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.

21 comments :

  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 :)

    ReplyDelete
  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.

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

    ReplyDelete
  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.

    http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2009/02/wake-time.html

    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).

    Rachel

    ReplyDelete
  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?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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.

      Delete
  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.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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.

      Delete
  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 born..how can we get her to feed more then 10 mins?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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 :)

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unknown,
      It's amazing how alike kids look sometimes. My son, above, is 8 now and cute as can be.

      Delete
  9. Hi Rachel,

    I'm having a bit of a nightmare time with my newborn baby, and I don't really know what the issue(s) is/are... Please help!

    He's almost 3 weeks old, and during the night he seems to want to feed almost hourly at the moment (I'm exclusively breastfeeding). To begin with he'd go 2/3 hours, but recently he just doesn't seem to want to... He only feeds for about 5/10 minutes at a time most times, and I don't seem to be able to keep him awake - although maybe I'm not trying hard enough?How long should they feed for at this age to make sure they're getting a full feed?

    He also seems slightly refluxy, although the health visitor says it's not full-blown reflux he's just a bit of a windy baby. I've been giving him Infacol, but he still spits up most feeds, and needs burping. But because he doesn't feed for that long, I can't tell if he's fussing because he's windy or because he's still hungry...

    He's also going through a phase of only wanting to go to sleep when he's held. Occasionally he'll go down in his moses basket, but it usually takes quite some time to settle him down. I don't want to co-sleep, firstly because it's not that safe, but secondly because it'll teach bad habits that'll be hard to break.

    It's my first baby, and I'm starting to lose the plot. Some nights I just don't get any sleep, and I don't know what to do!!

    Rachel

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm in a similar boat & am also awaiting a response to your situation. My baby is 4.5 weeks old & falls asleep about 10mins into a feed (just from one breast each feed). This was getting her through a 3hr cycle but now sh's grown it's not. Just last night she awoke every 1.5-2hrs to feed for only 8-10mins before falling dead asleep.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. act,
      You are still at a really sleepy stage where you will want to try some techniques (above) to keep baby awake (although it can be really tiring to do them when you are so tired, especially at night--but it pays off in the long run!) and sometimes you will simply not be successful, or you will let baby sleep for 10-15 minutes then try rousing her to feed again.

      10 minutes isn't very long to eat, but that's all some babies need. If she's lasting this long during the day but not at night, I would suspect more a sleep issues at night and that you are offering a feed when she wakes, when really what she needs is some help to fall asleep, not necessarily food (although that'll certainly put most babies to sleep but it means more wakings for food!) Feeding frequently gets you into a cycle of shorter feeds (baby not very hungry and not used to taking full feeds) then baby wakes up sooner to eat because she's only eaten a little at the last feed etc. When she wakes to eat, I would try to help her fall back to sleep with another method outside of feeding. If that doesn't work, then I would just try to VERY slowly extend out the feeds and the effect will be her eating more at each feed because she'll be hungrier. If you try to get her to fall asleep in another way besides a feed and it doesn't work, that little time alone helped you extend out the feed a bit.

      Also keep in mind that she'll get less sleepy soon (which means you might be able to keep her awake for a feed, but not necessarily that she'll stop waking frequently since that can be due to something else than just hunger). You may also want to make sure she is more awake before offering a feed--who knows, she may go back to sleep on her own.

      I know it's so hard to try other techniques besides a feed when you are so dang tired, but you have to keep reminding yourself of the end goal--longer night sleep for the both of you! Have a plan ahead of time so that it is easier to not cave in right away in the middle of the night when you half asleep :)

      best,
      rachel

      Delete
  11. Same issue with me. Anxiously waiting a reply.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. natalie mathews,
      Hopefully above info was somewhat helpful!


      rachel

      Delete
  12. My son is 4.5 weeks too and he is definitely a snacker! I do what i can to keep him awake but I'm also afriad I'm not making enough. I've left on him each breast for about 45 minutes each and he still won't be full. Of course he falls asleep in between but i always have to give him a bottle so he'll actually eat and then go to sleep. Other wise he eats every hour and will stay awake. I'm afriad i can't produce enough milk if he eats so spread out and frequent. The only time he eats fully is with a bottle. I don't know what to do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unknown,
      Its very likely your milk supply is ok. I would visit with a lactation specialists asap. They can guide you on whether it is a milk supply issue, baby sleepy issue etc. babies this age often like to suckle at moms breast often and for long periods.

      Delete
  13. My baby is a sleepy eater. We follow eat-play-sleep (Babywise). She takes 25-30 minutes eating at each feed. She takes 4 oz out of a bottle, so at 7 weeks, she's S pretty healthy eater, ;). She also eats 3.5-4 oz when breastfeeding (we recently went to the lactation specialist to make sure she is eating well even when she is sleepy-eating, - and boy is she eating well haha). I am having trouble getting her wake times right. She is not fully asleep when eating most of the time, so I don't know how judge this. I try to watch for sleepy cues, and when I see her yawn a couple of times, I assume she's getting tired. This usually starts about 55 minutes after initial wake time; however, I don't think that I am hitting it just right, because her naps have slowly started getting shorter and shorter. I know that she has stayed awake for an hour and 15 minutes before multiple times (we tried extending her wake time) and slept well, but when she starts showing sleep cues, I am always scared I am going to miss that tiny sleep window! But then I end up laying her down (she may cry sometimes for 3-5 mins or not at all) and then she wakes anywhere from 25-45 mins after. Sometimes it is just a cycle transition problem, because I can leave her be for 5-10 mins and she goes back to sleep and stays asleep for at least another cycle. Other times, it is just a big mess of her crying, me trying to console her and/or get her back to sleep. Please let me know what you tried with your sleepy eater!

    ReplyDelete