Is there anything more beautiful then rocking your new baby to sleep and enjoying some wonderful snuggles as they doze off to sleep? Rocking your baby to sleep can feel great those first few weeks or months together. But your baby is going to get bigger and heavier. Your baby may have once slept great when you rocked them to sleep, but now is waking up shortly after you put them down into the crib. You might even be at the point where your toddler still needs to be rocked to sleep.
At some point, you’re going to be ready to break the habit of your child being rocked to sleep. But a lot of parents get very nervous when they think about how they’re going to be able to stop rocking their little one to sleep. Take a deep breath. It is possible to get your child to sleep without needing to be rocked to sleep. Let’s walk through how you can wean your baby from needing to be rocked in order to fall asleep.
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Why Do Babies Need to be Rocked to Sleep?
Before we address how to wean the rocking to sleep habit, lets talk about why babies need to be rocked to sleep. You probably began rocking your baby to sleep when they were a newborn. Newborns do really well with a rocking motion. It brings them back to that womb-like experience. When your baby was in the womb, they were gently moving around. Any time you moved, your baby would experience a gentle rocking motion.
So when your baby entered the world, it was reassuring for them to experience that rocking motion. It is helpful to be able to calm an upset baby. If your baby was crying around bedtime or naptime, you likely found that rocking them helped to soothe and relax them. And that helped to get them ready to sleep.
Baby Will Only be Rocked to Sleep
This may have become a habit over the last few months or even years. If you’ve got to the point where your baby will only be rocked to sleep and can’t fall asleep without being rocked, it can become exhausting. It may take you a long time to rock them to sleep. Or you might even find that your baby is waking up several times throughout the night and can only fall back to sleep by being rocked back to sleep.
The reason why your baby is having a hard time falling asleep without being rocked to sleep, is because they’ve come to associate needing this rocking motion from you in order to go to sleep. In other words, they’ve developed what I call in the sleep coaching world, a “sleep association” between rocking and sleeping.
What happens when a baby develops a rocking to sleep association, is that they need you to help them fall asleep. They haven’t developed the skills to self soothe. The only way that they can possibly start their journey into sleep, is by being rocked to sleep.
Rocking Baby to Sleep for Naps & Bedtime
It is very common that you will find your baby waking up throughout the night. Or your baby is taking very short naps. You may also find that when they wake up at night or after a 30-minute nap, they need you to come and rock them back to sleep.
The reason why you’re seeing those night wakings and short naps is because your child isn’t in the same place they were when they fell asleep.
Think of it from their perspective. They fell asleep in your arms, feeling safe and warm. They felt that gentle swaying motion of being rocked as they shut their eyes and drifted off into baby dream land. Then you very carefully laid them down into their crib or bed, and quietly walked away.
After they completed the deep, restorative part of their sleep cycle, they briefly wake up and take in their surroundings.
And that’s when they get upset. They are tired. But they’re not in your arms anymore being rocked. They’re in a completely different place then they were when they fell asleep. And they’re not experiencing that gentle rocking motion anymore.
So what do they do? They begin crying out for you to come and help them get back to sleep because they haven’t developed the skill to fall back to sleep on their own, without being rocked to sleep.
Still Have to Rock Toddler to Sleep
Babies are not the only ones who need to be rocked to sleep. I have worked with a lot of parents with toddlers who still need to be rocked to sleep as well. And it does get harder the older your child gets. A 2 year old is a lot heavier and wigglier then a 2 month old.
But the good news is that you can wean both babies and toddlers off of needing to be rocked to sleep!
When to Stop Rocking an Infant to Sleep
There isn’t an exact age limit that you need to stop rocking your child to sleep anymore. The right time to breaking the rocking to sleep habit is when it’s not working for your family anymore. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you dread bedtime every night because you don’t know how long it’s going to take your child to fall asleep?
- Is rocking your child to sleep getting uncomfortable? Are you feeling physical pain in your back or arms as a result of your baby needing to be rocked to sleep?
- Is your baby not getting enough sleep because they’re waking up throughout the night and can only fall asleep when you rock them back to sleep?
- Is your baby taking short naps (anything less then a hour and a half)?
- Have you been thinking “I can’t rock baby to sleep anymore”
- Have you found yourself passed out with your baby in your arms? Don’t be ashamed, this has happen to many of us. This is a very dangerous sleeping environment for you baby.
- Are you exhausted by needing to rock your toddler to sleep?
If you answered yes to any one of these 7 questions, then rocking your child to sleep just isn’t working for you or your child anymore. And it’s time to teach your child to self soothe, so that they don’t rely on being rocked to sleep anymore.
Babies are old enough to self soothe once they are around 15 weeks (adjusted). So if you have a baby who is over 15 weeks old, and you’re ready to break the rocking to sleep habit, NOW is the perfect time.
I don’t want you to stress about not getting that special bonding time with your child in the bedtime routine anymore. You can still have some great cuddle time before they go to sleep in the bedtime routine! Let’s talk about how you can do that while weaning them from being rocked to sleep.
