Is baby sleeping on the breast? How do you make baby stay awake while breastfeeding? Here are the best tips for keeping a sleepy newborn awake for feedings!
One of the most important things during the first days of a baby’s life is making sure they are getting enough milk.
While important, achieving a full feeding can be one of the most frustrating tasks for a new parent, especially when baby insists on sleeping on the breast.
And just so you know: I am not a physician or lactation consultant, just a mom who’s been through three breastfed babies! Of course, if you have any concerns about breastfeeding, talk to your doctor!
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Why Full Feedings Are Important
A full belly is important for the baby to thrive and be sure the baby is getting the nourishment they need.
Making sure your baby has a full feeding is also very crucial in establishing the breastfeeding relationship.
A nursing mother needs to fully empty the breasts to help establish milk supply and for her body to become “in tune” to the baby’s needs when it comes to milk production.
It is also important to focus on a full feeding to ensure a nursing baby is getting the nutrient-rich hindmilk to make sure the baby is getting what they need for their health and achieve proper weight gain.
Finally, taking the time to make sure baby receives a full feeding at each feeding time helps to begin laying the groundwork for sleep training in the future by forming a positive sleep association with how much milk they drink.
A full feeding equals a full belly which equals a happily sleeping baby!
How to Tell if a Sleepy Newborn is Awake or Asleep
It sounds silly! Isn’t it OBVIOUS if a baby is awake or asleep?
It can be so tough when you’re sleep deprived yourself to tell if your breastfed baby is falling asleep while eating or not.
Heck, it’s easy to start falling asleep ourselves while nursing, especially in the middle of the night. It’s understandable that baby sleep happens since mommy sleep happens easily too.
BE WATCHING FOR AN ACTIVE SUCK
Often baby falls in a light sleep and will start sucking for comfort rather than for nourishment.
It will become a “lazy suck” and not be actively sucking at all.
Be on the lookout for the “lazy sucking” as it’s a signal that your baby is snoozing rather than eating and therefore only getting small amounts of milk!
You should be able to see the jaw actively moving to signal eating vs just sucking.
Doing a bit of breast compression can help to see if the baby is sleeping rather than actually breast feeding.
SLEEPY HAND TEST
The best way to tell if baby is asleep while feeding is the sleepy hand test. This little trick was so helpful for me!
While feeding baby, lift the baby’s arm in the air and then let go of it. If their little hand just falls down limply, then they are full-on in a deep sleep.
Any sucking they are doing is a comfort more than a nourishment. So it’s time to do some of the measures to get them awake and eating efficiently!
If you let go of that sweet little hand and it stiffens, it means the baby is awake.
You can also simply watch a baby’s hand while nursing to see if they are awake or asleep.
Baby’s hand in a fist while nursing signifies they are awake, if the hand is relaxed then it likely means they are asleep.
How to Keep Baby From Sleeping on the Breast While Breastfeeding
A sleepy, snuggly newborn is so sweet and precious.
However, that same sleepy newborn can be a source of frustration when he or she simply will not wake up for their feeding time!
Newborn babies are often very, very tired and will sleep with ease.
While that is a blessing for a postpartum mom who is recovering from the pregnancy and the birth and delivery experience, it can also wreck havoc on getting breastfeeding established when you simply cannot get your baby to wake up to nurse!
Keeping a sleepy newborn awake for a full feeding is important whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.
If your baby is falling asleep while bottle feeding, many of these same tips will apply!
I’m specifically talking about breastfeeding because bottle feeding does not require the baby to work as hard to get the nourishment they need.
You can also physically see the bottle and know if your baby has had a full feeding! It’s much tougher with breastfeeding to know if your baby has had enough.
Here are some tips for how to keep a sleepy baby awake to ensure a full feeding:
Practice Skin to Skin
Skin to skin contact is not only an excellent way to bond with your new baby but it is also a great way to help baby start to eat!
Unswaddle and undress your baby all the way down to the diaper.
Remove your own top and expose your skin so you are literally skin to skin.
