How to Stop Rocking Your Baby to Sleep

rockDo you want to stop rocking your baby to sleep?

Rocking is often a fail safe way to get babies off to sleep and certainly not something I would ever recommend avoiding. Many view rocking as a negative ‘sleep prop’ or an ‘unhealthy habit’, however I don’t agree. Babies need to feel safe and secure and they need our help to calm them to a level where it is easy to fall asleep. The close contact and movement of rocking meets all of these needs. In time all babies will grow out of the need for rocking, the question is whether they outgrow this need before they become too big and heavy for the parent to rock. If you can still rock your two year old to sleep there is absolutely nothing wrong with continuing to do so, it is very unlikely that it will affect their night time sleep negatively, despite what others may tell you. If you do want to reduce the rocking however read on for my three step plan:

1. Step number one is to introduce other calming methods alongside the rocking so that the baby associates them with rocking. Here I would suggest calm, rhythmical music, such as my Gentle Sleep Music, a calming scent in the room, such as lavender, and using a small very soft and sensory blanket to hold around or against the baby. I would also softly speak key words repeatedly while rocking (e.g “close your eyes little sleepyhead, it’s time for sleep and time for bed”) or you could read a short rhythmical storybook if you can read one handed. These should be used for a minimum of two weeks, whilst rocking as usual. Read THIS for more on crying.

2. Step number two is to keep a log of roughly how long you rock for over the two weeks when you are introducing new calming methods. Keep a log of how many minutes you rock for each night and calculate an average over the two weeks.

3. Step number two starts after two weeks. On the first night you should rock for two minutes less than the average you calculated in point two, this is repeated each night adding another two minutes. For instance if you calculated your average rocking time to be ten minutes you would rock for 8 minutes on the first night, 6 on the second, 4 on the third and so on. At the end of the rocking time if your baby is still awake then continue to hold them but don’t rock (or move in any other way). This applies whether you are sitting in a rocking/nursing chair or are standing and rocking in your arms. If your baby cries (which they probably will) continue to hold them and comfort them in any other way other than rocking (or moving in another way) once the rocking time is up.

After a week of point 3 (which is 3 weeks since you first started) you are aiming to reach a stage of just holding your baby to sleep with no movement. If you want to move on past this point and wean off of holding to sleep altogether I would recommend that you adopt a floor bed or co-sleeper set up where you can lay down and cuddle the baby to sleep and then move away when they are asleep.


For more gentle sleep tips, check out The Gentle Sleep Book and Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters (written specifically for breastfed babies under 12 months old). You can also follow me on Facebook for more sleep tips and advice.

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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2 Responses to How to Stop Rocking Your Baby to Sleep

  1. Kez says:

    Hi Sarah – we still do a lot of rocking/holding of our 19 month old to sleep – and at the moment she is waking up ALOT over-night. When you say that rocking/holding to sleep won’t affect their night-time sleep negatively can I ask where the evidence for this is? Everything else I read is around the fact that a baby/toddler will wake each sleep cycle looking for the same way to get back to sleep if you continue to rock them, feed them to sleep etc It is lovely to read a post that is so pro rocking, as it is lovely supportive way to help get our toddler to sleep – but for us it does seem to have created sleep ‘issues’! Thank you.

  2. Rachael Koppe says:

    I was a worried first time mum who fought against my instincts to get my child to sleep the ‘proper’ way (as i kept being told was to let him cry more and leave the cot) which resulted in overtired child and parents, tears from all and a now 10 year old who still struggles to get to sleep. My next two children I ignored all the advice and went with my gut, fed to sleep, rocked to sleep and co slept and all I can say is they slept through sooner, fall asleep quicker and as older children sleep far more soundly. Sara’s advice is bang on in my experience and baby 4 is getting all the rocking and cuddles she needs.

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