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10 Tips If Your Baby Falls Asleep While Breastfeeding

Updated: Apr 10

Mother holding sleeping baby on chest

Having a sleepy newborn baby in your arms can be one of the most rewarding experiences as a new parent. You have waited 10 uncomfortable months to hold, snuggle, coo, and love on a baby, but when they are supposed to be feeding at the breast, a sleeping baby can be hugely frustrating! Especially when you are the one that is hoping to be sleeping. Sleep deprivation is real! If you have a baby who sleeps when they should be eating at the breast or falls asleep regularly during their feeds, here are some tips for you to improve feeding at the breast. Hopefully, then you will be able to get a long run of sleep and rest assured that your baby is getting enough milk during their time at the breast.

These tips are all ways to help improve your feeds. This is not an exhaustive list but some good ideas to improve the quality of your feeds and keep the baby awake at the breast. Do what works for you and your baby. Do one of them, do all of them, either way, let’s try to get you modern mamas some better feeds and more time for your own rest.

  1. Practice skin-to-skin: Having a baby undressed and tucked against your chest is not just beneficial for immediately after birth at the hospital. It is a great way to help them regulate at any time. Being close to you, literally your skin on theirs, helps newborn babies to regulate their body temperature, hear you (voice and heartbeat), and smell you (and the breast milk). It can be calming. It is a safe space for them and facilitates some of the natural instincts and reflexes around breastfeeding. Doing skin-to-skin time before feeding can help get them ready and let them know it is time to eat, preparing the newborn or infant for the task at hand. Skin contact also requires getting them undressed, which can help to wake them up for a feed. No one likes to get out of the warm, comfy covers in the morning and babies are no exception. Being undressed can wake them up when it is feeding time and is the first step in practicing skin-to-skin. 

  2. Change their diaper: For anyone who has had or been around a new baby, you know diaper changes can be exciting! Not many newborn babies will sleep through the exposure, manipulation, and wet wipes of a diaper change. It can get them up from a deep sleep or send them into a wakeful tizzy if they are starting to doze. Changing the baby’s diaper before or mid-feed can be a way to wake them up, even make them a little angry, or cause the baby to cry so that they will eat at the breast instead of continuing their nap or falling asleep mid-feed before they are actually full. 

  3. Hands-on nursing: I have always thought of this like squeezing icing out of a piping bag -- must be my love for baking! Silly analogy, I know, but by massaging your breast tissue and milk ducts towards the nipples, you can squeeze a little flow of milk into the baby’s mouth, stimulating them into a more active suck-swallow pattern. In the early days, you can use this method to hand express a little colostrum into the baby’s mouth to wake them up for a feed. A little massage while feeding or during a pumping session can help promote milk production and support a good milk supply too!

  4. Stroke their cheek: A light, loving rub along the cheek or from the corner of your baby’s mouth to where their ear is can stimulate sucking at the breast. This encourages them to actively suck and swallow more during a feed instead of snoozing or falling into a comfort, pacifier-suck pattern. 

  5. Hold your baby’s hand: Holding your baby’s hand and rubbing their palm will stimulate their suck reflex. In utero, their hands were what they had to suck on for practice since they did not need to feed, the umbilical cord was providing all their nutrition. Therefore, when their hands are touched or manipulated it can prompt them to start sucking, even if they are starting to get sleepy at the breast. Rubbing on their hands can also be a jarring little reminder to stay awake as they need to complete the feed before that longer sleep session we are hoping for. 

  6. Talk or sing to baby: They know your voice and have been listening to it for months in utero. Talking or singing to sleepy babies while they feed can make them more alert, hopefully, encouraging more active, effective feeding habits. 

  7. Blow a kiss: Gently blowing on a baby’s face can startle or stimulate them, and it can keep them from drifting off into deeper sleep if they are getting drowsy. This one doesn't typically work as well once the baby is in deep sleep, so make sure to blow your kisses early while they are still somewhat awake and suckling at the breast. 

  8. Turn on the light!: As you develop a routine and start to teach your baby the difference between day and nighttime, light can help keep them awake or be stimulating. Sunlight especially can encourage young babies to be more awake at the breast. So, try to feed in a lighted room, maybe by a window or in a room with lots of natural sun. During nighttime feedings, use a soft glow night light so that you can observe the baby and so they can feed well before going back to sleep. 

  9. Burp the baby: With a deep latch and good seal, breastfed babies do not take in as much air as babies fed with bottles. They still, however, need to be burped. Taking a sleepy baby off the breast and burping them via gentle patting can be a great way to wake them up a bit. Releasing that big burp can also remind them that their little tummies are not full yet encouraging them to take more milk in at the breast or complete a full feeding session. 

  10. Set the baby down: I know, this might cause the baby to cry so I usually recommend this as a last resort. Plus, if you are trying to get them fed, putting them down is obviously counterproductive. That being said when you set the baby down, away from you, your smell, your voice, your warmth they will often wake up and search to get back to you and back on the breast. This isn’t the most efficient way to encourage babies to breastfeed, but it can be a good way to wake them up. Use these few seconds of baby safely laying down and waking up to grab yourself a sip of water, stretch, or even take a couple of bites of a snack. Then you will both be ready to get back to it and complete the feed. 

I hope the above methods will help you have more awake time at the breast, more efficient feeds, and ultimately more rest and recovery time for the new parents. Usually, the sleepy feeding stage does not last long beyond the first few weeks of life, as older babies become more efficient with milk transfer at the breast on their own time. If you find that no matter what you are doing you cannot keep your new baby awake at the breast to feed, talk to your pediatric provider, consider a weighted feed to assess transfer, or contact your local certified lactation consultant. There are so many ways to help facilitate active breastfeeding at the breast, so do not feel discouraged. It takes time for anyone to learn a new skill and breastfeeding is new to mother and baby alike. New skills can also be tiring! You got this, just stick with it, modern mama!

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