Wondering how to stop rocking your baby to sleep? Don’t despair: read on to find seven tips for how to say bye-bye to sleepless nights and help your baby fall asleep independently.
Here’s a story that has happened to many mothers:
After bringing your baby home, you quickly realized that she would immediately fall asleep after a few minutes of rocking in your arms. Proud, you felt like you’re genuinely bonding with your little one.
People would often tell you: “Don’t get in the habit of rocking your baby to sleep — she’ll get used to it,” but you just nodded and thought how preposterous their claims were.
Well, six months and many sleep-deprived nights later, you now know they were right!
For many babies, rocking—or any other rhythmic movement—acts as a natural sleep aid as it reminds them of being inside their mother’s body.
However, there’s a big downside. Your baby will develop a sleep association.
In other words, if you’re rocking her to sleep, then she will think she needs you to fall back to sleep when she wakes up from sleeping. This will translate into frequent wake-ups, sleep deprivation for the entire family, and a great deal of crying.
Luckily, there’s a way how to stop rocking your baby to sleep.
First, create and follow a consistent bedtime routine
A consistent bedtime routine will do half of the work for you. When everything’s the same every night, your baby will feel comforted as she’ll know what to expect.
It doesn’t have to be anything overly complicated. Start the routine one hour before bedtime by dimming the lights. Give her a bath, change her diapers, and read a bedtime story.
Each activity will get your child more relaxed and ready to fall asleep.
Try some patting settling techniques
Teaching your little one that it’s possible to fall asleep in her crib and not while being rocked will involve some crying.
You can try to calm her down during the toughest first couple of days by trying rhythmic, gentle patting. Rhythmic patting is a commonly used hands-on technique for helping babies fall asleep.
Here’s one way to do it:
- Place your little one on her crib, lying on her side, facing away from you.
- Place your hand on her shoulder.
- Cup your other hand and gently pat her on the bottom or thigh.
- Make the patting as rhythmic as possible.
- Try saying “shhh” on each pat or sing a quiet, soothing song to find a rhythm.
Slowly reduce the amount of rocking you do
Before you start reducing the amount of rocking, dedicate one night to measure how long you rock your baby to sleep.
For example, let’s say that you’re rocking her to sleep for a total of 10 minutes.
On the first night, try rocking her for eight minutes.
On the second night, rock her for six minutes, four minutes on the third night, and so on, until the moment you notice she’s getting drowsy. Once she gets drowsy, put her in her crib and apply the patting technique I’ve discussed above.
Over time, start putting her down while she’s fully awake
Over time, you should start putting her into bed fully awake and not drowsy. Rock her until she feels calm and get her into bed. Use your patting to get her into that drowsy state while she’s lying in the crib.
Cautiously, reduce the amount of patting
At some point, you’ll have to stop patting your baby to sleep gradually, so she doesn’t become entirely dependent on it.
Just like with the rocking, each night, limit your “pat time” by a minute or two. Stop when she’s calm but still awake.
Stop patting but leave your hand on her bottom or thigh for a minute for reassurance. After a minute, leave her room quietly without waking her up.
If she cries—and she may—don’t rush to comfort her. Give her a chance to self-soothe first. If the crying persists, go back into the room and do the patting technique once again.
Introduce some additional positive sleep associations
Not all sleep associations are bad. Whether a sleep association is good or bad depends on who’s carrying out the action that helps your baby fall asleep.
Negative sleep associations involve somebody doing something for the baby, such as nursing, rocking, or patting until she falls asleep. On the other hand, positive associations develop when babies use something on their own to help them fall asleep.
For example, some positive associations include:
- Use of a lovey.
- Sucking on their thumb or fingers.
- Banging their feet against the crib mattress.
- Lifting up their legs into the fetal position.
In addition, there are also external sleep associations, which are things that help create a sleep-conducive environment. These include:
What you want to do is replace the negative sleep association your little one has developed with a positive one. For example, put your baby into a crib, give her a lovey, and play white noise as she falls asleep.
Consistency is key! You want your baby to get used to the new schedule. If one night you rock her until she’s drowsy and the other until she’s completely asleep, you’ll only make her confused. Consequently, the weaning process will be extended and you’ll be left sleep-deprived for longer.
Stick to it, and soon, you’ll have a baby who loves to cuddle but doesn’t rely on it to fall asleep at bedtime and sleep through the night.