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Can Rocking Your Baby Be Harmful?

A look at how your child falls asleep

by PickNicksBrain  |  8447 views  |  3 comments  |        Rate this now! 

Is it a bad idea to rock your baby to sleep? Can it be harmful to your baby? It depends. It is never a bad idea to cuddle your baby and give him or her lots of love and affection! It's only when rocking your baby becomes a task difficult to sustain is it a problem. It becomes harmful to the baby if you need to continually rock your baby all night long, robbing him or her of adequate sleep. Inadequate sleep has been linked to obesity, behavior problems, and other health problems.

How do you fall asleep? What kind of routine do you do before you go to sleep each night? Do you watch TV? Talk to your partner? Do you read a book? Do you sleep on a pillow? These are the types of things you associate with going to sleep each night. What would happen if your power was out and you couldn't watch the news or read your book? Would you have trouble falling asleep? Perhaps. Or, perhaps not. Would you have trouble going to sleep without your pillow? That might be more likely to give you trouble. Some sleep associations are stronger than others. What if you went to sleep with your pillow and covers and, two hours later, woke up and they were gone? Would you be able to go back to sleep without looking for the pillow? Now let's look at how this concept might affect your baby.

How does your child fall asleep? They might fall asleep while their mother or father is rocking them in a rocking chair, bundled up and very cozy in their parent's arms. Or, they may fall asleep nursing or sucking on a bottle of breastmilk or formula. Or, perhaps they doze off with the simple use of a pacifier. Minus the teeth issue with breastmilk or formula later on, there isn't a problem with any of these methods of falling asleep until it is a problem.

From the time my son was an itty bitty baby, he loved to be walked, rocked, and nursed to sleep. He also loved napping in the moving swing. At first this was not a problem. He would fall asleep quickly and we'd put him down. But, several weeks later, I found myself rocking him for two to three hours each night to put him to bed. He'd fall asleep easily, but then when I put him down he'd wake up! Ah! And, then I'd need to repeat it every hour or two when he woke up. It was exhausting! And, I didn't understand why until later on when I learned about sleep associations.

The problem with sleep associations lie in the fact that your baby needs YOU to recreate the environment in which they fell asleep. YOU become their "pillow" and when they wake up through sleep transitions (that we ALL have!) and their pillow is gone, they don't know how to go back to sleep. So, the key is to allow them to go to sleep the same way they will wake up periodically throughout the night. If they wake up briefly and find you gone or the movement has stopped (as with my son) or their pacifier is gone or...they will wake up more and have to call out to you so you can "help" them once again. "Find my 'pillow', mommy and daddy!!"

About the Author

Nicole Johnson is the owner of Pick Nick's Brain - - specializing in sleep consulting services for children. Nicole is a wife, mother of two, Full-time work-at-home IT consultant and now, an entrepreneur. She attended UC Berkeley where she received her B.A. in Computer Science and received her MBA from Ohio State University after the birth of her first son. She received her Master's in Sleep Deprivation when her first son did not sleep and made it her mission to help other parents help their children learn healthy sleep habits, too.

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3 comments so far...

  • I had to sing to my oldest daughter to get her to fall asleep up to when she was a few months old. I didn't mind it and it allowed us some quality time together. I have to have a fan going when I sleep. I live on a corner where there is a lot of traffic and the noise would keep me awake until around 11:00. 11:00 is when there isn't much traffic. Also, I get so hot at night so the fan really helps with my night sweats. Maryland Secretarial Services, Inc.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Cindy on 8th August 2008

  • Thanks for your comment, Diane! Rocking is definitely not a problem in all cases, only when you can't sustain it (and that breaking point will be different for everyone) or baby is losing too much sleep because of how long it takes (like when it took me 2-3 hours each night).

    I said I wouldn't do it the 2nd time, either, but somehow we still did. LOL But, we were able to break the habit much sooner and easier with #2. Some of it was just his more easy-going personality, though.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by PickNicksBrain on 5th June 2008

  • That's what happened to me! The rocking routine is fine for a newborn, but somehow, somewhere along the way you need to transition out of the habit. For us, it ended up being hellish a few months later. :) On the other hand, not everyone would consider this a problem, you know what I mean? It sort of depends on the parents and what makes them happy. Having said that, I won't be rocking the next one to sleep!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Diane on 4th June 2008