Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with rocking your baby to sleep. In fact, research has shown that rocking reduces infant crying, quickens sleep onset and can improve the quality of the baby's sleep overall.
However, there will inevitably come a point, as your little one grows, when the newborn snuggles you once enjoyed become more of a gruelling daily workout. Indeed, if you're anything like me, you will stand in the semi darkness wondering who will give in first - your baby who is still looking very much awake or your back muscles.
This is the predicament we have found ourselves in recently. Our (not so) little one year old has become too heavy and strong for me to comfortably rock to sleep so there has been a fair amount of huffing and puffing going on while he has resisted naps and I have struggled with aching arms and exhaustion.
So, something had to change. I tried placing him in his cot and sitting beside him but he would cry. I tried tapping his bottom and the mattress next to him but he would just sit or stand up. I tried turning on a star projection machine, playing lullabies and singing to him - all things that I remember doing successfully with my older children, but he just wanted to be held. Going out in the car or pushchair didn't work either.
There are some who would say that you should leave them alone in their cot and they'll soon learn to fall asleep on their own. While this may work for some, we're not there yet. He'd cry and get very upset if I were to put him down 'drowsy but awake' as they say. I know as he gets older we'll get to the point where we can say night night and leave him alone to calmly fall asleep but, at the moment, it just wouldn't work. He'd get upset, and, in my experience, crying and getting worked up is not inducive to a restful sleep. I'm not judging parents who do it, it's just not the route I wanted to go down.
Instead I decided to try a new routine - a simple set of actions I could repeat daily to signal to him that it was naptime. We go into his bedroom and I close the curtains, turn the lights low, place him in his sleeping bag. He chooses a story from the shelf and he sits on my lap as I read it to him. At the end of the book, I turn the light off, put his pink noise on (see my other blog post about this) and we snuggle in the chair. As he lays in my arms, I have a shaker drum that I rattle in a heartbeat pattern until he falls asleep. I stop the shaker and hold him for a few more moments before carefully standing and transferring him to his cot. This is the bit which can be tricky sometimes - it sometimes takes a couple of tries before he's happy for me to put him down. I find placing his bottom down first and then keeping both hands on his body for a few moments when he's lying flat helps him to feel secure.
I share this with you not because I am a sleep expert - I share it because I'm a mum who knows that the days when my baby doesn't nap are really hard. It's physically and mentally draining - it makes finding the energy to play or set up activities really hard. It can very quickly become overwhelming, especially if you're on your own. So, if I can share any tips and tricks that I have discovered along the way and it helps other parents, all the better.
I'd love to know your tips and tricks too - share them below and it might just be the solution someone is looking for.
*The photos in this article are not my own and are purely illustrative.