What To Do When Your Baby Has To Be Held, Rocked, Bounced Or Nursed To Sleep

what to do when your baby has to be held, rocked, bounced or nursed to sleep
what to do when your baby has to be held, rocked, bounced or nursed to sleep

There are about a million forums online about mom’s desperately seeking sleep but their baby refuses to sleep unless rocked, bounced, or nursed to sleep. At some point your precious little baby got heavy and it’s taking an hour or more to get her/him to sleep. Mom and Dad are tired and just want to get their baby to sleep without all the fuss.

Disclaimer: I am not a Doctor, Lawyer or Financial Advisor. All posts are my opinions and things that have worked well in my life. Please consult a professional for advice.

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My sleep story…

I am guilty of nursing, bouncing and rocking my babies to sleep. I love my children so incredibly much and knew they would only be this little for such a short time! I wanted to enjoy every minute I could.

At some point, this turned into me rocking a heavy 1-year-old for an hour every night to try to get her to sleep. The second I laid her down she would scream and it would start all over again. I was ready for it to stop. I missed the little time at night I got with my husband and I hated that both me and baby J were feeling frustrated every night. Getting her to sleep was something neither of us was enjoying anymore. I was afraid I was creating negative sleep associations!

I also had conceived the notion that if I didn’t rock her to sleep she would scream. This is what happened when I had to run to the bathroom or something. So that is what I expected would happen at bedtime.

As it turns out, it was me holding her back from getting to sleep all along. Who knew?!!! She was plenty old enough to soothe herself to sleep I had just taught her to depend on me instead. It may well be you that is holding your baby back from getting to sleep too! So here is what I have learned about how to get your sweet baby to sleep without all the bouncing, rocking and nursing.

How we changed things and how you can too!

 

  • Make sure you have a bedtime routine in place! Ours included having a bath, getting on jammies, reading, singing and then nursing. Yours can be whatever you choose but make sure it stays the same every night. That is how you tell your baby that it is time for sleep. It makes them associate that routine with sleeping and it is a positive way to help your baby wind down and know what to expect next. Babies really thrive on routines! If you don’t already have one start this a few weeks before you change anything else.
  • Try it with an open mind! I told myself there was no way that my baby would go to sleep without me rocking her and I believed it. I was not and am not comfortable with letting her cry it out. I hoped eventually she would be old enough to communicate and reason and would then get herself to sleep. DON’T DO THAT. It is usually us parents holding back our babies from getting to sleep on their own. So do yourself a favor and say that for the next few weeks you will not think this way. You will try something new with a positive attitude and you will mentally give it a chance to work. This part is critical! If you don’t give it a chance then you will fail out of frustration.
  • Set realistic sleep expectations! Personally, I wanted my daughter to be able to get herself to sleep without causing her distress. Your goals may be different but are probably fairly similar. Remember that your baby is going to be trying something new and that you need to have patience and be understanding that it won’t happen immediately. Understand that you are going to have some sleepless nights and plan accordingly. Meaning if you have a crazy week at work it may not be the right time to start. Also keep in mind that babies are not ready to soothe themselves to sleep until at least 6 months of age. You can attempt to put your baby down drowsy at an earlier age for good practice but when they are that small they still may need your extra help to get to sleep. 9 months of age is a realistic age that you can expect your baby to be able to soothe her/himself to sleep.
  • Set the stage and have the necessary tools! Talk to your baby about the new routine you’re going to try(even young babies understand what you are saying but just can’t talk back yet, so please don’t skip this part). Reassure your baby that mommy or daddy will be there to help her/him to fall asleep. Some tools that we use to set the stage for sleep in our home are video baby monitor(these are truly amazing you can be in the room without actually being in the room), room darkening curtains, white noise machine (these drown out noise and let you still have a life after baby goes to sleep! They are amazing!), sleep sacks for safe sleep(these have always been a sleep cue for my kids and they make them feel secure), and a lovey to snuggle up with for comfort.


