How to Keep Baby Awake While Nursing

Sleepy Baby: Wake Your Little One Up for a Full Feed

Every new mom wants her little one to sleep well, but in some cases, a sleepy newborn could be a bad thing. If your baby is too sleepy, he might not wake up enough to take full feedings. If he’s not taking a full feeding, he’s going to wake up and need to eat more often, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Keeping him awake while he’s nursing is the key to getting him to eat enough.

Why Does My Baby Fall Asleep Eating?

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You pop your little one on the breast or cuddle her while she starts to drink her bottle, and within minutes, she’s snoozing away. You know new babies sleep a lot, but she just woke up; is she really ready to nod off again? She probably could, at least for a short bit, thanks to a hormone called cholecystokinin or CCK.

This hormone makes your baby feel full and sleepy. It’s released in your little one’s gut as soon as she starts sucking, which means it happens whether she’s nursing or drinking a bottle. The first dose of CCK hits her about 10 minutes after she starts sucking. Another wave hits at 30 and one more at 60 minutes. The first release of CCK is caused by sucking; the reaction of the milk in her intestine causes the second two releases.

Younger babies generally have higher concentrations of CCK, meaning the younger your little one is, the harder it is to keep her awake while eating.

Keeping Baby Awake

Fortunately, there are some tricks you can use to keep your little peanut awake while feeding.

Take advantage of your little one’s sleep cycles and get him up to feed during REM sleep. You’ll recognize this stage by fluttering eyelids, little sleepy grins, clenched fists and limbs that don’t look limp. Hold your little guy upright and talk to him a bit, straighten out his arms, and stroke the palms of his hands and soles of his feet to try to rouse him.

Strip your baby down to just his diaper and undress yourself to the waist as well. Place your little one against your skin while you feed him. Drape a towel or lightweight blanket over your baby if he’s chilly. The closeness to mama sends him a cue that it’s time to eat.

Wet a washcloth with cool water and rub it on your baby’s face or along his hairline. You can also gently massage the crown of your baby’s head while he’s feeding.

Take advantage of the break in the hormone CCK at 10 minutes and change your little one’s diaper and burp him to try to wake him enough to eat again.

Nursing Tips for a Sleepy Baby

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If you’re nursing, use your free hand to support the weight of your breast, so it’s not resting on your little one’s chin. This helps her keep a good latch and encourages active sucking, which is when you can hear your little one swallowing, not just sucking.

As soon as she seems to lose interest in one breast, switch her to the other. Use the football or clutch hold, in which she’s tucked along your side, rather than the typical cradle hold. The football hold is a bit less cuddly and might keep her from feeling so sleepy.

Squeeze some milk out and tickle her lip to encourage her to open her mouth. If your little girl is still nodding off, take a deep breath. The movement of your chest might jump-start her sucking again. You can also massage your breast to encourage her to suck again. If none of these methods work, stroke fairly firmly from her chin to her Adam’s apple.

Signs of a Full Feed

Try to get in at least 10 to 15 minutes of nursing to ensure your little guy is getting a full feed.

If you can keep your little one awake, you’ll know he’s full when he pulls away from the breast or bottle, shakes his head and keeps his mouth closed tightly or moves his little hands around.

Burping Baby

It’s common for babies, especially those taking the bottle, to swallow air when they’re eating. This air makes your baby uncomfortable and might cause her to fuss. Fussing makes her swallow more air, which leads to more discomfort and even possibly to spit-up.

Burping your little one frequently, even if she’s sleeping, helps prevent the discomfort. Burp a bottle-fed baby after every 2 to 3 ounces or every three to five minutes. Burp a nursing little one when you switch breasts.

If your baby is sleeping, slowly move her to your shoulder or lay her across your lap. Gently pat or even rub your little one’s back lightly to get out any burps. If your little one doesn’t burp, wait a few minutes and try again.

Breastfed babies swallow less air than bottle-fed babies and may not even get any burps out. Even if your little one doesn’t burp, the worst that will happen is she’ll spit up or fuss because she’s uncomfortable and needs to get that out gas bubble.