When I am teaching prenatal breastfeeding classes, I often tell parents one of their biggest obstacles to breast/chestfeeding in the early days is a sleepy baby. We talk a lot about sleepy babies, how to manage them and what to expect for feeding. Regardless of how much warning a new parent has, I think they are still surprised by how sleepy their little newborn is. What’s normal? Let’s talk about these sleepy babies, and how this might impact breastfeeding. The following is 6 ways to breastfeed a sleepy baby.
When your baby is firstborn, they might be awake and alert for the first hour or so, and then go into a pretty sleepy phase after that. You will be waking your baby most of the time for feedings in the early days. They are sleepy for many reasons. First, they were just born! It’s tiring to go through all of that! A medicated delivery will make your baby a bit sleepier as well. All of this is very normal, and it will pass. Your baby won’t always be this sleepy.
Jaundice is another reason babies are very sleepy in the first few days of life. It is common but affects each baby differently. I have heard some medical professionals say every baby gets jaundice to some degree. Sleepiness is a direct effect of jaundice, and you may have to work harder to make sure your baby is feeding well.
Babies are born with red blood cells that break down and need to be processed by the liver. When the red blood cells break down, they create something called bilirubin. Bilirubin is yellow in color and can cause the skin to look yellow. The newborn baby’s liver may not handle all of this activity as quickly as needed, and the baby’s skin and eyes may start to have a yellow look. The best way to prevent and control jaundice is to keep your baby feeding. When your baby is feeding well, the red blood cells pass through when they poop. You can read more about jaundice here.
Jaundice can be a vicious cycle. Babies need to eat and poop to pass the bilirubin through their system. However, babies are very sleepy when they have jaundice, which makes feedings difficult. Difficult feedings may lead to less diaper output. You see the dilemma here. Often, jaundice can be avoided by feeding on demand and making sure your baby is waking often for feedings.
Waking A Sleeping Baby
Should you wake a baby up for feeds? Depends on who you ask. Some people, usually medical professionals, will encourage you to wake your baby to eat. This is if they do not wake on their own in a specific amount of time. Other people, probably a family member, grandparent, or friend might tell you to never wake a sleeping baby. In the early days after birth, definitely wake your baby for feedings. Especially during the daytime hours.
Make sure your baby is feeding frequently if they are not waking on their own yet. After a couple of weeks when your baby is more awake and alert, they will likely start waking for feeds on their own. They will let you know when they are ready to eat. In the first couple of weeks when you are waking your baby for feedings, you may have to implement some tricks to keep them stimulated. You can read more about sleepy babies here.
1. Diaper Changes
Diaper changes are a great way to wake up your baby for a feeding. It’s a good idea to check your baby’s diaper before each feeding anyway, and you will likely need to change it before you get started. Once your baby is awake and alert after the diaper change, they will be ready to go. I have heard many parents suggest changing a diaper during the feeding as well if your baby gets sleepy before the feeding is over.
2. Undressing Your Baby
Undress your baby for daytime feedings. This is easy enough to do if you are changing a diaper before a feeding. Feeding your baby in just a diaper will help keep them stimulated and the skin to skin with the breast/chestfeeding parent is important, too. Once your baby is waking more for feedings on their own, you won’t have to do this anymore. Do not swaddle your baby for feedings, either. This will just encourage sleep. If you are worried about your baby being cold, you can put a blanket around both of you once they are latched.
3. Lots Of Stimulation
Sit your baby upright on your lap and rub their back. You can support their head with your hand. Vigorously rub your baby’s back, getting their blood circulating. This works every time. You may start with a sleepy baby, but you will soon see their eyes pop open and they will be ready to eat.
4. Breast Compressions
Breast compressions can be an easy way to keep your baby awake and stimulated during a feeding. This is definitely one of my favorite go-to’s when a breast/chestfeeding parent is struggling with a sleepy baby. When the baby is on the breast/chest, they may start out strong, but they may start to doze off after just a couple of minutes. This is when breast compressions come into play.
5. Offering Both Breasts
Make sure to offer both breasts at a feeding, especially in the early days. This will ensure your baby is getting enough milk. If your baby dozes off during the feeding (which they usually do), don’t just assume they are done eating.
6. Switching Baby From Side To Side
Switching baby from side to side is a good way to keep them stimulated during a feeding. If the baby starts to fall asleep, release the latch and move them to the other breast. You can stop and try to burp them before you put them on the other breast, as this helps with stimulation, too.
It’s Just A Phase!
Keep in mind that your baby will not be this sleepy for very long. They grow out of this phase rather quickly. Be sure to feed your baby every 2-3 hours, or at least 10-12 times a day in the early days to make sure they are getting enough milk. This will likely mean you are waking your baby frequently to feed and working hard to keep your baby stimulated during feedings. If you have any concerns about how your baby is feeding, contact a lactation consultant!