Gently wean your baby off being rocked to sleep

Introduction:

Rocking or using movement is one of the most common ways to get newborn babies to sleep. We naturally cuddle and rock babies when they are upset, plus babies are used to constant movement when inside the womb.

Plus The Happiest Baby techniques of swinging and jiggling can calm even the fussiest, colicky newborn, so it's no wonder many parents love to settle their baby in this way.

Parents may use the buggy, hammock or even car-rides to get their baby to sleep, particularly when it seems like nothing else will settle them.

Parents often continue to use movement as a settling technique with older babies, but it does get increasingly difficult as your baby gets bigger and heavier! Also it generally starts to take longer and longer, making the whole process of rocking your baby to sleep quite an ordeal. We often hear of babies who need 1-2 hours to rocking to get to sleep and our arms and back ache just at the mere thought of it!!!

Rocking quickly become a firm habit, as baby learns they need this movement to get to sleep. Over time this means they will not only want to be rocked at bedtime, they will also want to be rocked back to sleep every time they wake in the night......which is on average 4-6 times for babies over 5 months.

'Rocking to sleep' in this article is a general term we use to cover all forms of movement to settle your baby to sleep. So this means this information covers the following settling techniques:

  • Rocking
  • Patting or cuddling
  • Walking around with baby
  • using the buggy to settle baby
  • Jiggling or swaying
  • Bouncing on a swiss ball
  • Bouncing baby in a hammock
  • Bouncing baby in a bouncinette
  • Using an electric baby swing
  • Car-rides or rocking the capsule
  • Any other way you move your baby to get them to sleep.....

So should you rock your baby to sleep?

When your baby is newborn, using movement is natural and highly effective for settling your baby. We definitely think this is a good idea and is an essential part of what we recommend with newborns.

However by the time your baby is over 2 months old, we strongly encourage you to reduce your reliance on using movement to settle your baby. Your baby is now used to being outside the womb, where constant movement kept her calm. You can gradaully help her learn to fall asleep or stop crying using other techniques.

While it may seem like a quick and easy settling solution now, the majority of longer term night waking that we deal with is caused by either feeding or rocking to sleep......

So if your baby is over a couple of months of age, now is the perfect time to teach your baby she can settle without needing movement.


For babies under 3 months:

When babies are newborn, how they fall asleep often doesn't have too much impact on their sleep. You may be rocking to sleep and your baby is sleeping through the night, or having good day sleeps. This is because newborns drift in and out of sleep cycles, and haven't yet learned habits of how they get to sleep.

One impact of rocking a newborn to sleep can be catnapping. This is particularly true if you rock a baby to sleep, then transfer them to their bassinet. They may sense you are not there when they wake or miss the sound of your heart-beat, and will wake up shortly after being put down.

Particularly sensitive newborns want constant subtle movement in order to stay asleep, so using a hammock, swing or baby-wearing can help with longer sleeps.

Plus you may also feel that you are rocking all the time or sand it is taking longer and longer to get your baby to sleep. This can be exhausting, particularly if your baby sleeps for only a short time and then needs resettling again with more rocking!

Be aware that babies sleep changes significantly at about 5 months. A baby who is rocked to sleep and has been sleeping all night will likely start waking again after 5 months. If the rocking to sleep continues at bedtime, many babies go back to waking 4-6 times or more every night, wanting to be rocked back to sleep every 2 hours.

The sooner you start to teach your baby to fall asleep without rocking, the easier it is likely to be!

Weaning newborns off being rocked to sleep:

  1. For babies under 4 months, start by reviewing The Happiest Baby techniques of Swaddling, White Noise and Side/Stomach position etc. Often using these settling techniques will make enough difference that you can reduce the rocking needed.
  2. Use the feed/play/sleep routine during the day, so you are settling baby when she is tired....and feeding baby when she wakes up. The quicker you spot the tired signs and avoid an over-tired baby, the easier it will be to settle her.
  3. Gradually reduce the amount of movement you use with your baby. For example, if you currently rock your baby to sleep, change to rocking until she is drowsy and put her into bed partially awake.
  4. Over time, put your baby into bed awake and let her get drowsy and fall asleep in bed rather than on you.
  5. if your baby is a cat-napper, try to only use rocking to resettle, rather than at the start of a sleep.
  6. Try going in 5 minutes before your baby normally wakes, and try gently disturbing her so she stirs slightly. This can help your baby fall back into another sleep cycle and avoid the need to rock her back to sleep.
  7. Gradually change to using baby-wearing when your baby is awake, rather than as a tool to get your baby to sleep. it's lovely carrying a baby in a sling when they can sit up and see the world, while being close to mum.

Babies over 5 months - continued night waking:

If you are wanting to encourage your baby to sleep through the night and be able to settle without your help, then weaning your baby off being rocked to sleep is essential.

This is because all babies over 5 months wake FULLY between sleep cycles (usually 4-6 times a night minimum) and to 'sleep through the night' they need to be able to resettle them self after each sleep cycle. If they are rocking to sleep at bedtime, they will likely expect to be rocked back to sleep at each night-waking too.

For babies over the age of 5 months, rocking to sleep is one of the most common reasons that babies wake in the night. This is true for babies who were sleeping through and start waking again, and is the reason why many babies have never slept through. The same applies to babies who are fed to sleep - these are the two most common reasons for continued night waking.

Generally the longer a baby has been rocked to sleep, the more often a baby will wake in the night...rather than less.

Read our info on Sleep Associations for more info on this.

Deciding to wean your baby off being rocked to sleep:

Regardless of the age of your baby, you can wean your baby off being rocked to sleep relatively quickly and easily - when you are ready to do it!

Rocking to sleep becomes a very strong habit, with both parents and baby relying on it as the one way they get baby to sleep. So absolute commitment from both parents to teaching baby a new settling technique is essential if you are going to be successful.