  • Give it your best shot! Don’t back out for at least a week! Follow your nightly bedtime routine. Come up with a saying you will use at bedtime. “Sweet dreams. I love you all my heart! Time for bed baby.” That is what I use, yours can be whatever you want but it needs to be a way to tell your baby cuddle time done and it is time to go to sleep now. Consistency is very important for babies so whatever it is, memorize it and use it every time you put baby to bed. Lay your baby down in her/his crib and give a lovey to snuggle. Try rubbing baby’s back or head for a few minutes and then leave the room. Grab the baby monitor and watch. If baby is fussing that is okay. There is a difference between fussing and crying. I am okay with letting my baby fuss and talk out her frustrations but not okay with letting her cry and scream. If you’re really lucky you will be surprised by how your baby plays and talks in their crib when you just let them be. If your baby starts crying wait just a minute and then go in and comfort baby. Try comforting without taking her/him out of the crib. Sing, back rubs, shush, pat, or whatever you can to comfort baby without leaving the crib. Once your baby calms down then leave the room again. If your baby will not be comforted in the crib then take her/him out and soothe in your arms. Once baby is calm then lay her/him back in the crib. This will take some repeating you are teaching something new and you can’t expect baby to get the hang of it right away. I think my first night I stayed and rubbed little J’s back until she fell all the way to sleep. After I had picked her up to calm her down at least 5 times. But you know what? After 3 days she knew the routine and she was quite content to talk and babble until she fell asleep. My little J is a very particular child she likes things just the way she likes them so I know you may think this won’t work for your child but give it a chance! If every night is a crying and soothing fest for a week then you can choose to take a break for a week or two.
  • Try Try Again! I tell my 2 year old this all the time. If at first, you don’t succeed try try again( it’s from some kid show.. Can’t remember which one). Seriously though this is something that is so important for your family. Good sleep associations and the skills to get yourself to sleep are important for the rest of your life! Remember to keep it positive and happy! A crib is a place where your sleepy child can be comfortable and rest safely and happily. It should not be a bad or scary place. If you’re feeling really frustrated take turns with dad or take a break and come back to it in a week.
  • Enjoy the peace of having a child that puts her/himself to sleep! You’ll soon be wondering why you waited so long to do this! Nights are so much happier when getting your baby to bed isn’t something dreadful and prolonged. Enjoy some extra you, husband or sibling time!

What gave me the courage to try this was a book called “The No-Cry Sleep Solution,” by Elizabeth Pantley. If you are not into crying it out methods then this book is a must read! It has great tips to getting your baby to sleep without crying.

Cheers to peaceful bedtimes and well-rested babies!
As always please share! How is this method working in your sleep life? What other methods have worked well for your little ones? I love the feedback I get from you guys and I love to know what is working and not working for other parents out there!

41 thoughts on “What To Do When Your Baby Has To Be Held, Rocked, Bounced Or Nursed To Sleep”

  1. I’m not a mom who does well with crying so I was always coddling my baby to get her to sleep. We used the sleep lady shuffle technique at 6 months old (my baby was very frustrated and ready to learn so it worked at this young age). It is a gentle sleep training technique that we love! Wishing everyone sleep and sweet dreams!

      • Hi Elle! Thank you so much for sharing! I have never tried the sleep lady shuffle myself but it definitely looks like a great no cry solution as well. Glad your family is getting some sleep!
      1. I’ve never tried any of these techniques but I am so ready for a good night sleep. My 16 month old depends on me fully. We’ve ALWAYS rocked him to sleep and now pay the consequences. I don’t mind trying these methods, I be even come to the point that the cry it out was worth a try but your methods seem more relaxing. Question I have is what about when he wakes 5- 6 times during the night, then what do I do?

        1. Hi Rachelle,

          I totally remember being at that same point where a good nights sleep sounds so amazing! The good news is that with this method you are teaching your little one to fall asleep on their own so when he wakes in the night he will have the skills to get back to sleep. With my daughter, I remember being so shocked that she suddenly started sleep through the whole night! 7 pm – 7 am, it was amazing! If your son is waking out of habit, then you will want to go in and calm him down and walk out of the room as many times as it takes. The same way that you would at bedtime. It may take a few days but he will get the hang of it : )

          1. Hello,
            I am also at my wits end..my almost 8 month old is waking up 5-6 times/night and I want to try this method. But I am scared that she will learn this new thing of patting or singing instead of the old sleep association. In your case worked out fine?

