Many bleary-eyed parents know how challenging it can be to get your baby to fall asleep. There are many different methods to encourage sleep, such as swaddling, massaging, singing, and walking. Like the time-honored lullaby, rocking can be effective at putting your baby to sleep when used correctly. Learn how and when rocking should be used in order to get the best results.
Does Rocking Your Baby Help Them Fall Asleep?
Folk wisdom spanning across cultures and generations claims that rocking can help a baby fall asleep. Research does support this enduring method, as rocking is shown to reduce crying, quicken sleep onset, and improve overall sleep quality in infants (1).
The rocking sensation is thought to have a synchronizing effect on the brain, triggering our natural sleep rhythms (2). Slow rocking can help your baby ease into sleep mode and increase slow oscillations and sleep spindles (3) in their brain waves.
Greater oscillations and sleep spindles are associated with stage 2 sleep, which is a deeper, highly restorative period of sleep. Not only does rocking promote sleep initiation, studies suggest it can also improve sleep quality.
How Do You Rock a Baby to Sleep?
Rocking a baby to sleep may seem completely intuitive, but there are actually a few different methods. Manual techniques include gently swaying your baby in your arms while standing, seated, or in a rocking chair. Using a carrier while lightly rocking or bouncing your baby can also be effective.
Automatic devices, such as swings, bassinets, and bouncers, can simulate manual rocking, bringing about the internal sleep rhythms needed to fall asleep. Regardless of technique, an even-paced, rhythmic motion can really quicken sleep onset for a baby, which can of course help you catch up on your own sleep.
When Should You Stop Rocking Your Baby to Sleep?
While there are many benefits to rocking a baby, rocking too much might discourage your child from falling asleep on their own. A sleep association can develop in response to rocking, in which case your baby becomes dependent on this activity in order to fall asleep (4). If a sleep association develops with rocking, your child may struggle to initiate sleep in your absence.
Infants require a lot of sleep, including naps throughout the day. It’s a good idea, however, to establish a sleep association with nighttime (5) as they grow older. Since daytime rocking can create powerful sleep cues for your child, you might consider reserving rocking for the evening. If your baby shows signs of sleep difficulty, either in falling or staying asleep, then it might be time to scale back on rocking.
How Do You Wean Your Baby Off of Being Rocked to Sleep?
Every baby needs to eventually learn how to fall asleep on their own. One way to promote self-sufficiency when it comes to sleep is to only rock your child until he or she is drowsy. You can then transfer your baby to a crib to fall asleep on his or her own. The soothing rhythm will reinforce sleepiness, but falling asleep independently will help create a healthy sleep pattern. Studies show that a baby placed in a crib while still awake is more likely to adopt self-soothing techniques (6), which in turn increases sleep duration.
Teaching your child to fall asleep on their own often entails an adjustment period, but consistency in both timing and behavior can help. At least in the beginning, it can be helpful to gently bounce your baby in the crib, sing a lullaby, or play soft music. You might also try introducing soothing aids like stuffed animals and blankets in babies over one year old, which can help ease the blow of parental separation.
It’s not uncommon for a baby to cry after being moved to a crib, especially if they are used to falling asleep in your arms. Crying after being put in a crib is often a reaction to separation anxiety and will likely subside once your baby develops self-soothing behaviors.
Rocking your baby can be a very soothing ritual for both the baby and parent. Research shows that rocking is often a valuable tool when it comes to promoting sleep. It’s also important, however, to establish a nighttime ritual that allows your child to fall asleep on his or her own as they grow older.