How to Keep Baby Awake During Feeding

Many parents think there is nothing wrong in letting their babies sleep during breastfeeding. This is not always true. You may want to keep you baby awake if she/he has a tendency to fall asleep early in a feeding. This keeps them from taking in full breastfeeds, which in turn may mean that your baby cannot get longer stretches of sleep because of a constant need to feed. In this case, you need to ensure your baby does not associate breastfeed with sleep.

How to Keep Baby Awake During Feeding

You can try a number of ways and tricks to help keep your baby from falling asleep while feeding. Find out if your baby sleeps because she/he is already full or she/he does this because it takes energy to eat. Know that she/he is probably still hungry if you have nursed for a few minutes only without a chance to offer your baby your other breast.

Here is what to do:

  • Pull her/him gently closer to your chest and compress your breast lightly to express milk into her/his mouth. She/he will start swallowing because it is a reflex and this will probably send a signal that drinking milk is what she/he should be doing.
  • Take your baby off your breast if she/he does not wake up after you pull her/him toward your breast. Put her/him down on a firm surface – keeping her/him in your arms or putting her/him in a stroller, car seat or anything that wraps around her/him will keep her/him sleeping. Putting your baby on a blanket on the floor or another flat, safe surface usually prompts her/him that she/he is not in your arms and needs to wake up.
  • You may want to start feeding your baby after she/he wakes up and is hungry, but it is better to burp her/him and undress her/him a bit before you latch her/him on again. This will help your baby stay awake during the feeding.
  • Try switch nursing – use your other breast for breastfeeding instead of the one you used when your baby fell asleep. This helps because there will be enough milk in your other breast, which will keep your baby from doing an effort to drink. It is a good idea to keep switching breasts 3-4 times per feeding to make sure your baby stays awake all the time.

More Ways to Help

Here are some other ways to understand how to keep baby awake during feeding.

1. Maintain a Daily Nap and Feeding Schedule

  • Try to start the day in the same 30-minute window every day, and feed your baby shortly after it.
  • You can feed your baby after the nap if her/his eat-play-sleep cycle is of at least 90 minutes. Just be sure to move the feeding at least 20 minutes before the nap if the cycles are 120 minutes. This ensures that your baby does not wake up because she/he is hungry.
  • Do not shy away from offering an extra feeding to help things move as per a better schedule. Try this before you go out for the day.

2. Tickle Your Baby's Chin

It is quite natural for some newborns to start out sucking vigorously and then lose their intent after some time. You should look out for any signs of slowing down. When you notice it happen, stimulate your baby simply by tickling her/his chin to keep her/him awake. Do it as soon as you notice the sucking rhythms are slowing down.

3. Interrupt the Nursing Session

You may consider interrupting the session for a very short time in case your baby does not respond to light stimulations, such as tickling the chin. Lightly place your little finger between the areola and the baby's lip to help break the suction. Take your nipple out of her/his mouth and reposition it in her/his mouth. It is okay if you have to do it several times per feeding. You may also consider changing your position while feeding to keep a drowsy baby from falling asleep.

4. Additional Tips

What works for you may be completely different from what works for other mothers, so you need to experiment a bit and find what works and helps prevent sleeping during the feeding. Here are some additional tips to help you learn how to keep baby awake during feeding.

  • Try to change her/his diaper once you are half way through a feeding and she/he is feeling drowsy.
  • Massage, rub, or tickle toes, feet, underarms, or hands.
  • Sing to your baby or talk to her/him during the feeding.
  • Keep your baby in an upright position.
  • Feed your baby in a rather noisy environment.
  • Massage the palms of your baby in a circle using your thumbs for at least a minute to help her/him open mouth and continue with feeding.
  • Turn on some tempo music, loud enough to help your baby stay awake.
  • Run your finger down your baby's spin while breastfeeding.

Something You Must Know

It will always be a challenge to keep an especially sleepy newborn awake throughout a feeding session. It is important to feed your newborn for at least 8 times in 24 hours – you can count the number of soiled or wet diapers to know if your baby is getting enough to eat. However, you may want to talk to your doctor if you think your baby is sleeping too much and falls asleep every time you start nursing. It is important to seek medical attention in certain cases, especially when your baby is sleepy and losing weight consistently. Here are some of the reasons why your baby is too sleepy.

  • Overstimulation caused by loud noises may lead to exhaustion and make a baby to fall asleep
  • Certain medications taken during labor or while breastfeeding may make your baby so sleepy
  • Your baby is sleepier because she/he is sick
  • Your let down reflex is too slow
  • Your baby has jaundice

Just go talk to your healthcare provider to ensure there is no medical problem keeping your baby drowsy all the time, and your doctor will also help you learn more about how to keep baby awake during feeding. 

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