          2. So far about the last two weeks we have tried this new method. Started out rough in the beginning with putting my little one to sleep drowsy and walking out of the room after telling him it was nighttime and doing a routine of the book reading and whatnot. He cried and cried for the first few nights and we would go in and Pat him on the back and assure him it was okay and walked out of the room now he lays down after less than a minute. I do my same routine with a bath, then I do a mama and me sing along and then book and rock for two seconds until he starts to close his eyes. I tell him it’s time for night night or bedtime and he is going in the crib by himself and he lays down… when I walk out of the room he stands up and cries but only for a second now and then lays back down. The last two nights he has slept through the night. I am hoping that it continues to go well. Fingers crossed. But I can say it’s a lot less stressful during the day when we get sleep at night.

          3. Oh, and I forgot to say I don’t always give him a bath every night. I just kind of play it by ear and if I feel he needs a bath I give him one… more or less to pass the time if I need to fill in gaps, but if I do not do a bath I do lotion time and let him run around in his diaper while we are doing the mama and me sing along on the TV. I always make sure that he is super tired when it’s time for bed but not to make sure that he is overtired as I feel that will make him wake up more through the night.

  2. Great article. Although, babies younger than six months are fully capable to fall asleep on their own and sooth themselves. My four month old has been going to bed on her own happily for the last two months or so. It takes some patience and gentle leading, but it is so worth it when you see how much happier everyone one is, including baby. I still walk her to sleep sometimes just because I love the process but, by no means does she rely on me to go to sleep. These things don’t happen by chance it takes consistency and work, I’ve seen it work countless times with my sisters and fellow mom friends.

    1. Hi JoyLynn,

      Thank you for sharing! Lucky you that your little one can get to sleep on her own! The startle(Moro) reflex is what doesn’t work for my little guy. You are so right! It definitely takes consistency. That is a major key to making a great routine stick and become expected for your little one. Glad your family is getting some sleep : )

  3. I have 5 month old twins and I’m not sure where to start. My son will fall asleep on his own but my daughter us very fussy unless she is touching someone to go to sleep. Thanks for the article I will be giving this a try.

    1. Hi, Victoria!

      Thank you for reaching out! I really don’t have much experience with twins. I wish I had a great answer for you! Here are some good twin tips that seem to fall in line with the method of getting your babies to sleep that I mention in my post. I hope it helps! Wishing you some sleep! Hang in there Momma your doing a great job!

    2. Victoria I, too, have twins that just turned a year old. My daughter goes to sleep at night by herself with no problem. She actually prefers it. My son is total opposite. We rock him to sleep and at night he still wakes up two times usually. With them being in the same room I’m not sure what to do. Any advice?

      1. Boys tend to have a lot more energy than girls around this age I’m not an expert or have kids of my own yet but I do work with them. twins can be a lot a like and completely different from one athother my be make his bed time routine different or seperet of his sister’s and I would try looking up some activities that they can do when with you because stimulating the brain with words and other things like painting in a bag going out side to get fresh air unless it’s to cold of course all baby’s like to be read and song to some times one my be playing wile you read to the other but that’s OK sorry I feel like I just gave you an ear full I hope what I wrote will help but don’t be afraid to ask advice from other people you know that are parents themselves but what works for someone else may not always work for you so please don’t get your hopes down and keep a positive mind and just try new things

  4. I love this article! At times I catch myself staying in his room when he cries right after I put him down, then, as soon as I leave, he falls asleep. You’re so right that it’s often us parents who are depriving our baby of sleep. Since he was a newborn, I’ve put him down while awake (although I often just cuddle him to sleep because this time is limited) and it’s made a big difference in my opinion. He learned he didn’t need me to fall asleep all the time. My concern is when I stop nursing (around 12 months) and that nightly routine changes- we both love that time together and I worry he won’t take well to it.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Thank you for sharing! I love the cuddles too! Sounds like you have some great sleep habits in place. I love nursing as well, especially at night. With my older one, I decided to give up nursing except at night around 14 months or so and it was a very easy transition. She was old enough to understand that we only have milk at night and it was our special cuddle time. If you’re comfortable with something like that I really recommend it! You start producing less milk and it becomes more of a comfort bonding thing instead of a nutrition thing. We stopped night nursing around 17 months. My daughter caught a cold and was stuffy and didn’t want to nurse because she was congested and from that night on I just told her that mommy’s milk was all gone. We replaced it with snuggles and songs and there was no argument. At 12 months you may have a rough first week or so but he will be old enough to understand what you are saying. Wear high cut shirts : ) It is usually our fear that our children won’t like something that holds us back so he may just surprise you!

