Sleep Associations – Is Rocking Your Baby Harmful?

Is it a bad idea to rock your baby? It depends. It is never a bad idea to cuddle your baby and give him/her lots of love and affection! It’s only when rocking your baby becomes something you can’t keep up with that it is a problem. Let’s take a step back and let me explain what a sleep association is.

What is your sleep association? 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 2 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 of ‘sleep associations’ might affect your baby/child.

What is your child’s sleep association? How does your child fall asleep?

Let’s look at how many babies 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 drinking their bottle. Or, perhaps they doze off with the simple use of a pacifier. Minus the teeth issue with 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 2-3 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 1-2 hours when he woke up. It was exhausting and I was at the end of my rope! So, we took to co-sleeping, which got us both more sleep, yet I was so nervous I’d roll on top of him or my husband or I would cover him with blankets. I’m not the best sleeper, so every time he’d want to nurse, I’d have trouble going back to sleep (and I never got good and switching sides without actually switching sides either). Co-sleeping works for many and I’m not knocking it. It just didn’t work for us and it is important for every family to learn what works for them best. After learning about sleep associations I was able to transfer him back to his crib at 4 months old and we both got a LOT more sleep then!

The problem with sleep associations lies 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 you’ve “disappeared” 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. The beauty of this is that after they get to be about 3-4 months, they really don’t “need” you as much as you might think and they can actually learn to fall asleep on their own, if they haven’t learned already up to this point.

One final thought. I want to reiterate that rocking your baby, using a pacifier, nursing or drinking a bottle before bed, etc. are not bad things to do. If you don’t mind rocking your baby for 10 minutes and (s)he falls asleep, you transfer him/her to his/her bed and (s)he sleeps all night, then there is no problem. It’s only when you can’t keep up with the (insert sleep association) that it becomes a problem. Keep in mind that your sleep fragmentation that makes you exhausted is no better for your baby than it is for you. If you are cranky, don’t you think (s)he will be, too, over time? I would have LOVED to rock my son and boy did I try (unintentionally — just in my nature). We slipped back into bad habits more times than I wanted to count, but it just became a hitch for him EVERY time. In the end, I was able to continue to nurse him to sleep once he learned the necessary skills to go BACK to sleep throughout the rest of the night. With opportunity and practice we can all learn a new way to sleep, even without a pillow!

What kind of sleep associations do you have? What about your child? Scroll down to share your tips, to ask questions, and to hear from other parents just like you!

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105 thoughts on “Sleep Associations – Is Rocking Your Baby Harmful?”

  1. Hi, my 5 1/2 month old will only sleep during the day if he’s rocked to sleep and as some as you try to put his down he wakes up and won’t go back off again. How can I help him? He doesn’t however need to be rocked to sleep in the evening. I’ve heard mixed views on where baby should sleep for day naps. During day naps, I currently have him sleep down stairs in a light room and there usually background noise and in the evening we do bath and bed routine and he goes down in his crib where it’s dim lighting and quite so he knows the difference between day/night. Is this right? Will it make a difference to how he sleeps?

    • Hi Rachel,
      Thank you for using The Baby Sleep Site as a resource! It sounds like your baby does have a sleep association to rocking during naps, which is not uncommon for this age. Whenever you want to change the association, you can choose a form of sleep coaching that fits your family and apply it to naps. We have an article series with a bunch of popular methods here:
      so you can find a good fit. It’s generally considered fine to sleep coach any time after 4 months for a healthy baby born on time, but it’s completely up to you when you are ready. I hope this helps!

  2. Hello,

    My baby’s sleep assoation is a bottle of milk that he drinks and drinks him self to sleep but this is becoming a problem as he wakes most nights more then ten times and I am so tired and it’s becomjng really hard for me at night, my baby is now 10 months old and I am looking for solutions to help out with his waking at night, he is on solids and formula milk. Please I would love some advice

    Thank you

    • Hi @Holly, I am so sorry to hear your son has been waking so much at night for another bottle, we would love to help you. First off, here is a free guide you can download with tips on how to help your baby sleep through the night:
      Since he is waking so many times and you are likely very exhausted, if you are past the point of wanting to do the guesswork and figure this out on your own, I’d highly recommend working with one of our sleep consultants who can take the thinking out of this for you and will write a step by step plan for you to help everyone sleep better and teach you how to handle these wake ups. It of course will still require work from you, but I know when I am exhausted the last thing I want to do is read a million books and try to figure out which one is best for my baby! Our team will look at your child’s sleep history, as well as your parenting philosophies and goals and will help you from there – they want to stick with you until everyone is sleeping soundly! Here is a link to find out more about our Personalized Consultation Packages:
      If you have more questions about that, or need help selecting the best package for your situation, please email us directly to [email protected]
      Hang in there!!