While you have an end goal of teaching your baby to self settle, it's worth noting that this doesn't mean using 'cry it out'.....there are lots of options for teaching babies to settle without rocking to sleep. Choose one that you as a family are comfortable with. Different techniques work for different families, depending on the age of the baby, how quickly you need it to work, what you are prepared to try etc.

Also remember your consistency and commitment to your sleep plan will be the main thing which determines if your baby learns to settle without rocking to sleep, so only start when YOU are ready.

Recognise that teaching your baby a new settling technique takes days or weeks...do not expect your baby to like the change immediately or instantly sleep through the night after 1 day!

But you should start to see improvements after 4-5 days if you are being consistent with always using the new technique and not confusing your baby by rocking her back to sleep in the night.

What about night feeds?

Babies over 4-5 months generally not need any feeds in the night if they are having a dreamfeed at about 10pm. Doing a feed with your baby ASLEEP means you fill her tummy without her knowing, and you go to bed knowing she is not hungry in the night.

If you are not sure if your baby can last without any additional feeds, you won't know till you try it! It is worth trying to settle your baby without a feed and see if she can go back to sleep with a some additional warm bedding (often babies wake COLD rather than hungry), cuddle, patting, dummy or another settling technique. Generally we offer a feed as the first option, rather than try some other things first and see if she will go back to sleep.

You can also check with your Plunket nurse if she is happy with your baby's weight gain...ie if your baby is not putting on enough weight, then you will need to continue with at least one night feed.

However you will find that the quicker you drop all feeds other than a Dreamfeed, the quicker your baby will sleep independently through the night. Babies often do not drop night feeds without some gentle encouragement from mum!

How to gently wean your baby from being rocked to sleep:

  1. Babies over 5 months generally do really well with a structured routine for daytime and bedtime, such as day sleeps at 9am, 1pm, 4.30pm and bedtime at 7pm. This also means you will feed your baby when she wakes during the day, rather than before sleep times.
  2. Introduce some additional positive sleep associations and allow several days for your baby to become attached to them before you start teaching self settling. For example, start putting your baby into a sleeping bag before you rock her, give her a comforter to cuddle while you rock her and play white noise as she falls asleep.. These associations are going to replace YOU as her main sleep association (ie what she needs to fall asleep).
  3. Using a Safe T Sleep can give your baby a lovely feeling of pressure around her tummy, the same way your hand can or being cuddled. This is worth looking at as another tool and sleep association in this weaning process.
  4. Your first step is to teach your baby she can actually fall asleep in bed, rather than on YOU - this is the most significant aspect of the weaning process.
  5. So if you currently rock your baby until she is asleep, change to only rocking baby until she is drowsy. Then put her into bed and then pat/sssh/put firm pressure on her tummy etc until she falls asleep IN BED.
  6. Once your baby can fall asleep in bed OK, change to rocking until calm and use your patting to get baby get drowsy in bed.
  7. Then you can work on increasing the awake time between the end of the feed and when you put your baby into bed awake.
  8. Finally you will need to gradually reduce the amount of patting you do to help your baby get drowsy or fall asleep. As above, the Safe T Sleep can help with this too.
  9. CONSISTENCY - Make sure you do the same for any night-waking! So if you are up to putting baby into bed drowsy but awake at bedtime, then do the same during the night....if you rock your baby completely asleep in the night, you are confusing your baby and the weaning process will take longer.
  10. If you have a really sucky baby, consider using a dummy for bedtime and during the night settling. Once babies are over about 5 months they can learn to put a dummy back in for themself, which means you don't need to feed them back to sleep!

Moving from a hammock to cot:

Often parents assume that this will be a really difficult move, and expect baby's sleep will be much worse. However often babies who sleep in a hammock for an extended period are not great sleepers, as their parents constantly jiggle the hammock to get their baby to resettle during the night.

So all the information above applies to the transition to a cot as well - at some stage your baby must learn they don't need to be jiggled to get to sleep.

You may choose to make the move into the cot and then stop rocking, or you could stop jiggling the hammock first. Then once your baby can fall asleep in the hammock and resettle them self in the hammock during the night, they have the skills to fall asleep in the cot at bedtime and during the night.

Many parents also make the move to the cot gradually. So perhaps do your day sleeps in the cot for a week or two, then once your baby is settling in the cot OK, change your night sleeps to the cot as well.

Also keep as many sleep associations the same when you make the move - so use the same sleeping bag, introduce a comforter before making the move and continue to use your white noise or sleepy music once your baby moves.

Often too hammocks are in the parents room, so parents respond at every little squeak or movement. It is a good idea to gradually increase the time it takes you to respond to your baby, giving them an opportunity to get back to sleep without you leaping up and jiggling the hammock. Babies must learn they can get them self back to sleep, whether they are in the same room or elsewhere, in a hammock or cot.

It won't be as hard as you expect!!!

At this point you should reassure yourself that you can teach your baby to fall asleep without rocking, and it will not be nearly as hard as you imagine it will be.

This is absolutely the message we get from many mums every week - just decide on a plan and you will soon have a baby who loves to cuddle, but doesn't rely on it to get to sleep at bedtime and through the night.

If you are suffering post-natal depression or are shattered...

Over 50% of post-natal depression can be resolved in a few days when the baby learns to sleep through the night, ie the link between maternal sleep deprivation and depression is very strong.

So if you are depressed or just feeling right at the end of your tether, you might want to consider a faster approach to ending rocking to sleep - there are no prizes for being a martyr, particularly if your own health and well-being is at stake!!

The verbal reassurance method will generally teach a baby to sleep independently in 3-4 nights - see our facebook discussion page for feedback from other mums on this technique or see the Sleepeasy Solution DVD.

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