes, it was tiring. Yes, I was exhausted. Yes, my PPD likely became more severe due to it, but I never sleep trained or let her cry it out. Your suggested techniques work for a vast majority of babies, but not all.

    The purpose of this comment is to let those moms know that someday their children will learn to sleep on their own. Bit by bit you’ll notice it gets easier and easier, until one day they just lie down and close their eyes on their own.

    I have no regrets and would not have done anything differently.

  19. Nice post! We rocked our baby to sleep, too. And we regret it very much! After our first baby, we made a vow that if ever we will have another one we wont rock the baby to sleep. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fulfill our promise. 😦 Just recently, we had an out-of-town trip (an 8-hour drive) and our second baby really suffered. During the trip, he looked for the bouncing and rocking motion. Since he did not get it, he became so fussy and you know what it means when your baby is acting that way.

  20. I had a similar issue with my daughter- except I would nurse her to sleep. We also had her co-sleep with us. In the beginning it was so easy to just roll over & feed her in the middle of the night. I felt I was getting more rest. Now, 3 years later, she is still in our bed. I wake up with feet in my face or my back every morning. People warned me too, but I didn’t listen. I am not going to make the same mistakes with #2 (I hope). It also took forever to wean her completely, because she needed that sucking motion to help her fall asleep. I knew the day that I heard her ask for “bee-bee” (she meant boobie) enough was enough. It took about a week of her crying it out at bedtime and finally the habit was broken. If I only I could do this to get her into her own bed.

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