  3. Hi,
    I am rocking my 8wk old baby to sleep for every single sleep. How do i start to transition out of this habit?

  4. hi!so my little one is 9mo today.she used to be such a good sleeper but since she turned 8m,she wakes up at night and wouldnt stop crying until i hold her tightly and hug her to sleep.this was never the case before!she doesnt need feed or rocking.i cant sleep while holding her!n then she refuses to go back to her cot. please help a tried mommy!

    • Hi @Amber Nasir, thanks for writing to us! I’m sorry to hear your daughter has regressed recently and has been struggling with going to sleep on her own! Here is a link to a free guide that may have some tips that can help you troubleshoot:
      If things still persist and you need more help, please let us know. We have a lot of other options and we can work through this every step of the way with you if you’d like! For more information please contact us directly at [email protected]. I hope this helps! Hang in there!

  5. My 9 month old wakes 2-3 times during night and sometimes every 2 hours..i usually nurse him before bed and he sleeps, evry time he wakes up during night i have to nurse him back to sleep. It become a habit now. I tried to let him go back to sleep by himself but he starts crying untill i don’t start feeding him. I am not sure if its ok or should i change his habit. Some people suggested to feed him solid to make him full so that he doesn’t wake up. I teued that too but didn’t work.

    • Hi Rachna! Thank you for writing to us, and I am sorry that your 9 month old is waking so frequently at night! As you likely read in this article, your little one likely has sleep associations and needs some help learning to sleep without nursing back to sleep, in order to sleep in longer stretches. As you also noticed, starting solids will not really help if he is waking wanting to nurse, but one of our expert sleep consultants would love to take an in depth look at his sleep history and details about his day and night sleep and can help with 100% personalized and customized help for getting on track. If you would like to change this habit, we would be happy to help, but “if” you change things is completely up to you! If you are “okay” with waking so often to feed him, and he and you are both doing well, then there is no need to change. However, if you are worried about his sleep and development and/or yours, please do consider working to change this habit.
      If you find that you would like more help, you can read about all of our sleep consultation packages here:
      Hang in there Rachna!

      • This is exactly the same as me and my 8 month old son.
        Have you found something that has helped with your son sleeping through the night Rachan?
        I would love to hear from you.

  6. Hello, I have recently just stopped giving my son bottles of milk during the night (he’s 17 months old). He was relying on them to get him back to sleep at night, sometimes up to about 6 times.
    It was becoming ridiculous, so much so he wasn’t really eating much during the day. So I decided it was time for him to go ‘cold turkey’.

    It’s day 4 and he’s now learning to self soothe himself back to sleep, however, we share a room and every time I try to go to bed, he wakes. Or if I’m in bed already and he wakes, he won’t go back to sleep!? I’m now extremely stuck on what to do as their’s only so many nights I can share a bed with my 5year old or sleep on the sofa!

    Thanks in advance, sorry for the long post.

    • Hi @Cole, thank you for writing to us. I’m sorry you’ve been struggling with your son’s sleep, but good job helping him wean from the bottle. This is for sure tricky to share a room with a baby, especially because he knows you are right there. Here is an article with some tips on how to help with this transition while sharing a room:
      I hope this helps! If you need anything else be sure to let us know and we can send you more information. 🙂

  7. My 8 month old sleeps very well at night; falls asleep basically on his own, gets himself back to sleep if he wakes, and gets 11-12 hours of sleep. Our problem is naps during the day. He will take 4-5 naps that only last about 30 minutes, and putting him down is impossible so he just sleeps in my arms. I’m not really put out by this, but it would obviously be nice to have some baby-free time. How can I get him to take longer naps on his own? Should I just lengthen time between naps to get him more tired? Please help!