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Step 1: How to Wean Rocking Infant to Sleep
The first step to wean your baby or toddler from being rocked to sleep is by creating a bedtime routine that still includes lots of snuggles.
Your child’s bedtime routine can start off with a bath. Then you can get them dressed into their pajamas. If you’ve got a baby then also dress them into their arms free sleep sack.
If your baby is under a year old, then this is the perfect time to give them their last feed of the day. This is a great time to snuggle and bond with your baby. If you have a baby or toddler over a year old, then you’ll skip this step.
Next, pull out a book or two and read to your child. It’s never too early to get your child interested in books. And this is another great opportunity for closeness, snuggles and touch in the bedtime routine. But limit the number of books to just two. You don’t want the bedtime routine to drag on too long that your child gets drowsy or overtired.
If you’re looking for good books to read in the bedtime routine, check out my two favorites for children of any age:
- Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman; and
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
But mix up the books you read. Give them some variety to begin expanding their horizons.
Then you can say good night to your child and lay them down into their crib or bed (if you have a toddler).
You’ll notice that while there’s opportunities for snuggles in the bedtime routine, there’s no step for rocking them anymore. Instead, you’ll go from reading books and saying good night, to putting them down into their crib awake now.
Step 2: How to Stop Baby From Wanting to Be Rocked to Sleep
Yikes! Did what I just say make your heart skip a beat? Did I really just say that you’ll put your baby or toddler down into their crib wide awake? Yes, that’s exactly what I said.
Your child needs to learn how to fall asleep without your assistance of being rocked to sleep. And your job as their parent is to help them feel loved and supported on their journey of learning the skills needed to fall asleep on their own.
Stop for a moment and think about what you’re going to do a few years from now when you teach your child to learn how to ride a bike. Learning how to ride a bike is a skill that they need help practicing before they’re able to completely do it on their own.
They’re going to need you running along next to them, cheering them on, and helping them up when they fall. There may be a few bumps and bruises and even tears along the way. But they will absolutely get it with your help and a little time.
And it’s the exact same thing with sleep. It’s very likely that your baby will cry or that your toddler will protest. They’re protesting this change. It’s the only way that they can communicate that they’re not happy about this change.
But you don’t need to leave your child alone to cry it out and figure out how to fall asleep without being rocked all on their own.
Baby Sleep Without Rocking
In fact, in my Live Love Sleep Coaching Program, I almost always recommend that parents stay in the room with their child when they’re teaching their child how to fall asleep without being rocked. Think about it. Your baby has been so dependent on you in order to fall asleep. Completely removing you from their sleep situation would be very tough on them. And it would probably be even harder on you.
You can stay with them, sitting by their crib or bed. Be comforting by letting them hear your voice. Be supportive by letting them feel your touch so that they know that you’re still there and that everything is ok. If you have a younger baby who responds really well to being picked up, then by all means pick them up if they’re crying.
And do you want to know the best part? Your baby is going to learn how to fall asleep without being rocked very quickly! The families I work with usually see HUGE improvements within 3 – 4 nights!
When you follow the steps I’ve outlined above, you will find that within a few nights, your baby will be falling asleep quickly and easily at bedtime and at nap time. But I understand that embarking on a big journey like sleep training can feel overwhelming.
Breaking the Habit Rocking Your Child to Sleep
If you need help creating the perfect sleep plan for your child, I’m here to help solve your child’s sleep struggles and support you. I work with families to establish healthy sleep skills for life. Just imagine doing a 20 – 30 minute bedtime routine with your child each night, putting them down into bed, giving them a kiss, walking away, and knowing that they will happily close their eyes and fall asleep all on their own without anymore rocking or crying. And they’ll sleep all night that way!
Click here to schedule your free Sleep Discovery Call with me today so that we can dive into your child’s sleep challenges and to see if I’m the right fit to help your family sleep well.
4 month old baby and he has to be rocked to sleep each sleep but resists and arched his back until he is to tired and falls asleep or is in a twilight phase and I’ll put him down then but usually still wakes every 1-3 hours through the night
Hi Shaye, it sounds like your little one may be getting overtired, which could be leading to him waking so frequently at night. I’d recommend around a 1.5 – 2 hour awake window at 4 months old.
My four month old will only sleep if she’s rocked to sleep. I’ll start rocking her at 7pm, she will fall asleep, soon as I put her down she wakes up crying, so I pick her up and repeat the process. This goes on until 11pm! Then she sleeps for 6-7 hours. My back is in agony by the end of the night. Help
Hi Rosie, ouch that does sound really painful needing to rock her for 4 hours! That’s definitely something I can help you with. Just shoot me an email at email@example.com
Almost 6 month old just started waking almost every hour the last 3 days.. Will settle when picked up and comforted or rocked but aside from that whenever we try to out him down again he starts screaming…
I feel for you Natasha! It’s so hard waking up every hour all night! I’d take a look at how you’re getting him to sleep at bedtime. Consistency is key for him to develop a strategy to put himself back to sleep in the middle of the night. If you’re currently needing to do anything to help assist him to sleep at bedtime or naptime, that’s likely the underlaying cause.
