What to do When Baby Falls Asleep at the Breast?

I have SO many photos of sleepy milk drunk baby faces from both of my girls. My husband and I miss those days. And we swear they still look that angelic when they sleep now, even though they’re much bigger.

For tired mamas, I know that dilemma all too well. Baby is FINALLY sleeping. But she’s a newborn, and she needs to eat. Do you wake her and ruin the peace and quiet? Or do you feed her?

I’ve put together some of the most popular questions I’ve been asked about what to do with a baby that falls asleep at the breast and babies that are too tired to breastfeed to help you get through this hurdle.

Is it OK if the baby sleeps while breastfeeding?

You’ll be relieved to know that when a baby falls asleep while nursing, it’s totally normal. A cholecystokinin (CCK) hormone is released in a baby’s gut when they start sucking on your breasts. This makes them feel sleepy and full.

baby falls asleep while nursing

In their earlier days and weeks, they have higher levels of CCK, so it can be tricky to keep them awake. This is why the baby falls asleep at the breast. You’ll have to wake them for some of those feedings because of it, which I’ll discuss more below, but you won’t have to do this forever.

So, this explains why babies get sleepy after breastfeeding. But what do you do about it? Keep reading!

How do I stop my baby from falling asleep while breastfeeding?

Remember, baby falling asleep while nursing is normal. However, you want your baby to eat enough. As long as your baby is soiling enough diapers (I’ve discussed that here), then you can breathe a sigh of relief.

In those newborn days, though, breastfed babies need to eat about every 2 hours, so if you’re not getting enough feedings in there, you’re going to have to try some tricks to keep the baby from falling asleep on your boobs.

Go for skin-to-skin

Skin-to-skin unleashes animal instincts in babies and gets them to feed. That’s like you walking into a restaurant and suddenly being hungry because you smell all those glorious foods.

Babies that engage in skin-to-skin with mama have a switch flipped that instinctively tells them to eat. So, show some skin, let baby’s skin touch yours, and hold her to your breast. Even if she’s sleepy, she should go right for it.

Look for early hunger cues

look for baby's hunger cues

I’ve often mentioned that crying is a late cue for hunger. You want to watch for the cues that can tell your baby is hungry. When those little fists move toward the mouth, the head swivels to look for milk boobs, lips are smacking, hands are being sucked, or baby seems more alert, these are signs you should saddle up for a feeding.

Try breast compression

When the milk is flowing in your breasts, your baby will actively suck. But if that flow slows down, your baby can slow down or even stop sucking. If you gently compress your breasts, you’ll get the milk flowing again. This will get the baby sucking and swallowing more too.

Change sides

Breastfeeding should include the use of both breasts. When you feed on your left breast, the right one is sitting there waiting for its turn. As your baby begins to fall asleep, go ahead, and switch sides. This is why the baby falls asleep while breastfeeding but is still hungry.

This should help keep them awake and eating. You can go back and forth and also use breast compressions to keep the milk going. Don’t forget to let baby get that glorious hindmilk, the thicker, richer milk at the end of the feeding. A baby is never too tired to breastfeed!

Gently stimulate baby into feeding

Mom eye-contacts with her baby while breastfeeding

With both my daughters, I had to use this trick. Especially at night. I’d touch their little hands and feet, and it would get them sucking again.

If that didn’t work, though, I’d hold them upright over my shoulder and rub their backs very gently. They wake ever-so-slightly, plus it’s great for getting up burps.

You can also take this time to check and change the diaper. This would often inspire them to eat some more now that they were fresh and clean.

What you have to remember is that babies are eating enough if they’re soiling enough diapers. This all goes back to ensuring you’ve got a solid latch from the very beginning. If the baby is making enough dirty diapers and gaining weight, you are definitely feeding her enough.

If my newborn is sleeping, do I wake to feed?

This is one of the most difficult dilemmas for any new mom. The baby is sound asleep. And you can get some rest yourself. Or go to the bathroom. Or shower and maybe even style your hair. You can eat something!

But if you have a newborn, don’t forget how often she needs to eat. Even in the middle of the night.

When your newborn is still sleeping and it’s passing the time that she would normally eat, you have to wake her up. Do not let her sleep longer than 3 to 4 hours.

With each of my daughters, I never needed an alarm. They would wake like clockwork for feedings every time.

I know this seems exhausting, but once your baby gets a little bigger and is showing strong weight gain over the next few weeks, you can let her sleep for longer stretches at night.

What if baby wakes up every night even after getting bigger and gaining weight?

Guess what…that’s normal too! Both of my daughters wanted to keep nursing at night. They didn’t wake quite as often, but I had a nighttime feeding for both of them until they were quite a lot bigger.

I asked my doctor about that, and she said it’s totally normal. Every baby is different, so you have to find your rhythm with yours. And if you have more than one baby, you will see the differences as well as similarities between them. It’s fascinating stuff, really.

The bottom line on sleepy nursing babies…

Even if your baby is sleeping like a little lamb, newborns have to eat enough. That means getting up to feed them multiple times in a night. If your baby won’t stay awake while breastfeeding or is falling asleep on your breast, you can try the tricks above to get her eating again.

If you notice your baby isn’t gaining enough weight or have concerns about that, make sure you speak to your pediatrician to get some answers.

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