It can feel odd at first but it is such a sweet time together and I encourage you to suggest skin to skin bonding for your husband and baby as well!
Having that body to body connection with your baby encourages them to nurse and will help get them to stop being as sleepy.
Switch Breasts While Nursing
Another good idea is to switch the breast you’re feeding baby from, as it can be a great way to get them to wake up a bit.
The recommendation is to feed your baby from one breast for 20 minutes, then burp and finish the feeding on the second breast for another 20 minutes.
If those longer periods don’t work, rather than feed from each breast for twenty minutes before switching sides, you can split up the feeding into smaller time increments on each breast.
Maybe do ten minutes on one side, ten minutes on the other, back and forth until you’ve completed a full feeding.
Or maybe even split it into five minute segments!
Be sure to burp in-between each side to help prevent baby from getting gassy and be sure to keep track of the amount of time spent during the overall feeding.
Going for a shorter period on each breast can easily result in ending the feeding too soon which would mean the baby didn’t receive the full feeding and will likely be hungry again sooner and or wake sooner too.
Tickle Feet, Side and Chin
We think of tickling as a way to be silly with our children and bring about giggles.
But babies actually typically find tickling a little bit uncomfortable.
By tickling the bottom of the feet while baby feeds it helps to wake them from sleeping.
Sometimes you have to tickle a little harder to really get them to wake up!
Tickling both under the chin as well as in the side of the belly are both additional spots that can help make the baby slightly uncomfortable enough to wake up and be more eager to nurse or drink.
Use a Wash Cloth
I always set up a little “nursing station” beside the seat where I nurse my babies.
I keep my “must-haves” while breastfeeding easily within reach during feeding time.
One item I keep on hand is a damp washcloth. I will wet a washcloth and wring it out and keep it in a little dish on my station.
If my baby won’t wake up one trick I will do is to use the wet cloth to wipe the baby’s face or head.
It really can help to get them awake and eating!
Take a Burp Break
Burp breaks always help to get baby awake!
Clearing out gassiness also helps make sure they take a full feeding rather than having a belly full of air.
Varying the position of the burps also ensures freeing up all that trapped gas as well as getting them to be more alert.
Take a Diaper Change Break
Initially I tend to wake baby and immediately change the baby’s diaper prior to feeding.
However, when I have a very sleepy baby I will instead switch to changing the diaper mid-feeding.
Taking a break in the middle of feeding to do a diaper change helps stimulate the baby and wake ’em up a bit!
It’s also really helpful if YOU are super tired too. Getting up and getting moving for a short period to change the diaper helped ME wake up so I could stay focused on keeping baby awake and finishing that full feeding.
It was like my own little reminder “you’re halfway done – almost time to go back to bed!” 😉
Vary Your Nursing Position
There are a variety of positions for nursing a baby.
The most commonly used one tends to be the cradle hold.
This is a very cuddly position and can cause a sleepy baby!
By changing positions, especially using the football hold type position, it helps prevent the baby from sleeping.
As you get more comfortable and confident in breast-feeding you’ll find that certain positions become your favorite go-to positions when nursing.
Mixing it up can help keep your baby from getting into too much of a routine and can help them stay awake!
Lower the Lights
It would be natural to think that brighter lights would help wake baby up more for eating, but the opposite is actually true!
Babies tend to close their eyes in bright lighting so by dimming the lights it’s actually easier for a baby to open their eyes and remain awake.
It is important to keep a room well lit during the day as it can help a baby’s circadian rhythms and avoid day and night confusion!
Baby Sleeping on Breast: Final Thoughts
When I talk to new moms my #1 piece of advice is always to focus on full feedings and keep that baby from sleeping on the breast.
It is often a lot harder of a task than it sounds like it would be!
Typically after a week or so of trying out these tips you will find what works best for your baby to keep them awake during each nursing and feeding session.
Most babies get out of the overly sleepy stage by a month to two months of age and as they get older they also start eating quicker. Those first few months of life are a learning process but it does get easier!
They start to realize that breast milk = food and that food is good so babies become more eager to nurse and the process becomes much smoother!