  5. I am so glad I came across this post through Pinterest! Crying makes me uncomfortable and goes against my mama intuition. The majority of what I read says to let baby cry and seems to make me feel like there is no other option when it comes to getting baby to sleep, which of course isn’t true! My little girl is almost 5 months old and I feel a lot of pressure to “sleep train”. I know she isn’t ready for that yet and do believe she will get there eventually. This post is a breath of fresh air, thank you!

    1. Hi, Christine!

      Thanks so much for sharing! The best part of being a mommy is exactly that…YOU are your little girl’s mommy! YOU know what is right for your little girl and no one else. So just shake off the pressure coming from other people. I have been there and done that too, it is frustrating, but when I remind myself that I am the mom and no one else it makes it a little easier. Enjoy your snuggle time now and when you feel your daughter is ready then I’ll be right here cheering you on! You’re doing a great job momma! Keep following those instincts!

  6. I loved reading your post, it mirrored my own experience in so many ways. Really fun to get to the end discover we used the SAME book!’ Thanks for articulating this so well – I’m pinning so I can point people to your explanation instead of having to type it out every time one of my friends has this issue and asks for help!

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thank you so much for the sweet comment! That book was a lifesaver for our family! So glad you enjoyed it and will share it! Sounds like your family is having sweet dreams already : )

  7. We are ready to implement this method.I also am not a fan of the cry it out method.My baby girl is 16 months and is still rocked and nursed to sleep.She will also wake up several times to nurse for comfort during the night.Eventually she ends up in bed with us because I am so tired. She still sleeps in our room.(our place is small)I am exhausted and I think she is too.We have a bed time routine that is great and she enjoys.I would like to nurse her at least once at night but how do I implement that into this type of sleep method?

    1. Hi Gina,

      I’m glad to hear your family is ready for some good sleep!I LOVED nursing my little one so I completely understand wanting that bond to last. What worked well for us and for many other moms has been to nurse just before bed as the last part of our routine. Not long enough to fall asleep but long enough to snuggle and bond. At that age it will probably be so great for both of you to be sleeping through the night! You might be surprised by your little one not night waking anymore because she will be learning the skills to get herself to sleep.

  8. I so need this…. I hate when my baby cries. My heart feels like it’s breaking into pieces when she does. She’s 8 months old and wakes 1-2 times per night screaming and/or crying. She refuses to nap in the daytime until she drops, and that could be noontime or 5-7 pm when she goes down. I’m a sahm and we also co-sleep, but I’m SO exhausted that I’m starting to snap at her when she doesn’t go to bed. She could be falling asleep out in the living room, but as soon as I take her to bed, she pings awake and screams until we get back up. I don’t know how to get her to sleep without her screaming/crying and she does the same in the daytime for naps. I can’t get any housework done because she cries if I don’t hold her. I hurt physically because I haven’t been able to give my arms and back a break…

    1. Hi Kayla,

      That is rough! I know what you mean I really hate hearing my baby cry too! You should check out the Wonder Weeks App. It sounds like your little one may be having separation anxiety. Try this baby carrier! It is the best and can help your baby sleep while being close to you and will give you the chance to get some cleaning done. Good naps mean good bedtime sleep so definitely don’t give up on trying to make naps happen. This method takes time but I promise it is so worth it and for us mommas who don’t like crying I really think it is the best option out there. Try getting outside for some fresh air to calm you both it’s a great trick that has worked well for me and always helped my babies nap better after we did. Good luck momma and hang in there! You are doing a great job!

