Babies, especially newborns, often fall asleep while breastfeeding, leading to their little bellies not filling up during a feeding. If you don’t figure out how to keep baby awake during breastfeeding, he will end up needing to eat again in an hour or even sooner!
This is a cycle that is most common in the first few weeks old. Newborn babies are sleepy, and as soon as they feel content with a full belly, they start to doze off again.
However, a baby who has only eaten for 10 minutes is not likely to have a full feeding to last two more hours. Unless you want to keep your baby attached all day, having longer feedings is key, so you have to learn how to keep baby awake during breastfeeding!
Is Falling Asleep at the Breast Normal?
If you’re worried that your baby keeps falling asleep while breastfeeding during the first week of life, rest assured that it is quite normal. Babies are biologically programmed to do so because breast milk contains a hormone called cholecystokinin or CCK.
Try saying that five times fast!
CCK makes your baby feel sleepy as he fills up his belly. Young babies receive higher concentrations of CCK, so they tend to fall asleep while feeding. Having a sleepy newborn at the breast is quite normal, so don’t freak out!
Let’s not forget that your sleeping baby is adjusting to new life outside of the womb, and this is a tiring experience. His days and nights are mixed up, so being sleepy at the breast is normal.
How to Keep Baby Awake During Breastfeeding
If you need to keep baby awake during breastfeeding, here are some of my favorite tips to ensure he gets enough milk during a breastfeeding session. Our goal is always full feeds!
These followings tips work great for those early days of life with breastfed babies.
1. Strip Him Down
Once my babies started to fall asleep, I began to strip them down to their diaper. Not only does the temperature change and movement wake them up, but skin to skin contact helps babies stay awake and alert.
Putting your baby skin to skin also lets you notice little feeding cues that you might otherwise miss. For example, babies who are skin to skin stimulates your baby’s natural rooting reflex, letting you know he is hungry. That’s one reason doctors recommend it so often!
2. Diaper Change
The cool air on his bottom is a sure way to wake up a baby. I typically change diapers in the middle of a drowsy feeding.
Start breastfeeding, and once you notice your baby is drowsy and nearly drained your breast, stop and change the diaper. Then, offer the other breast. Simple yet effective!
This tip is one of my favorites during a night feeding when lights need to stay low to work on your baby’s sleep cycle.
3. Turn on the Lights
Anyone will wake up more when they lights turn on, and the world becomes brighter! Turn on the lights or open the curtains to stimulate your baby and increase his wakefulness.
Of course, don’t flip on bright lights in the middle of the night, but other times, it’s perfectly acceptable!
4. Make Noise!
Silence is simply going to lull your baby back to sleep. So, make noise!
Talk to your baby, sing some songs, and engage him regularly while feeding. Looking your baby in the eyes also helps him stay awake and stimulated while breastfeeding.
5. Play Music
If talking helps keep your baby awake, music will as well. Playing music in the background or on your phone gives your baby something else to stimulate them during feeding times.
6. Gently Wipe His Skin with a Cloth or Baby Wipe
Use a cool wet washcloth or a baby wipe to wipe your baby’s skin while nursing. The cool sensation is enough to keep your baby awake for a full feed.
7. Switch Sides
Here’s another one of my favorite ways to keep baby awake during breastfeeding – switching sides. As soon as my baby would get too drowsy, I stopped nursing and switched to the next breast.
Avoid doing this if you’re having trouble with your milk supply. Typically, you want to drain each breast fully, but the movement helps to jostle them awake.
8. Change Breastfeeding Positions
This way to keep baby awake during breastfeeding is similar to switching sides – the movement helps jostle your baby awake.
If you’re feeding your baby in the football hold, move to the cradle hold. You can breastfeed laying back or any other position, but changing to different breastfeeding positions is a great way to get your baby to stay awake while nursing.
9. Compress Your Breasts
Make a C shape with your thumb and fingers and gently compress your breast as your baby eats. This helps keep your milk flowing, and your baby eating.
Babies are less likely to fall asleep when your milk keeps flowing out at a faster pace. Breast compression also helps with letdown if you’re struggling with your milk supply.
10. Burp Him Regularly
Burping your baby is a great idea; it helps babies who tend to spit up or have acid reflux as well. It helps to get rid of excess tummy gas that may cause a belly ache.
Plus, putting your baby upright will encourage him to wake up and have longer feeding.
11. Stroke His Palms of His Hands and Soles of His Feet
Touching these parts of your baby’s body stimulates their reflexes, helping them stay awake. This gentle movement may cause your baby to twitch a bit – but it won’t hurt them. It might even tickle a bit!
Tickle those little toes with your free hand; it leads to gentle stimulation. You can even walk your fingers up and down their arms or around the top of their head.
12. Move Their Arms and Legs
Gently move your baby’s arm in a circular motion or bicycle his legs while talking to him. Make it a silly little game. This is a great way to get your baby to stay awake while nursing.
13. Check Your Baby’s Latch
You want to make sure your baby has a good latch while nursing. If he isn’t latching well, he may not transfer enough milk. All that work, even if he isn’t getting lots of milk, will cause your baby to feel tired.
How do you know if your baby has a good latch?
Make sure your baby’s mouth is wide open, and he takes in a good portion of your areola. A lactation consultant can help you if you aren’t sure about your baby’s latch.
How to Know if Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk
It’s normal to worry about whether or not your baby is taking in enough milk while breastfeeding. Unlike bottle feeding, you cannot track how much milk your baby eats, leaving you feeling unsure and worried.
Here are some signs to know that your baby is getting enough breast milk while nursing.
- Your baby regains his birth weight. It’s normal for newborns to lose up to 10% of their birth weight. However, most doctors want to see enough weight gain to get back up to their birthweight one to two weeks after delivery.
- He has 6 or more wet diapers per day.
- He has 3-4 bowel movements per day. Typically, this is after your baby is a few days old. After birth, your baby moves from tarry meconium to yellow, seedy, breastmilk poop.
- Your baby seems satisfied after feeding for 15-30 minutes.
Pay attention to your baby’s behaviors after a feeding session. Not all babies take the same amount of time to breastfeed, so one baby might take considerably longer than another.
Here are some signs your baby is truly satisfied after feeding.
- He has a good latch and doesn’t constantly pop off the breast.
- You hear gulping and swallowing while he is nursing.
- Your breasts aren’t as full after the feeding.
- His body feels less tense with his hands open and relaxed, and your baby’s face may relax as well. Babies have tight fists when they feel hungry.
- He goes from actively suckling to suckling lightly to asleep.
- Your baby’s jaw will relax and fall slightly open.
Is Falling Asleep While Breastfeeding Ever a Cause for Concern?
You still might be concerned that your baby is not getting enough milk because they are falling asleep at the breast so often. The first step is to visit your pediatrician for a wellness visit and weight check.
When you have a new baby, these visits are regularly, allowing you time to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have. While a sleepy baby at the breast is normal, excess sleepiness may be a sign of a medical condition.
The most common medical concern that causes your baby to be extra sleepy is jaundice. Jaundice causes:
- Yellowish skin
- Poor feedings
- Fewer wet or dirty diapers
- Extra fussiness
In rare circumstances, babies who are extra sleepy have underlying medical conditions like a cardiac or respiratory condition. However, that is not typical.
Learning how to keep baby awake during breastfeeding is one of the keys to full feedings, but it’s common to have a sleepy newborn. Use these tips to keep your baby awake and pay attention for signs that your baby is truly getting enough milk!