How do I Keep my Breast or Formula Fed Baby Awake during Feedings?
Read time: 4 minutes
What to know about babies who fall asleep while feeding
Understand your baby’s sleep and eating patterns
Tips for keeping your baby awake and alert to feed
When sleeping during feeding can signal a problem
What is normal sleepiness while feeding your infant?
It’s normal and common for babies to fall asleep while feeding, especially while nursing. Breast milk (and even more so suckling at the breast) encourages the flow of “feel good” hormones like oxytocin and cholecystokinin, promoting restfulness and feelings of security and safety.1
Newborns have a lot of growth and development happening in those early weeks, and their bodies need a lot of sleep and nutrition to help that happen. Given that they need to eat and sleep so much, sleepiness with feeding is bound to happen.1,2
Is a sleepy baby ever a problem?
Despite well-meaning advice to the contrary, feeding to sleep is not a negative, nor does it create associations that will trap parents into this pattern forever. The associations between feeding (especially breastfeeding) and sleep are biologically linked and usually nothing to be concerned about.1
A baby who is well-fed and meeting their weight and development goals will often fall asleep after a good feeding. A good feeding can be recognized as one that includes vigorous suckling and ends with a relaxed, cozy, “milk drunk” look.4
While falling asleep after a feed is usually nothing to worry about, the below signs could indicate that baby is having difficulty with eating and means that you should talk with your baby’s doctor or a lactation consultant.
Signs baby baby may be having difficulty with feeding, resulting in sleepiness:
Fall asleep quickly: before going onto the breast or bottle or after just a few suck/swallows
Have irregular bursts of suckling and swallowing
Still look tense even if they do fall asleep
May have weight gain issues5,6
Should you want to discuss your sleepy baby, our expert dietitians and breastfeeding specialists are also available to chat Mondays – Fridays 8 AM – 6 PM ET and Saturdays - Sundays 8 AM – 2 PM ET. Chat now!
What to do if your baby falls asleep while feeding
Keep baby stimulated
Try undressing baby or changing baby’s diaper.Newborns can be sleepy, so this technique works best with them, especially if they are working through some feeding issues like having just gotten a tongue tie fixed or if baby was born a little early.6,7
Additionally, a warm baby can be a sleepy baby! Keep baby cool, rub baby’s back, or run your finger across their cheek and chin. This can be done for both bottle and breastfeeding babies.8
Do breast compressions if you are nursing at the breast
Compressions can be particularly effective for a sleepy baby. This action helps increase the flow of milk, which can be helpful for a baby who is having trouble sustaining a full feeding session.8
When you notice baby not drinking or the drinking/swallowing has slowed down, give your breast a squeeze (but not so strong that it hurts). You should see baby’s suckling start to pick up. Keep squeezing until baby slows down their suckling again.8 You can repeat this as often as you would like.
Do not restrict or schedule feedings
Babies are primed to eat when they need to, and restriction or a strict schedule can lead to underfeeding, which can cause even more issues with sleepiness.7,10 A fed baby is a stronger and more alert baby.
Note that you may need to wake baby to feed if your newborn is eating less than 8 times per day, is having trouble gaining weight, and/or is sleeping a 4 hour or more stretch more than once per day.7
Supplement with more breastmilk or formula if needed
It’s okay to supplement if needed to help keep baby meeting their nutrition needs while feeding concerns are being investigated. Supplementation can be with expressed breast milk, donor breast milk, or formula if the first two aren’t available.
Supplementing a small amount prior to nursing at the breast will allow baby to finish at the breast and take their fill.11
If baby is bottle feeding, try a different nipple size or shape
Some babies (especially those with a tongue tie or other issue) may have trouble getting their mouth around certain nipples and this can cause feeding to be harder than it needs to be. If you change nipple sizes, be careful that the flow is not too fast for baby. You can try feeding baby upright to help them pace themselves.
If you are breastfeeding, try switching breasts
Similar to compressions, the faster flow of the previously unused breast may help keep baby awake.12
Adjust baby’s latch
Sometimes babies are not getting enough milk, and therefore become sleepier, because they are not latching well. This is because a shallow or poor latch may prevent baby from transferring an adequate amount of milk.6 Sometimes simply changing breastfeeding positions can help baby latch deeper; occasionally a bit more adjustments are needed.
Contact a lactation consultant for a full assessment if you suspect baby is not latching well.
Ask for help
If baby is having trouble staying awake even with the above techniques, feedings take an excessively long time (40 minutes or longer consistently), baby isn’t gaining weight appropriately, or is difficult to wake, call your baby’s doctor ASAP.7,12
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Mon-Fri 8am-6pm (ET), and Sat-Sun 8am-2pm (ET). No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!
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