Newborns are super sleepy in the first few weeks. Keeping them awake for a full feeding is important for their optimal growth initially. Read on to find out ways to keep baby awake during breastfeeding.
What is wrong with a baby falling asleep while breastfeeding? After all, it is the only fast and effective way to get a newborn to sleep. But when we are talking about breastfeeding, you want your newborn to stay awake for full feeding. If your baby drifts off after sucking a few minutes at the breast, he may not be getting enough feeding to keep him full for 2-3 hours. In this case, he will wake up and ask for feeding more often.
And this is a perfect recipe for one exhausted mama. Therefore, keeping a baby awake during breastfeeding is imperative for getting him to eat enough at each feeding session.
A hormone responsible for a satiety signal in a newborn while breastfeeding is called cholecystokinin (or CCK). CCK naturally makes the baby full and drowsy while breastfeeding. It is released in the baby’s stomach a few minutes after he starts sucking. Younger babies have higher concentration of CCK meaning that – the younger the infant is, the harder it is to keep him awake during breastfeeding (1-2).
Also, breast milk’s composition changes during evening and nights to have more sleep-inducing hormones – especially cortisol (3).
No wonder why babies fall asleep at the breast and why it is hard to keep them awake while breastfeeding.
It is for this reason you need tips and tricks to keep your baby awake during breastfeeding. Let’s go right into it.
11 Ways To Keep Baby Awake During Breastfeeding
Falling asleep at the breast is normal behavior for a newborn, and as a mother we need to ensure that they are awake to get enough to feed at each breastfeeding session.
If your baby is falling asleep early in the feeding session, here is what you need to do to keep them awake.
- Take off his Clothes
Strip his clothes off except the diaper and hold him on your chest. Heat from your body will keep him warm but not that warm to go back to sleep. Skin-to-skin with your baby will give him a cue that it’s time to eat.
- Hold him in upright Position
When your baby is dozing off at the breast, unlatch and hold him upright and gently tap his back and talk to him.
- Tickle or Touch him
Sometimes simply touching his feet or tickling at his feet is enough to keep him awake during breastfeeding.
- Change Diaper
Changing his diaper is the first thing you want to do to wake your baby. Wiping their bottom with cold wipes will surely wake them up.
- Change Breastfeeding position
As soon as he loses interest in feeding at one breast, change your feeding position. Try football hold, which is less cuddly than cradle hold and might keep him awake while feeding.
- Switch Nursing
Switch nursing is switching your baby to another breast as soon as he starts to doze off from the first breast. Before you offer another breast, hold your baby upright, burp him or gently pat on his back to keep him awake.
- Breast Compression
Gently massage your breast to keep your milk flowing while breastfeeding. It will encourage our baby to keep sucking and swallowing for a longer duration.
- Hand express
Hand express some milk to moisten your nipple and rub nipple against your baby’s lips. Taste and smell of milk may encourage your baby to open his mouth to suck again.
- Damp Washcloth
If nothing works, apply cold damp washcloth on the baby’s cheeks. It will surely wake your baby up for feed.
- Stroke His Cheek
Stroke your baby’s cheek if they are latched but not nursing effectively.
- Walk Your Finger Over Your Baby’s Spine
Hold the baby in an upright position and walk your finger over your baby’s spine.
How Do You Know If Baby Is Well Fed?
It is important to pay attention to baby’s suck and swallow when you are breastfeeding. Watch their throat movement (fall and rise) when the baby is swallowing. Baby is usually getting a large amount of milk at initial letdown. And babies tend to drift off once the initial letdown subsides. To keep your milk flowing for a little longer, you want to hand massage your breast, so the baby keeps sucking and swallowing. You want to make sure that baby nurses for at least 10-15 min at each nursing session.
For first time mothers, it is hard to tell if a baby is getting enough to eat specially when you have one sleepy baby. One easier way to ensure your baby is getting a full feed is weighing your baby before and after a nursing session. It will clearly show the difference in baby’s weight before and after feeding.
In addition, there are few signs to tell if the baby is getting enough food.
- Baby is nursing every 2-3 hours in 24 hours
- Baby pulls away from the breast on their own
- Shakes his head
- Keep his mouth closed tightly
- Weight gain is as expected
- Monitor their pee and poo. Baby should have 3-4 stools and more than 6 wet diapers every day by four days of age
- Your breasts feel softer after nursing and baby seems happy and content
Signs Baby Isn’t Getting Enough Breast Milk
If your baby is excessively sleepy and showing no interest in feeding, then you need to talk to your pediatrician about it. It could be a sign of jaundice, infection or fever in your newborn.
Here are signs for babies not getting enough breast milk.
- You may find your baby sucking but not swallowing and rapidly falling asleep at the breast.
- Constantly asking for a feed – less than an hour between feedings
- Feeding lasts more than an hour during nursing sessions
- Never gets any longer stretches of sleep
- Poor latch may prevent baby from getting enough milk
- Baby hasn’t regained birth weight by 2 weeks
Here you go, mamas!! One or more of these tips will help you keep your baby awake during breastfeeding. Keeping babies awake during breastfeeding is important not only for their optimal growth but also to establish a healthy milk supply to keep up with demand and supply cycle for days to come.
So mamas, pay attention to their suck and swallow to ensure that they are getting enough to eat at each nursing session and use the tips above to keep them awake if they doze off early in the session.
Keep feeding mamas!!!
1. Marchini G, Lindén A. Cholecystokinin, a satiety signal in newborn infants?. J Dev Physiol. 1992;17(5):215-219.
2. Uvnäs-Moberg K, Marchini G, Winberg J. Plasma cholecystokinin concentrations after breast feeding in healthy 4 day old infants. Arch Dis Child. 1993;68(1 Spec No):46-48. doi:10.1136/adc.68.1_spec_no.46
3. Pundir S, Wall CR, Mitchell CJ, et al. Variation of Human Milk Glucocorticoids over 24 hour Period. J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 2017;22(1):85-92. doi:10.1007/s10911-017-9375-x
About The Author
Pranali Patel is a science researcher, a wife, mom of 2 boys and runs a website called empiricalmama where she writes about pregnancy, labor and delivery, breastfeeding and babies. Information that she shares is purely based on observation or experience rather than pure logic or theory. When she is not writing blog posts, you can find her researching an article or experimenting in the kitchen with boys.