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, it ain’t 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 latching off 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?”.
This article answers all these questions and more.
Is This Normal?
First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way real quick – it’s very common for babies to fall asleep while breastfeeding (especially during the very first few weeks and months in their life) and you’re not the only one experiencing this with their 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.
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 day time.
However, these are all general figures, babies aren’t pre-programmed to sleep a set amount of time divided between the day and night – their sleeping schedule is usually all over the place until they find a routine for themselves they get used to.
Either way, you better get used to interrupting your baby’s beautiful sleep, since you’ll need to wake them up once every 2 hours (on average) for a feeding session.
Should I Do Anything To Keep My Baby Awake?
Yes and no. How? It’s quite simple and straightforward.
1) 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.
2) 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 and if they’ve managed to get in a good 10 to 15 minutes of feeding time, 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 they sucked from feels.
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 and if you’re still not 15 minutes into a feeding session and your baby doses off, you should try to keep them awake.
3) 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 ..
4) Dirty And Wet Diapers
Besides monitoring for growth milestones as your baby reaches them (or is late on), 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.
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.
5) 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.
Why Does My Baby Fall Asleep While Nursing?
1) Not Interested
If things are going way too slowly, it’s easy for your baby to lose interest, become bored and fall asleep as a result.
Make sure they’re latching on properly while feeding. If they’re finding it difficult to latch on properly, the flow of incoming milk could be very slow to the extent that baby loses interest and falls asleep.
You’ll want to make sure the flow of milk is just fast enough – not too fast (since that puts them at a risk of developing tooth enema, choking and drowning in the milk) and not too slow (since that bores the life out of them).
It’s 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. Here’s a kick-starter list of some ideas you can implement.
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.
3) Slow Milk Flow
If the flow of milk making its way from your breast to baby’s mouth is not flowing fast enough, your baby’s going to get bored really fast, lose interest and zone out.
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.
Tips To Help Keep Your Baby Awake While Nursing
Implementing these tips will make it much easier for you to get a solid 10 to 15 minutes of breastfeeding time in with your baby without having them fall asleep before the session is done.
1) Darkness & Quitness
If you’re nursing your baby in a dark room without enough light, that’s an invitation for your baby to sleep in no-time – 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 environments that they’re not really used to, and places where there’s not much noise (which, again, their ears are not used to that much peace and quiet).
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.
As for noise, consider having music run in the background that’s energetic enough to keep your baby awake. The last thing you’ll want to do is have calm and soothing music play in the background since that will only send them to sleep faster, and you don’t want anything too intense or loud to scare them and send them into endless crying mode.
2) Maintain Contact
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.
So, also try other stuff when you begin to notice that they’re dozing off – such as gently massaging their feet, softly playing with their fingertips, moving around their arms and legs, tickling their feet (careful not to over-do it with this one and make them uncomfortable), 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.
3) Talk To Your Baby
Well, not talk to them “talk to them” as in hold a conversation with them or try telling them about your day and expect to get an answer back, obviously.
You can use your voice to keep your baby alert and awake if you notice they’re starting to dose off, though.
While many mothers associate using their voice with singing a lullaby, please don’t do that – 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 land instead.
4) Change Positions
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.
5) Switching Breasts
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.
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 ..
Careful with this specific method, though, because overly-relying on switching between your two breasts during a feed might cause milk supply problems.
Technically speaking, you’ll be giving your body mixed messages if you switch from one breast too soon while it still feels hard and full, and this is often a reason for low milk supply problems in nursing moms.
6) Make It A Challenge
If there’s anything that helps your baby fall asleep during breastfeeding, it’s having it easy.
Instead, and when you notice that they’re starting to get too comfortable with it and are beginning to doze off, make it a bit challenging for them to actually keep drawing milk from your nipple.
For example, you could tease them a bit by taking the nipple out of their mouth just a little so they have to re-adjust. This will help make them alert again and keep them awake for the time being.
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.
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.
This is not true at all.
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.
Talk To A Breastfeeding Expert
At the end of the day, there’s just one too many variables and factors that come into play for you and I 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 certified lactation counselor, as they’ll be able to accurately diagnose a problem, determine what’s causing it and advise you on the best way to solve it.