    • @Jane – Thank you for reading and for sharing. Such good news to hear that your little guy, overall, sleeps so well!! 🙂 Naps at this age can be a bit tricky, for sure. We don’t have enough details to give you a firm suggestion as many things could be throwing off his naps – associations, schedule, feedings, external environment, etc., but you can consider working directly with one of our sleep consultants to help you work through these details to zero in on the issue and create a schedule and plan that works for your family. And, if you haven’t yet signed up for our free common nap mistakes e-guide, check it out here: And be sure to keep up with our sample schedules as your little guy grows: Hang in there, Jane!

    • My 6 month old has the EXACT same problem! She sleeps about 11 hours at night but does not seem talkie to nap in her crib during the day. When she does, after lots of crying, she only naps for about a half hour. We’ve tried many things and will keep trying!

      • Your babies might associate the crib with the long 12 hour sleep so they don’t want to sleep there during the day, for fear they would have to stay there for a long time. To solve this, we put our baby down in a bassinet in a different room for his naps so he knows that room in for napping, and his cot is for the long night sleep.

  8. Hi!

    My 4.5 month old only wants to be nursed to sleep. This includes naps and nighttime/bedtime, which results in short naps and frequent night wakings. I’m aware of the 4 month sleep regression, and we’re definitely experiencing it. I just don’t know how to identify when it will end and can’t foresee her not nursing to sleep even after it’s ended. Any tips for how to break the habit/sleep association? She cries so much when i take her off the breast once she’s done eating and is only comfort sucking herself to sleep. it breaks my heart

    Sleepless momma

    • Hi Leat,
      Thank you for writing to us! I am sorry that you and your family are experiencing some troubles with sleep! As you have read, this is a common area of sleep trouble, and unfortunately, many babies will not “go back” to sleeping better once the 4 months sleep regression starts. As you suspect, it sounds like it is time to start teaching your little one how to fall asleep on her own/without feeding to sleep! The good news is that you can teach her gently, and work on minimizing her tears! I’d like to recommend our Members Area, which gives you access to all of our e-Books as well as tele-seminar recordings, case studies, and do-it-yourself tutorials. The Members Area subscription will also “grow” with your baby, and be relevant for many months and years, should you choose to still use it! My favorite feature is the access to “members only” expert chat sessions, where one of our sleep consultants will answer your specific questions live via chatroom! The Members Area subscription is very affordable, and available in sizes to fit all budgets. Members also receive 20% off of ALL personalized sleep consultation services, should you find that you would like more personalized assistance.
      You can read more about our Members Area here:

  9. My 8 month old wakes up too many times at night and wants to be held and rocked back to sleep. Sometimes needs his mama only. We have set bedtime routine where I give him a bath and then a bottle on my rocking chair and he dozes off after he finishes his bottle. He sleeps fine for a couple of hours but cries and wakes up wanting to be held again. We do hold him for a few minutes and put him down but he wakes up again after a few minutes. So we end up going back to rocking him on the chair for at least an hour with no guarantee he won’t wake up after that when put down.
    In the mornings he gets a couple of naps but a total of not more than 3 hours and he’s rocked to sleep in the morning as well. He starts day care in a couple of weeks.
    I would really appreciate some help with sleep associations and helping my baby learn to self sooth himself. We have not tried cry it method but I’m sure it will be very difficult because he’s a very persistent baby. He once cried for 2 hours non stop while his dad was holding him because he wanted his mama to hold him put him to sleep.
    We hardly get proper sleep and it’s wearing us out. Please advise and thank you in advance.

  10. My 16w old self settles every day nap and bedtime. We have a great bedtime routine and she is put down awake and nods off on her own with little to no fuss, I usually start this by her being awake 1.5-1.45 seems to work well as her awake time and she she naps 1-3 hours at a time. However from that 930/10pm wake we are up every 2 hours and she wants food. I don’t know what else to change! She goes back to sleep easily after food. Is she asleep to long in the day? She’s such a happy baby but I’m tired!!!

    • Hi @Catherine – Thank you for writing to us! It it great to hear that your baby is putting herself to sleep at naps and bedtime! This is a really good start to really good sleep! We do see that many babies struggle more with putting themselves back to sleep in the night when they wake, so you are not alone, and we certainly understand how tiring those many wakings can be! if you are concerned that she may be sleeping too much in the day, take a peek at our free suggested schedule for 4 month old babies:
      She may need help stretching those night feeds, and that is something that we can definitely help with! Please contact us if you find that you would like one on one help with this, and hang in there!

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