Is it bad to rock your baby to sleep? | Sleep Associations
Is it bad to rock your baby to sleep?
Simply put – no.
Assisting your baby to sleep by rocking them is a very natural way to help your baby learn to transition from awake to drowsy to asleep.
We’ve all been there, it’s almost something we do on auto pilot when handed a baby.
Your baby was born with no idea how to get to sleep on their own.
If you find when you rock your baby, they quickly become sleepy or fall asleep…… you place them down, and they stay asleep for a complete nap, or for a decent length of time overnight, then you really have no problem on your hands at all.
I do find rocking can become a problem when we as parents are becoming physically exhausted with the process and length of time it takes to rock our little ones to sleep.
Or when they wake so frequently throughout the night, we are rocking them back to sleep every 2-4 hour’s. Creating fragmented sleep which is not restorative for anyone.
Let’s examine these 2 things some more.
- Fragmented night sleep due to rocking to sleep
- Delayed sleep onset due to rocking to sleep
Fragmented night sleep
Simply put this means that both you and your baby might be in bed for 8-12 hours overnight, but you are both waking up frequently and then having to get back to sleep from fully awake and alert.
This fragmented or broken night sleep is actually the number one contributing factor in sleep deprivation. Once sleep deprived, we as adults are cranky, our cognitive ability slips, our mood greatly drops, and as parents we lose patience and enjoyment.
When I see children with fragmented sleep they are often grumpy and irritable, they are not experiencing the incredibly restorative slow wave sleep they need. They’re missing out on time for memories to move into long term, their immune system to strengthen, and even time to grow. Sleep really is a wonderful thing!
The reason why fragmented sleep can be caused by rocking to sleep is a simple one.
If your baby continues to heavily rely on you to get them from awake to asleep, then they might wake from a sleep cycle overnight and because your rocking is the only way they know to get to sleep, they are looking for this to get back to sleep.
Instead of rousing from a sleep cycle, rolling over, and going back to sleep in a matter of minutes, they wake up. Become distressed as they are no longer in your arms, which is wear they fell asleep, and then the only way for them to communicate to you that they are tired and need assistance to go back to sleep, is to cry.
Cue you getting out of bed to rock them back to sleep.
This takes time, as the night goes on you might find it takes longer and longer, this is normal as sleep pressure drops off as the night goes on. But this means you are both missing more and more sleep as the night carries on, not to mention, you are both missing that really deep slow wave sleep which happens when we stay asleep for a decent length of time.
Day after day you are building a sleep deficit, you’re over tired.
Your baby is over tired, and neither of you are getting the biological sleep you need.
The solution IF this is your situation, is to create a disassociation between rocking and sleep. Use this as a calming tool, but try to get baby into bed awake, and let them understand this is where they need to fall asleep. Teach them to go through the stages of awake – drowsy – asleep without rocking. This can be done very gently (check out the gentle sleep guide HERE). Or quickly by working one on one with our sleep consultants.
Be aware of the sleep deficit created by the fragmented night sleep. Both of you will take a few weeks to start to really feel back to normal. Be kind to yourself.
Delayed onset of sleep
This means the time it takes for your child to fall asleep. If we see a delay in sleep onset, it can be because your child is not yet tired enough to fall asleep, or they are already over tired due to that sleep deficit, OR we as parents are over stimulating them in the way we are trying to get them to sleep.
Rocking your child to sleep once they are past the newborn stage can for some children be over stimulating. You will know this is the case for your child, as it will take a long time for your child to get to sleep.
This is true for any technique you use.
Unfortunately rocking to sleep is one of those approaches which often works better when an older baby is very over tired and susceptible to being assisted to sleep. This can lead to parents interpreting the delay in sleep onset as their child not needing as much sleep as normal, and thus waiting 3-4 hours between naps in the day, or restricting afternoon sleep to help with bed time.
So is rocking your baby to sleep harmful? Most definitely not!
Is it important to know your child, and know if rocking to sleep is working for them?
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education. Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
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My baby has reflux can you help?
When your baby has reflux, feeds can be difficult and your baby can be in a lot of pain both during and after feeds. This pain can cause feeding aversions and failure to thrive. This is why true GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) needs to be treated by a doctor. Once your baby's doctor is satisfied your baby is feeding well, and you have the right medication or formula then we can start a sleep plan and you will be successful.
