Sleep training tips for infants… and their parents!

Dr. Chen-Milhone and patientSleep training can be tough and isn’t for everyone, but this doctor has tips if you’re ready to try

Dr. Christina Chen-Milhone understands the struggles parents have with sleep. She’s a doctor of pediatrics and internal medicine who treats patients of all ages at Pacific Medical Centers (PacMed) Totem Lake, and she’s also the mother of two children under age three.

“Parents want their child to sleep well so they can feel rested, which is important. But they don’t like the idea of the ‘cry it out’ method, which sounds heart-breaking, and is usually what people think of when they think of sleep training,” she says. “It was a struggle for me too, but with both me and my husband working, we chose to sleep-train our first child at three to four months.”

Dr. Chen-Milhone read Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber, which helped teach her baby how to put himself to sleep. They checked on their son, without picking him up, following the short intervals Dr. Ferber recommends.

“The first three or so days were awful and I cried, but after about a week our son had learned how to put himself to sleep. Our son is now almost three and still loves us the same!” says Dr. Chen-Milhone. “It’s not right for everyone. Ultimately, it boils down to what you think will work best for your family.”

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4 tips for better sleep

  1. Put babies on their backs to sleep, to prevent SIDS. “Young infants will still have a startle reflex, so I recommend swaddling to help them sleep better,” Dr. Chen-Milhone says. Once babies are strong enough to roll over on their own, you don’t need to stay up all night flipping them onto their backs — just remember “back to sleep” whenever it’s time for a snooze.
  2. Try putting your baby down when they’re drowsy, and not when they’re already asleep. “It helps them associate bed with sleep,” Dr. Chen-Milhone says. Hold and rock your baby until they settle down. Then put them down.
  3. Crying is OK! It’s how babies communicate until they learn how to talk. “Crying isn’t physically or psychologically harmful, as long as the crying is for brief periods of time. The thousands of hours of love and care that parents provide for their baby makes up for the crying,” Dr. Chen-Milhone says. Crying is one way babies learn to self-soothe between the ages of two and four months, but it’s important to check on your baby every five to 15 minutes.
  4. Stick to a routine. “When my family had to stay at a hotel during the power outages, we kept the same bed time routine, and both our sons slept well. Any time babies have a cold or experience changes at home, a routine helps sleep stay constant,” Dr. Chen-Milhone says. Try “bath, brush, book, bed” or make up your own reminder — just keep it consistent.