Does Rocking Your Baby to Sleep Help?

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Chances are, when you first brought your baby home from the hospital, you were willing to do just about anything to help him or her fall asleep. For many infants, rocking—or using another kind of rhythmic movement—works as a natural sleep aid, since it reminds them of being inside their mother’s body.

While some babies have a strong preference for one particular type of movement, the truth is, there are many ways to soothe an infant. In addition to swaying him or her in your arms or rocking together in a chair, some parents bounce while wearing the infant in a carrier, push the little one in the stroller, or even drive around town with the baby strapped into a car seat. There are plenty of products that facilitate rocking, vibrating, and swinging, too, including bassinets, bouncers, and swings that can work manually, as well as automatically. The one common theme: Babies love to move.

While rocking or bouncing your baby to sleep can feel like a lifesaver during the early weeks and months, for some parents it can turn into a burden down the road. That’s because rocking your infant to sleep, just like nursing or singing your little one to sleep, can create what’s called a sleep association. The risk is that your baby will get hooked and won't be able to fall asleep without you. In other words, because your infant is used to being rocked to sleep, he or she will expect rocking every time—including anytime he or she wakes up in the middle of the night. And that can become exhausting as a parent.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t rock your baby at all. After all, rocking your little one can be relaxing for both of you. But you might find that by rocking your infant until he or she is drowsy but still awake, and then putting him or her in the crib to finish falling asleep solo, you get the best of both worlds.

Is your baby already used to falling asleep in your arms? Try to gradually shift to a different sleep association that doesn’t require your input. For example, add a white noise machine or CD while you rock for a few nights. Once he or she starts to associate those sounds with sleep, you can turn on the white noise and try to eliminate the rocking. Or transition from rocking to gently bouncing the mattress or rubbing your infant's back while he or she falls asleep. Then gradually do less and less until your child is able to conk out on his or her own.