  9. Hello, i never leave comments but this article sang to me, as this is how it was with my firstborn. I went against what everyone was saying to “sleeptrain” her at 6 month old when my gut was telling me she still needed her mama very much…even though she had so much trouble sleeping. Finally when she was 1, I taught my insecure daughter to love her bed, in the gentlest way possible. Took half a year for her to FINALLY fall asleep completely on her own, but once it worked it was like magic. Now she’s 3 1/2 and her bed is her haven. Never thought I would see the day! My goal was for her to understand that going to bed is not a punishment but a happy place for when we are sleepy and i think i achieved it! Now my second baby is 1 and i can rock him to sleep one night and just pat his back to sleep the other and he doesnt care as long as he sleeps in the end!hes also been sleeping through the night naturally for quite some time when my first only started on she was 2 1/2. So it really just depends on the personality of your child, i really dont think theres a way thats a definite answer. Just listen to you gut and your baby! Sorry for the long comment 😉

    1. Hi Shell,

      Thanks so much for the comment! I LOVE to hear from other momma’s out there! Totally makes my day 🙂 I love your sleep story! Instincts are really the best way to go…no one will ever know your child the way you do. So hard to have pressure to sleep train and especially with the first baby. I’m glad to hear that you were able to stay strong for your daughter and yourself. Sounds like you family is having nice peaceful sleep! Great job Momma and thanks for reaching out!

    1. Hi Chelsea,

      For my little ones, we started with bedtime only. It was when they were the most tired and it was guaranteed that they would eventually fall asleep. Babies need good naps to sleep well at night. I wasn’t interested in throwing off their naps at the beginning for fear that if they didn’t nap well, then I would have an overtired baby at bedtime who couldn’t get to sleep on their own. Once we had the nighttime down then about a month later we started to work on naps the same way. There is another book called The No-Cry Nap Solution if you are interested. Hope this helps! Wishing your family good sleep and sweet dreams!

  10. Help!! Trying to go from co-sleeping to the crib with my 9 month old. She has been sleeping with me for 6 months now and won’t go to sleep unless my boob is in her mouth. I haven’t been able to put her down to sleep by herself in months, even for naps, so I have had to lay down with her or put her in the car to get her to sleep during the day.
    As I try to transition her to her crib, should I just start with working on night time and keep nap routine the same as we have been doing until we get nights under control? I just know that naps are really important to get good nighttime sleep. And I’m just worried that I might be trying to change too much all at once?

    1. Hi Leah,

      Oh, that is rough!Totally was in the same position with my first! What worked well for our family has been to just start with the nights and exactly like you said, keep naps the same. Your little one will need those naps to sleep well at night. As for the co-sleeping to the crib, it was the same for my little ones. We kept the crib in our room until our little one was a year because of the SIDS recommendations for room sharing. Moving to the crib is a perfect time to learn how to self-soothe to sleep because you can’t lay with her to fall asleep anyways. Try to be really consistent! It makes everything go so much smoother. Good luck momma, hang in there! I’ll be here wishing your family good sleep and sweet dreams!

      1. I only had to do naps the same way for the first day! She took naps with me on the first day (after her first night in her bed, which was rough but not as bad as I thought it would be). She is now sleeping AMAZING!!!! She slept 10.5 hours straight last night and then went back to sleep for 3 more hours, and that was only her 3rd night in her own bed. Then she took 2 amazing naps in her bed yesterday. She has been putting herself right to sleep, no more fussing or crying. Going on 12 hours of sleep for last night and still sleeping!
        I have been so scared of “sleep training” and moving her to her own bed, but maybe I was just holding her back from being the amazing sleeper that she is.
        This article helped me so much! Thank you thank you thank you!!!

        1. Hi Leah,

          Thanks for sharing! That Is fantastic! Sometimes when little ones get older they sleep so much better when they have their own space. I’m so glad to hear that naps are going well for your family too! Great job momma! So glad I could help : )

        2. This whole post (but your comment specifically) gives me hope! My 8 month old sons sleep is a total train wreck. We co-sleep and he doesn’t sleep well at all if I’m not laying with him. I just cannot stand the thought of letting him cry and it seems literally impossible that he would even allow us to try and comfort/soothe him without me nursing him to sleep…

          Leah-it’s been a couple of weeks since your comment…how are things going now? Is she still sleeping great in her bed? Does she ever wake up in the middle of the night?

