- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2000

New parents can put to rest many of the common tips they eagerly try in hopes of getting their babies to sleep.

In addition to the larger advice dispen-sed by infant sleep experts, there is a slew of little tips and tricks new parents eagerly try in the hopes that their baby will sleep better.

Some work, but most are usually just myths, says Dr. George Cohen, a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center and editor of "The American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child's Sleep."

Among the most popular:

• Give the baby some cereal and her stomach will be fuller longer, resulting in longer periods of sleep.

Some parents try this well before 4 to 6 months, which is the recommended time to first offer solid foods.

"I think the theory behind this is if you give the baby something more solid, he will sleep better," Dr. Cohen says. "It doesn't seem to work. In fact, it could cause stomachaches, and if you offer solids too early, you could be exacerbating food allergies."

• Babies at a certain age say 3 months or 6 months should be able to sleep through the night.

Dr. Cohen advises not sticking to this statement too carefully.

"Kids don't always follow the same schedule," he says. "Some babies do things in normal sequence; others may walk before they crawl. Sleeping through the night is unusual much before 3 months. It is important to remember that premature infants and babies who are breast-fed will take longer to sleep through than full-term and bottle-fed babies, respectively.

Babies who sleep poorly may not just be hungry, they may be ill, Dr. Cohen says.

Terri Nussbaum's daughter, Max, woke up several times a night even as she approached her first birthday. At age 14 months, Max was diagnosed with food allergies, and itchy eczema was determined to be part of the reason for Max's nighttime problems.

"Once we got a hold of the allergies and started eliminating bad foods, she slept a lot better," says Mrs. Nussbaum, of Falls Church.

Bedtime routines can also play an important part in teaching a child healthy sleep habits, Dr. Cohen says. A bath, quiet play, soft music and a story can get even a young baby into the mindset that it is time to sleep.

"I like having a routine," says Jaimie Galbreath, a Reston mother of 2-year-old Katherine and 7-month-old Caroline. "We read stories. And now Katherine is an amazing sleeper."

Mrs. Galbreath also says she believes her daughters learned to put themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night when she stopped going in at every whimper.

"I can tell the difference between (Caroline's) hungry cry or another cry," Mrs. Galbreath says. "When she gets up at night, I listen and go get some water. If she is still crying, I will go to her, but nine times out of 10 she will go back to sleep. I am much more relaxed with the second baby."

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