Tips for Breastfeeding a Sleeping Baby

Newborn sleeping on mom's lap

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You may have heard that you should never wake a sleeping baby, but that's not always the case. While some newborns will wake up ready to eat without any help, others may be sleepy and need some encouragement. You may find that there are times when you have to wake your baby up for feedings.

Your breastfeeding newborn should eat approximately every two to three hours around the clock. By breastfeeding your baby very often, they will be able to get enough breast milk, and you will be able to stimulate your body to make a healthy breast milk supply.

This doesn't mean that you have to put your child on a breastfeeding schedule; breastfed newborns can eat on demand. However, if your newborn doesn't wake up after four hours, you need to wake them for a feeding.

How to Wake Your Baby

Waking a newborn to breastfeed isn't always easy. If you find yourself trying to breastfeed a sleepy baby, you may be in for a challenge. These 12 strategies may make it a little easier.

  • Touch your baby: Ease your child out of their sleepy state by tickling their feet or gently rubbing their arms, legs, and back.
  • Talk to your child: Just hearing your voice might be enough to wake your baby.
  • Unwrap your baby: Remove your child's blankets and even undress them so that they aren't so warm and comfortable. However, keep in mind that babies lose body heat very quickly. So do not keep your child undressed in a cold room.
  • Change your baby's diaper: The movement and feeling of a diaper change are often enough to get a baby up and ready to eat.
  • Grab a washcloth: Gently wipe your child's face with a wet washcloth.
  • Try a bath: The feel of the water and the change in temperature might do the trick.
  • Burp your baby: Patting and rubbing your baby's back can help to wake them up. Burping also removes any air trapped in your child's stomach that may be making them feel full or uncomfortable (and not interested in eating).
  • Dim the lights: A baby's eyes are sensitive to bright light. Little ones may be more likely to open their eyes and wake up in a darker room.
  • Put your baby to your breast: The natural rooting reflex that your baby is born with may get them eating even if they are sleepy. You can also try to express a few drops of your breast milk onto your baby's mouth. The smell and taste of your breast milk may help to get your baby sucking.
  • Stroke your baby's cheek: If you can get your child latched on but they still aren't eating, stroke their cheek to help get them nursing.
  • Change breastfeeding positions: Moving your child to a different breastfeeding position might help to wake them up. Try the side-lying position, football hold, or laid-back nursing position.
  • Avoid using a pacifier: Using a pacifier can keep your child sleeping longer, and it can prevent you from realizing that your baby is hungry. While it's OK for breastfed babies to use a pacifier, wait until the child is approximately 4 to 6 weeks old and breastfeeding is going well before introducing it.

Normal Sleepiness in Newborns and Infants

When they're very young, newborns and infants can be sleepy for many reasons, and it's normal for your child to be drowsy for some of their feedings. Just after birth, your baby may be tired or still affected by the medications that you were given during labor and delivery. Plus, some newborns just like to sleep a lot.

As the weeks go on, you will be able to let your child sleep for longer periods of time between feedings. At approximately two weeks of age, your baby may have one long stretch of sleep each day of up to five hours (at night, if you are lucky), where you don't have to wake them for feeding.

After two months, your baby will most likely be able to sleep as much as they want between feedings. Just be sure they are breastfeeding about eight to 10 times a day and gaining weight well.

When to Call the Doctor

Infant jaundice, illness, infections, or other issues can cause sleepiness in infants beyond what is normal. If you believe your baby is excessively sleepy, or you're having trouble waking your baby for most feedings, notify your child's pediatrician right away.

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