          1. Angela,
            I am so glad that my story helps encourage you! I can honestly say I felt the same way. I didn’t think it was possible for my daughter to go to sleep in her own bed without screaming! The biggest thing that helped me when I started transitioning her to her bed was telling the difference between her fussing and actually crying. The first night I didn’t really give her a chance to fuss because I was so worried she was going to scream. But I would really recommend giving your son a chance to fuss before going in to soothe him (if he does just cry).
            I am happy to report that she is still doing AMAZING sleeping in her bed! She doesn’t even fuss at all when I lay her down at night! She literally rolls over and is asleep by time I get downstairs. She sleeps the whole night long (about 12 hours) almost every night! Every once in a while if she wakes up earlier, I will just put her in bed with me for an hour or so (usually cause I am too tired, lol). But you can do this!!! Trust me, if my daughter can get used to her bed and be a good night time sleeper, so can your son!
            So, our nights have completely changed and are going wonderfully! Nap time still isn’t under control, so I am still laying down with her for naps. But I am going to try to work on naps soon. Last time I tried, she fussed for 30 minutes before falling asleep, and then only napped for 20 minutes. That happened for both naps several days in a row, so I took a break from that. Any nap advice would definitely be welcome! 🙂

        3. Leah, thank you so much for responding!! I’m feeling encouraged. We are taking our family on a mini get away this weekend and will be staying in a hotel, so we aren’t going to try anything new until after that. I might try it next week! So glad things are still going great for you!

          1. Hi Leah and Angela!

            I wanted to thank you both for your engaging comments! I always wanted this to be a place for moms to come together and help each other out. I’m so glad to see that starting to happen here! : )

          2. Angela, have you tried this with your son? I’m in the same boat as you and Leah…looking for more hope and scared to hear him scream and cry!

  11. I have so many questions! My son is 15 months old. We are a busy family which makes routine hard for us. We have commitments on some nights but not others, which affects whether we do baths and what time he’ll get to bed. Also, some days he takes one nap and others he still takes two so his bedtime varies. And one vs two naps also makes it easier or harder to put him to sleep at night. I typically nurse him to sleep. If he’s only had one nap he’s asleep in less than 5 minutes and i can lay him down fine. Other days he’ll nurse and I’ll lay him down awake and he’ll go to sleep. BUT…my biggest problem is, he’s still waking every 3 hours in the middle of the night! When he does, I let him cry about 5 minutes then go in and nurse him. If i attempt to comfort him without picking him up or nursing he gets really mad and screams his head off. I don’t know how to stop this. Any advice?

    1. Hi, Momofmulitples!

      Thanks for reaching out! I nannied for a family that had older children with lots of activities and younger ones that had to be flexible in their schedules. So I can appreciate where you are coming from. The best advice I can give you is to drop down to just one nap a day. As long as your son is getting 11-12 hours of sleep at night and one good nap in during the day he should be well rested. At 15 months night, waking/nursing is usually a habit that has been formed. I love this article from Dr. Sears. It offers some great ways to break the habit. For my daughter, we used the method of her sleeping in her own room and telling her that “mommy’s milk is all gone at night.” It took about 4 nights of her waking up, screaming, flailing and me having to talk to and soothe her back to sleep. By the 5th night, I remember waiting in bed knowing she would be up soon and she never woke back up. It just took some consistency and a couple rough nights to break the habit. Well worth it though when everyone is happily sleeping through the night and waking up well rested! Hope that helps! Wishing your family good sleep and sweet dreams!

  12. Hi
    This article is amazing i can not wait to try it.just had couple of question
    MY daughter is 10 months old she had birth asphyxia due to that she suffers from epilepsy
    Thank God she is seizure free from last month and is very healthy active baby she is taking medicine so she takes around 4 naps each day her med does that.she sleeps in my arm feeding or else rocking she wakes up around four am then again i have to rock her if i leave her in her crib she stands up wouldnt lay down what to do ?plz help

    1. Hi there,

      Thank you for reaching out! I’m so glad to hear that your daughter is healthy and doing well! When it comes to standing up you have 2 options either wait it out(if she is not crying) and see if she will get tired and lay down on her own. Or the second option if she doesn’t know how to get back down or she is crying is to very consistently go in and lay her back down. Walk out and close the door. Come back and repeat as many times as is takes. Keeping doing that for a couple days and she will begin to understand that she needs to lay down. It may be a rough couple of days, especially at 4 am but if you want to her learn a new habit then it will take consistency. Also, make sure if it is at 4 am that you are not talking and interacting with her I hope this helps : )

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