Hallelujah! You’ve finally managed to get baby into a steady rhythm of sucking milk out of your breast and it’s all going just like you’ve ever wanted it to.
Now, you think to yourself, “I can just sit back, relax, carry this little angel in my arms and let them do what they do best.”
But, sometimes it’s not all sunshine and rainbows!
You suddenly start noticing your baby’s sucking gradually slowing down, their body gradually becoming less and less tense, and their mouth slowly unlatching from your breast.
What’s going on? Little baby is falling asleep while feeding …
While this is one of the most magical moments you’ll ever experience as a mother, you start to get all sorts of thoughts and questions racing through your mind.
“Is this normal? Should I enjoy this moment for the beautiful peacefulness and serenity it is? What if something bad happens to my baby? Maybe I should just wake them up for their own good? Are they getting enough to eat?”
This article answers all these questions and more.
Baby Falling Asleep While Breastfeeding – Is This Normal?
First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way – it’s common for babies to fall asleep while breastfeeding (especially during the very first few weeks and months of their life) and you’re not the only one experiencing this with your precious little one.
Keep in mind that breastfeeding in and of itself is a very soothing and relaxing experience that puts babies at ease and just tempts them to fall asleep.
In fact, you may get sleepy, too. Breastfeeding releases hormones in both mom and baby to create this side-effect.
Also, don’t forget that during the very first few weeks and months of their life (especially between 2 weeks and 2 months of age), babies tend to sleep anywhere between a whopping 15 to 17 hours a day!
Around 9 to 10 of those sleep hours are done during the night, while around 6 to 7 of those sleep hours are had during the daytime.
These, however, are all general figures. Babies aren’t pre-programmed to sleep a set amount of time divided between the day and night. Instead, their sleeping schedule is usually all over the place until they find a routine for themselves.
Either way, you better get used to interrupting your baby’s beautiful sleep, since you’ll need to wake them up once every 2 to 3 hours (on average) for a feeding session.
Should I Do Anything To Keep My Baby Awake While Breastfeeding?
Yes and no.
How? It’s quite simple and straightforward.
Growth And Development Milestones
First off, you should have nothing to worry about at all if you’re keeping track of your baby’s growth and development milestones to make sure they’re all being met in due time.
If your baby is healthy as can be and they’re growing properly, you can rest assured that all is well and they’re getting all the nutrition they need – even when sleeping at your breast while nursing.
How Far Into A Session
If your baby falls asleep towards the end of their feeding session when they’re done (or just almost done), that means they should have gotten in all the nutrients they need and are now feeling full. In that case, it’s all good and you should let them continue sleeping.
You can tell whether or not they got enough breast milk during that session by gauging how full the breast feels. You should find it noticeably softer than when baby started feeding.
If it feels sore and significantly emptier than it did during the start of the session, then chances are your baby got the milk they needed. However, if it still feels full by the time your baby’s asleep, then something’s not right.
On the other hand, if your baby falls asleep towards the beginning or just halfway through their feeding session, that means they haven’t consumed anywhere near the amount of milk they should have yet. In this case, you should try to keep them awake.
A baby who sleeps through feedings and doesn’t get enough calories will continue sleeping to conserve energy, which makes it hard for them to get the calories they need to wake more and grow. This can be a vicious cycle.
Signs Of Hunger
Keep an eye out for signs that your baby is still hungry. The more signs you notice from this list, the more likely it is that your baby is falling asleep before they’re full:
- Baby continues to suckle even while sleeping (not necessarily suckling on your nipple anymore, they could just be suckling on air).
- Baby makes physical gestures that indicate hunger, such as moving their head from side, clinching their fists, twitching and turning, etc.
- Baby’s body is still tense after coming off the breast. Baby’s arms and hands should be soft and relaxed. If baby still has tight fists, they’re likely still hungry.
Dirty And Wet Diapers
Besides monitoring for growth milestones as your baby reaches them, you should also keep an eye on their diapers.
It’s a good sign if they’re constantly dirtying and wetting their diapers, since that means they’re getting the food they need through the day and their digestive system is doing what it needs to do.
Your baby should have at least 5 to 6 really wet diapers per day (after the first week) and at least 3 bowel movements each day.
A lack of constant dirty and wet diapers, on the other hand, should be a cause of worry and would usually indicate that your baby is not taking in enough breast milk before falling asleep.
Making Up For A Missed Session
If your baby falls asleep towards the very beginning of a feeding session and you don’t want to wake them up (or can’t seem to do so without having them get all cranky and cry forever, for that matter) – it’s probably best that you let them sleep and make up for the missed feeding session when they wake up.
When baby has a brief nursing session, the next one may come sooner than you anticipate or might last longer. This is normal.
Why Does My Baby Fall Asleep While Nursing?
If things are going way too slowly, it’s easy for your baby to lose interest and fall asleep as a result.
Make sure they’re latching properly while feeding. If they’re finding it difficult to latch on properly, the flow of incoming milk could be very slow.