Hi our little one is 7 weeks. We are trying to break the rock to sleep association. She does sometimes settle in her assinet by patting and shushing,not often, we are in need of some tips on breaking the rocking completely.
HI Emma, congratulations on the birth of your little girl! I’ve got some tips in my free newborn eBook. You can access that at: https://livelovesleep.com/consultants/kaley-medina/free-resource-guide/
My son will not get drowsy by himself it seems. He will sit in the crib and just get overtired unless I rock him. How can I encourage drowsiness
Hi Emma, the right strategy for how you get your little guy to sleep will depend on his age and personality. If he’s under 3 months of age, then getting him drowsy will work really well. But if he’s over 3 months of age, you’ll actually want to be putting him into the crib wide awake instead of drowsy. I’ve got tips on both in my free resources guide at: https://livelovesleep.com/consultants/kaley-medina/free-resource-guide/
But how do you break this need/association for a willful 2 year old without the screaming and tears? Both bed and naps take at least 20 min (5 to read, 5 to rock asleep, and 10 to get into a deep sleep) before he can be laid down but I’ve also a 4 month old to care for who – I learned from my first to insist – puts himself to sleep for both bed and naps.
HI Desteni, it is more of a challenge with two but can certainly be done. I recommend putting your 4 month old to bed first and then focusing on sleep training your 2 year old so that you’re able to dedicate the time and be consistent.
Hey. My little 3 month old can’t sleep without being rocked or boob either.
I’ve tried the lying down drowsy by awake or just awake.m, none of them work. She just cried so much and doesn’t stop until I pick her up. So I pick her up rock a little and place it back into the cot. Still doesn’t work and that goes on for hours.
Question is.. how long do you try picking up and putting down again ? How many times is enough to not stress the baby?
Hi Magda! Sorry to hear what you’re currently trying isn’t working. Every baby is different on which strategy is going to work best for them with sleep training and how long it takes for them to fall asleep. I’ll send you an email to learn a little more about her sleep.
I am having the same exact problem! My 13 week old (almost 3 months) only sleeps good in his bouncer or when I’m holding him. I made about 3 attempts to lay him down in bassinet, and he only sleep for like 10 mins each time. Woke up crying hard. But now it’s 11pm and he’s knocked out
That’s so tough! He’s almost to the age where you’re able to sleep train him so that he’s able to connect into those longer sleep cycles. Once he’s 15 weeks adjusted, you’ll be good to go!
Our 13 month just refuses to lie down in his cot, even if we are there to gently soothe him with voice or patting. He just sits up and cries and/or tries to climb out of the cot: even if he’s been showing all the tired signs.
That’s tough at this age because as he’s learning to stand and walk, he’s going to practice that in the crib as well. Do some practice during the daytime where you’re helping him go from standing (maybe while he’s holding himself up on the couch or a chair) to sitting to then laying down. Practice that at least twice a day for the next couple weeks until he’s perfected it.
Our 4 month old currently has her last night feeding (breastfeeding), falls asleep during feeding and will sleep in crib for 9-10 hours straight every night, but during the day the only way to get her to nap is to rock constantly for 15-20 min until she’s asleep in our arms, and even then she’ll only sleep 30 min per nap. Only longer naps have happened during feedings. Every time we put her down drowsy or awake she’ll cry loudly until picked up and rocked
Hi Will, how wonderful that you’re getting such a long stretch at night, but those naps do sound challenging! Consistency is crucial for sleep once babies turn 4 months old. Creating a routine a consistency putting her down the same way for bedtime and nap time will help her develop a consistency strategy with how to put herself to sleep.
Baby girl is 4 months and now only sleeps when rocked she will fight her sleep untill I hold her and rock or rock her in her cradle on wheels. She also wakes up every 2-3 hrs at night as I stretch the last sleep cycle for 2 hrs as she wakes up at 5pm and 6:30 is early for her bedtime but by time she gets to sleep she’s been up for over 3 hrs as it takes a while to get her to stay asleep.
Hi Nicole, thanks for your comment. It’s tough when it takes so long to get her to sleep at bedtime because she’s fighting sleep like that. It’s great that you’re following proper awake windows but the reason why it’s taking so long to get her to sleep is because of her dependence on needing to be rocked to sleep. Once you are able to get her falling asleep independently, she’ll be happily falling asleep within 5 – 15 minutes after you put her down!
We have established a good bedtime routine and try our best to keep him up during his last feeding. He then will wake up at 3am and is very tough to get back down. We always revert to rocking him because it’s the only thing that will work for us exhausted parents. Any tips on what to do with our 4 month old?
Hi Samantha, that’s great that you have a good bedtime routine and he’s staying nice and alert during that last feed of the day. I recommend sleep training at this age since he’s developed that dependence on needing to be rocked back to sleep in the middle of the night.