Babies may begin feeding wide awake and hungry. However, the act of nursing lulls babies to sleep. In the first weeks of life, babies who fall asleep before they have consumed enough milk may be at risk for dehydration and failure to thrive. Some newborns have difficulty staying awake during breastfeeding because of medical conditions, drugs administered during labor, overstimulation or simply that they aren’t eating enough to have the energy to stay awake during feedings.
Newborns sometimes start out sucking vigorously and then slow down their sucking as they drift off. Prevent the baby from falling asleep at the breast by stimulating her at the first sign she is slowing down. If her sucking rhythm slows, try tickling her under her chin. Another technique that encourages the baby to suck faster is breast compressions. Use your free hand to compress the breast that baby is nursing from. Compressing the milk ducts in the breast increases the rate of flow. Rhythmic compressions cause the baby to increase the rate of sucking and suck more vigorously.
Interrupting the Nursing Session
If the baby’s sucking continues to slow, a brief interruption of the nursing session may help to keep the baby awake. Break the suction by inserting your pinky finger between the baby’s lip and the areola. Withdraw the nipple and reposition it in the baby’s mouth. You may need to do this multiple times to keep the baby awake. Changing nursing positions can also help to perk up a drowsy baby. For example, if you are nursing in the cradle position, switch to a less cuddly position, such as the football hold.
After the baby finishes nursing on one side, try to wake him up before attempting to put him on the other breast. Some babies wake up when they are burped. Sitting the baby upright to burp may help. If baby doesn’t wake up after burping, change his diaper. Undressing the baby and applying a cold diaper wipe may help him to wake up. Once he’s wide awake, continue feeding on the second breast.
With especially sleepy newborns, it is a challenge to keep them awake long enough to eat an adequate amount. Because breast milk is easily digested, newborns should nurse a minimum of eight times per 24 hours. The number of wet or soiled diapers indicates if the baby is getting enough to eat. Newborns typically lose a little weight at first but should be back up to their birth weight by the time they are 2 weeks old. If you are concerned that your baby is sleeping through feedings or falling asleep while nursing, contact a lactation consultant or your pediatrician’s office.