My baby has colic will this help?
Colic is defined as 3 or more hours of crying per day in infants. Crying subsides in the second second trimester. If you are still experiencing colic symptoms speak to your baby's doctor about whether this could be reflux, an allergy, or over tiredness. We can help you work on better sleep with this program at the same time as your doctor investigates the pain and crying.
What if the program isn't working?
We have a dedicated help line to ensure your success. Just email our team via the details in your program and a certified, experienced and friendly sleep consultant is ready to stare you in the right direction to ensure your success!
My baby was born early, can you help?
Sleep is neurological so we always work off your babies neurological age, that is their corrected age. When you look at our sleep programs purchase the program that your babies corrected age fits into.
What if I have questions or need more help?
Our sleep programs come with private email support. You don’t have to post in any public forums or groups, just email the exclusive helpline that our team of certified sleep consultants look after and we’ll answer all your questions and help you on your way.
Can this program help with my babies night sleep?
Yes, all our online sleep programs contain night sleep plans. We will teach you how to move from multiple night feeds to 2 or 1 or none (depending on what is age appropriate and appropriate for your baby.) Don’t worry we will show you to figure this out too. If your baby is unsettled at night but not feeding, our plans will help you with consolidate night sleep and self settling when age appropriate.
My baby is cat napping can you help?
Cat napping is a very normal physiological stage that your baby goes through. At this stage (3-8 months old), cat napping can start to be a long term issue and compound into over tiredness and affect night sleep and your babies happiness. Good news, this is a great age to work on re-settling, self settling and better longer naps!
I have 3 children, can this work with my family?
I totally understand how busy life is with 2, 3 or more children! Even if you need a flexible schedule we can still work on settling regular naps (some on the go!), and better evenings and night. Flick our consultants any specific questions about your family's schedule of activities and we can help you work out what is possible nap wise.
I don't want a fixed routine, can you still help?
Yes. A fixed routine is one option, regular naps and regular awake times is another. Both are valid and you are welcome to do what works for your family. We understand you are all different and what works best for one family won't be best for another.
I'm formula feeding, can you still help?
Yes we have specific advice for formula feeding parents, and we support your decision to feed any way you choose. We even have a special video series on formula feeding and everything you need to know. Just ask our consultants about this extra if you need it.
I'm exclusively breastfeeding, can I follow your plans?
Yes! While breastfeeding babies need to feed frequently they still need quality sleep day and night. We have specific advice for breastfeeding mums and an exclusive discount on Julia Daleys breastfeeding course if you need extra help.
I'm bed sharing, can your program help me stop?
Yes. We often fall into bed sharing, we call this reactive bed sharing. Or we have simply changed our mind, and moving on from bed sharing we need some support. Our programs and consults will guide you through gentle sleep methods, which are more appropriate for most bed sharing babies who are moving towards independent sleep in the cot.
I'm feeding to sleep, can you help me stop?
Yes. Feeding to sleep is a common sleep association and one that works well for lots of newborns. Often we need to move on from feeding to sleep when it starts to cause short naps, or prolonged settling or frequent night wake ups as baby looks for their association to go back to sleep over and over again at night. We can teach you how to teach your baby to self settle and move on from feeding to sleep when the time is right.
I'm rocking to sleep, is their a solution?
Yes. These are common sleep associations, we refer to this as assisting to sleep. Let us show you ways you can develop independent sleep and settling strategies with our online sleep program, or one on one consult.
Is this program based on Cry It Out?
No. Cry it out is the common name for a sleep training method where you put baby down and don’t respond or check until they are fast asleep. There is no CIO involved in this program as we feel this should be only done under proper supervision. Instead we have included all our very gentle approaches and more mainstream techniques for you to choose from.
Is this based on Science or Art?
Both! As a scientist I (Emma) have spent over 8 years researching the science of sleep. I have educated and certified over 500 consultants around the world as sleep consultants, and have worked with thousands of clients. I love the scientific explanations of why we see the sleep patterns we see, and this science helps us to shape plans and solutions that we know will work. But there's an element of art to getting a baby to sleep, understanding the right combination of things that will work best, and this is where your instinct comes in.
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