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.
- 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.