The Solace of the Rocker

The Solace of the Rocker: Nothing Else in Life is Quite So Sweet
By Catherine C. Leonard
Issue 91 November/December 1998

rocking chairEvery newspaper or magazine I pick up seems to feature an article about reducing the stress in your life and improving your overall health. Some promote exercise, others low-fat diets, and still others a sense of humor. All worthy, I’m sure. But for me, there’s a simpler, age-old remedy that is still the best way to drain tension from the body while burning calories and placing a contented smile on your face. It does not cost a dime, and the only equipment needed is one small baby and a rocking chair.

Although my oldest child is almost 20 now, I still have the chair in which I rocked him and my other babies. What a trove of memories that rocker holds. I can sit down in that beat-up old chair and be flooded instantly with absolute calm. What, after all, is more peaceful than a sleeping infant?

When babies sleep, they snuggle tight into your shoulder. Their warm, milky scent tickles your nose, the ultimate aromatherapy. Tension is pulled from your body like the moon pulls the tides out to sea–naturally, inexorably. The motion of the rocking chair offers a comforting solution to all the day’s problems. A soothing touch by another person, in fact, has been shown to slow the human heartbeat. Swaying back and forth with your tiny tranquilizer erases everything but the satisfaction of the moment.

I remember one night when my then 16-year-old daughter broke up with her steady boyfriend. She burst into the house sobbing as if her world had just ended. The first thing she did was to stumble up the stairs to her infant brother’s room and pluck him out of the crib. I gave her a few minutes to calm down and then peeked into the nursery to see if she wanted to talk. Smiling, I gently closed the door and retreated back downstairs. Lisa didn’t need to talk. As she rocked softly back and forth, gently humming to her sleeping brother, I knew that she had the best possible medicine for unhappiness. She had a baby to rock.

When my middle son was in third grade, his very best friend and constant companion relocated to Pennsylvania . Taylor was absolutely inconsolable the first three weeks his friend was gone, but then his little brother was born. Spending hour upon hour soothing a colicky infant in a rocking chair proved to be a real growth experience for my nine-year-old son. He had something important to do, and his self-esteem soared as he forged a bond with his brother that is still, years later, the most powerful and valued friendship for both of them.

The benefits of rocking aren’t purely emotional, of course. You do burn calories; not a lot, probably only about 150 an hour. But that’s one less brownie you’ll have to skip. Rocking may also help you recover from childbirth more quickly. In one study of women who had had cesareans, the group that spent regular sessions in a rocking chair had less pain, less intestinal gas, got up sooner, and left the hospital a day earlier than the non-rocking mothers. Even among those mothers who gave birth vaginally, rocking was therapeutic, stimulating contractions and relaxing abdominal muscles, while also promoting better digestion, appetite, and blood circulation. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston reportedly puts a rocker in every new mother’s room, together with instructions about when and how long to rock every day.

Of course, the little passengers benefit, too. I once read a newspaper article about people who volunteered |to rock premature infants at a nearby hospital. The babies thrived and grew during this informal “rocker therapy.” And I’m sure the rocking volunteers themselves went home calmed, quieted, and fulfilled.

So, after a lifetime spent rocking and thinking about rocking, I have this advice: Make a rocker part of any new mother’s layette. It is, as the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding says, “one of the most essential items you’ll need for your new baby.” Newborns will outgrow those sweet little onesies. But they’ll never outgrow the need for quiet closeness. And that is what your rocker will give to them–and to you.

Catherine C. Leonard is a homemaker in Manassas , Virginia , where she lives with her husband and three children: Lisa (23), Taylor (16), and John (6). This is her first published article.