Breastfeeding Your Sleepy Baby

We have all heard not to wake a sleeping baby. Unfortunately this advice can be dangerous, leading to dehydration, hyperbilirubinemia (jaundice), and weight loss. Though it is best to nurse your baby whenever she shows signs of hunger - also known as feeding on demand - some babies do not wake or fuss on a regular basis. Some babies fall asleep at the breast after just a few sucks and some seem to wake every time that they are put down only to fall asleep again before finishing a feed.

Why is Your Baby So Sleepy?

There are several reasons that your newborn may be extra sleepy, including:


Maternal labor medications that passed to the baby

Newborn Jaundice

Birth trauma or very fast labor

Prolonged Crying

Invasive Procedures

Over stimulating environment

Not getting enough to eat

Stay Together

Your baby sleeps in a cycle of deeper and lighter sleep. It is always easiest to rouse a baby when she is sleeping lightly. You will see her eyes moving under her eyelids, she may stir and even seem to wake briefly. This is the best time to try to wake your sleepy baby but you will miss her subtle cues if you are not together.

Babies who are away from their mothers shut down after a period of crying. It can be very difficult to rouse babies in this state. Keeping your baby with you will keep crying to a minimum.

Skin to Skin

Holding your baby skin to skin will stimulate her to wake up and look for the breast. Undress your baby except for his diaper and yourself from the waist up. Hold your baby vertically between your breasts. If it is chilly, you can put a light blanket around the two of you. Your baby will begin looking for the breast on her own and you will be able to respond quickly to her subtle cues.

Watch the Clock

Though normally we want to watch the baby and not the clock, for sleepy babies this does not work. If your baby does not wake on her own to feed, make sure to wake her every 3 hours around the clock. If she is taking very brief feeds, she may need to be woken every 2 hours in order to get enough milk. This is often the case with premature babies.

The Vicious Cycle

A baby who is not getting enough milk will sleep more in order to conserve energy. A certified lactation consultant can help you determine why the baby is not able to get milk and what to do about it. Often these babies will need to be supplemented until they are strong enough to nurse efficiently. You will need to protect your milk supply by expressing your milk. Supplementing your baby at the breast will encourage her to continue to nurse. Becoming fatigued at the breast often results from a medical problem. Unless you are sure why your baby is having a problem, have her checked by her pediatrician.