Tips to keep sleepy newborns awake during feeding

Ah, I remember this only too well. My oldest son was the sleepiest eater. He'd wake up starving but after a short time of eating be off to dream land. Then I'd wake him up, he'd eat furiously again, but be asleep once again in just a couple minutes (if not a couple seconds!). This went on for
3 months. Apparently my breastmilk had a lot of sleep inducing chemicals in it. That or my son was extremely soothed by sucking. It took a lot of energy and perseverance on my part to encourage a full feeding. What kept me at it was the end result I was working toward. I knew that full feeds would help me keep to the eat/activity/sleep routine I was trying to establishing by encouraging long naps, helping me determine how long of waketime to do (if baby is sleeping during his feeds this can really make waketime difficult to determine) and by encouraging long period of night sleep (if baby snacks all day he very likely will do this at night too). The good news is that most babies are able to stay awake for feeds much more easily by 6 weeks of age.

Tips to keep baby awake during a feed:
  • burp and switch breasts often
  • change diaper half way through a feeding
  • rub, massage or tickle feet, toes, hands and/or underarms
  • stroke face
  • talk or sing to baby
  • stroke baby's spine or walk your fingers up baby's spine
  • washcloth on face/neck
  • blow gently into baby's face
  • talk to baby
  • remove his clothes, do skin to skin, or at least unsaddle
  • sit baby upright since this is a hard position to fall asleep in
  • place baby on a flat surface next to you without blankets etc. After baby lies there for 30 seconds or so he'll probably start to fuss and kick and be ready to eat again. This is one of my favorite techniques. It works really well, and it doesn't require much energy from a tired mom.
  • bicycle baby's legs and arms
  • feed baby in a light and noisy environment
  • Crown Reflex- Dance your fingers on the crown of baby's head (firmly but not hard). This helps to lengthen feeds by keeping baby sucking and swallowing.
  • Palmar Reflex- massage baby's palms in a circle with your thumbs. Do this for up to a minute if needed to help baby open his mouth and get ready to nurse.

How to tell if baby is eating or sleeping:
Since many babies like to eat with their eyes closed and many babies will suck while they sleep it can be a bit confusing to tell if baby is eating or sleeping. I could tell if my son was falling asleep because he'd start to do this quivery thing when he would suck. Some babies will start to slow their sucking dramatically (which could also mean they are done eating on one side if breastfeeding). If you see baby's eyelids flicker back and forth then he may be in REM sleep. Distinguishing between sleep and eating with some babies will probably just take time and observation on your part.

Additional Stuff:
  • If you can't get baby to wake up for a feeding, let him sleep an additional 30 minutes and then try again.
  • Generally, a feed shouldn't go longer than 45 minutes. I say generally because there are always exceptions to the rules. If your baby taking longer to eat than this, most likely he is sleeping some of the time.
  • A baby that is too sleepy during a feed may end up needing more waketime than usual. If your baby is having a harder than usual time falling asleep for a nap/bedtime, this may be the culprit.


  1. Thank you so much for this post...have been struggling to keep my little one awake sometimes...but am also not sure if I should let her sleep...but then it will mess with the routine. haha. catch 22. I'm sure I'll learn :)

  2. leila starfish pan,
    You are welcome for the post. Yes, it is a catch 22 and requires some trail and error. Sorry for the late reply! Just saw this.

  3. When trying to follow the feed/wake/sleep feed for say 30min how long should you try to keep baby awake and then how long should you try to let them sleep?

  4. babyrhino12,

    There is a post on waketimes that will give you an idea of the total wake time at each age. The waketime includes feeding time also.

    Naps are often 1.5-2.5 hours. Or at least that is the goal. Some babies will always take short naps no matter what you do, but you can problem solve a lot (there is a short nap post) to try to get longer naps.

    How long the nap is with the ews cycle often depends on how often baby is eating and the wake time. So if baby eats every 3 hours and has a 1 hour wake time, then nap will be around 2 hours (once again, if baby will do it).


  5. My four week old falls asleep 5-10 minutes into feeds, when i wake her/stimulate her to feed more, she fuses like she wants my nipple but sometimes won't latch on. She has a clean diaper &I i change sides, but no luck. Any advice?

    1. My guess she is fussing because she is too sleepy to eat. Keep working on keeping her awake to get full feeds and it'll get better with time. The sleepiness will decrease with time.

  6. my little one is almost 3 weeks old and I am doing baby wise her with I feed her every 3 hours. she nurses about 10 min on one side and then 5 min on the other. Should i try to make her eat longer? my concern is that my milk supply will drop because she is not eating more then 15 min at a time.

    1. If she is content and seems full, I wouldn't try to make her eat longer. Just continue to monitor your milk supply. Many moms are fine in regards to milk supply when they have quick eaters. If you notice your milk supply decreasing (it will decrease some as your body regulates and makes as much as your little one needs) then you may want to pump right after feeds or feed her more often.

  7. I realize she is 2 days old, but we are having a hard time keeping her awake to eat, seems like we get 30 mins of sleep at night then she wakes up, just to eat, then fall back asleep 10 mins later...what can we do since she will sleep alot of the time being newly can we get her to feed more then 10 mins?

    1. Daniel Rubin,
      I would have her more fully awake (crying pretty good) before feeding her. I know it doesn't sound nice and goes agains some people's advice of feeding when you start to see signs, but if baby is so sleepy she barely eats, then this can be helpful. I would also make sure she is hungry when she wakes at night, not just going through sleep phase (see if she'll easily fall asleep without a feed--if she is only feeding for 10 minutes, she could be hungry, though). Mainly, time will help :)

  8. It's absolutely insane how much your child looks like mine. I would believe that was a picture of mine without question.