Most newborn babies will wake regularly and frequently to breastfeed. However, there may be times when your newborn baby needs to be awakened to breastfeed. For example, there may be medically indicated reasons why a baby may need to be woken to feed such as Jaundice, congenital heart disease, illness or your baby may not be gaining adequate weight.
Is Falling Asleep at the Breast Normal?
Babies are biologically programmed to fall asleep at the breast. Falling asleep at the breast is a normal behaviour and is mostly due to a hormone called cholecystokinin or CCK. CCK makes your baby feel full and sleepy and it is released in your babies gut as soon as they start sucking.
Younger babies generally have higher concentrations of CCK which can make it harder to keep them awake during a feed. This is a perfect system if your baby is waking frequently and feeding well but for the baby who is needing to be woken or to be encouraged to feed it can be a challenge.
So how do you keep a sleepy baby awake at the breast? There are some simple but effective things that you can do to help
Try Skin-to-Skin Contact
Keeping your baby in the skin-to-skin position can help ignite your baby’s natural feeding instinct and encourage them to feed. After all, if you are in the kitchen, you want to eat! Babies can easily find the breast in this position and may spontaneously feed.
Skin-to-skin contact also allows you to notice subtle feeding cues that otherwise may be missed. Your baby may only make a slight wiggle to signal to you that they are ready to feed and if you are holding them closely on your chest you are more likely to notice.
Learn Your Baby’s Early Feeding Cues
Understanding your babies feeding signals and feeding them when they are showing early ready to feed signs can help them to feed better. Check out the Australian Breastfeeding associations Feeding cues article for pictures of early and late feeding cues.
Compress Your Breasts
While your milk is flowing your baby will be actively sucking but once the flow of milk slows down your baby may slow down or stop sucking altogether. By gently compressing your breasts you will be encouraging your milk flow to continue… and this can help your baby to begin sucking and swallowing again.
Dr Jack Newman demonstrates breast compressions in this YouTube clip:
Your breasts work simultaneously, so, when you are feeding on one breast, the other side is also experiencing a letdown.
Once your baby begins to fall asleep, switch sides so that there is a fresh supply waiting for them. You can repeat this several times (switch back and forth between breasts) because you have more than one letdown per feed.
Changing breasts can make it easier for a baby to fill their tummy when breastfeeding. You can also mix it up by switching sides and use breast compressions together
Use Gentle Stimulation
If your baby falls asleep and stops feeding (it’s possible for babies to continue feeding while they are sleeping), gently stroking their hands and feet can stimulate them to stay awake for longer. Sitting your baby up and giving them a gentle back rub can also help to wake them up and it gives them the opportunity to expel any trapped wind that they may have. If that fails, changing your babies nappy mid feed can rouse them enough to feed some more.
Babies are all different and all feed in different ways so what is “normal” for one baby may be different from another. If you are concerned about any aspect of feeding it is essential that you seek help early and it is always important that you follow your health practitioner’s advice.
As a general rule, if your baby is having at least six very wet cloth nappies or at least five very wet disposable nappies of pale urine, 3 or runnier bowel actions in 24 hours then you can be assured that your baby is getting enough milk.
For more information contact:
- Your General Practitioner
- An International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant
- Your Maternal Child Health Nurse
- The Australian Breastfeeding Association
Have you ever had a baby that always seemed to fall asleep at the breast? What did you do to improve the situation? Let’s have a chat and support each other!