Baby needs to latch deeply – taking the nipple and some of the areola into their mouth – to get a good milk flow to keep them interested and suckling.
A breastfed baby who has had lots of bottles may be used to the fast flow from them and will not suckle vigorously enough at the breast to get the milk they need. They may fall asleep quickly if the milk isn’t flowing. And a sleeping baby won’t stimulate the flow to keep going.
It’s also very possible that you’re doing nothing wrong (nor is tiny little baby), and all there is to it is that they’re tired and sleepy. They’re already energy depleted as it is, and 5 minutes of sucking gets the better of them and sends them to dreamland.
If that’s the case, you’ll have to use some creativity to stimulate them and keep them wide awake.
Your baby’s excessive sleepiness may also be a result of medication you’re taking at the time. Talk to your doctor about this if they have you taking any sort of medication for whatever condition you’re treating.
Sometimes, slow milk flow is caused by an improper latch (which can be solved by getting help from a certified lactation consultant) – while other times it has nothing to do with your baby’s actual latch, but more to do with low milk supply.
Boosting your milk supply can keep baby actively nursing longer before falling asleep.
How Can I Help Keep My Baby Awake While Nursing?
Implementing these tips will make it much easier for you to get a solid stretch of breastfeeding time in with your baby without having them fall asleep before the session is done.
Dark & Quiet
If you’re nursing your baby in a dark room without enough light, that’s an invitation for your baby to sleep, right? Well, not really. We’ve just grown to think about it that way.
While it might make sense that you and I would fall asleep easier in a dark room without much light and noise, the same is not true for babies.
As a matter of fact, newborns tend to become more alert and awake in darker and quitter environments that are not overstimulating.
Make sure there’s just enough light in the room at the time, but not too much bright light to avoid annoying your baby and actually make it difficult for them to keep their eyes open.
Avoid any type of white noise which can cause your baby to become too relaxed, especially if you use white noise to get your baby to sleep.
Maintain physical contact with your baby throughout the nursing session.
By physical contact we don’t just mean holding them still in your arms, we mean skin on skin physical kind of contact.
Contact might also mean stimulating them through touch when you begin to notice that they’re dozing off.
Try gently massaging their feet or hands, softly playing with their fingertips, moving around their arms and legs, sitting them upright and giving their back a nice little rub, helping them burp for a few minutes in the middle of a feed, etc.
You can also try getting a cool washcloth that you put on your baby’s cheek, forehead or back of their neck. The wet and cool sensation will help keep them awake and alert if they’re beginning to fall asleep.
Talk To Your Baby
You can use your voice to keep your baby alert and awake if you notice they’re starting to doze off.
While many mothers associate using their voice with singing a lullaby, that will only send your baby to dreamland faster than they were already going to get there.
Talk in your usual voice, except tone it down a bit so you don’t startle them and send them into endless crying instead.
Sometimes, just changing up positions when your baby begins dozing off helps keep them awake and gets them alert again.
Try taking off any clothes your baby has on at the time (except for diapers they’re wearing), get them to lay on your chest and have them feed that way.
Also try your best to avoid placing them in “sleep inducing” positions while breastfeeding. Some positions are much more tempting than others when it comes to sleeping.
If baby is horizontal like in a cradle hold, try a more upright position such as the football or clutch hold.
When you notice that your baby’s starting to get sleepy while nursing from one breast, it may be a good idea to take them off that breast and switch them over to the other one (source).
The key, however, is to stimulate your baby between switching from one breast to another.
You’ve started to get their attention back during the switch, but to restore their full alertness, try stimulating them in between by talking to them, playing with them, tickling their hands or feet, etc.
You can switch back and forth several times during each feeding session. Babies who feed this way tend to get more milk at each feeding, too, which can help with growth.
Breastfeeding Frequently Enough
Are you breastfeeding your baby frequently enough through the day? We’re talking about how many times they’re breastfed in a day’s time, not for how long the actual session of breastfeeding lasts.
On average, you should strive to breastfeed your baby anywhere between 8 to 12 times a day. A baby who is not eating often enough is not getting enough calories to stay awake.
Clearing Up A Very Common Misconception
If you’ve been experiencing your baby dozing off while nursing for a while now and have asked around about why this is happening and what it means, chances are you’ve been told at least once that it’s because they’re full.
Just because a baby is falling asleep at the breast in the middle of a feeding session does not mean they’ve gotten all the milk they need for the time being.
As a matter of fact, this could be seen in babies who struggle to gain the weight they should be putting on, all because they’re not getting anywhere near their required nutrition for the day.
If your baby is gaining weight well, having plenty of wet and dirty diapers, and is meeting developmental milestones, however, they are simply full.
Talk To A Breastfeeding Expert
At the end of the day, there might be just one too many variables for you to know for sure whether or not something’s wrong and needs a change.
In such complicated cases, it’s always best to leave it to the experts.
You should really consider talking to a lactation consultant, as they’ll be able to accurately determine if there is a problem as well as what’s causing it, and can advise you on the best way to solve it.