Once you’re home from the hospital and fumbling around in an attempt to remember everything you read about babies before having one, you will likely realize something. “Sleep like a baby” is the stupidest thing anyone has ever said, at least to me.
I think what’s more fitting is to say, “sleep like a log.” Because logs don’t wake up and babies definitely do.
So, when you and your partner gaze into the crib, cradle, or bassinet and see a sweet, sleeping baby, you might not want to poke the bear, so to speak. Much as you don’t want to disturb your little angel, it has to be done.
It is obvious that..
Newborns sleep a LOT. Like the kind of sleep, I can only dream of getting now. But they eat a lot too. I remember with both of my daughters feeling just like a boob slave. It seemed as soon as I was done nursing, I barely had time to go pee, and then they were crying for more again.
It’s not like that forever, but it’s so important that in the early newborn phase, you make sure your baby eats. Yes, even if she is sound asleep.
I know you’re all eager to know more about how to wake your newborn to feed, so I’ve outlined the most common questions I get below to help you get through it.
Is it OK to wake up my baby to feed?
Not only is it OK, but it’s imperative that you wake up that sleeping baby to feed at night. Please know that you won’t have to do this for months and months and years and years. But during the newborn stage, you must wake a sleeping baby to feed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has said it’s best to wake your baby up to feed if she sleeps more than 4 hours during the first 2 weeks.
When babies are just new to this world, they have tiny little tummies. Those tummies grow and double in size over the next couple of weeks. As such, though, their tiny tummies empty quickly. They digest breast milk even faster than formula too.
So, it’s easy to see why the baby needs to eat so much. If you do choose formula, you should make sure to feed your baby every 3 to 4 hours.
Your baby might very well sleep through her hunger, but you’ll have to wake her anyway. She needs to gain weight appropriately, and you need to boost your milk supply to keep fueling her needs.
I know it seems sucky that after all, you went through and how tired you are that you now need to get up every 2 hours to feed your baby. I’ve been there. But it won’t always be like this. In a couple of weeks, it will level out, and she will gain that weight, and your milk will be plentiful.
You want to nip hunger in the bud. Before the crying. Because when your baby starts crying, it’s already a late sign of hunger. You’ll begin to discover that if you can feed the baby before she gets to that wailing hungry cry, you’ll have an easier time nursing her any time of day.
Lucky for me, both of my girls were like little alarm clocks. Before mine could go off, I’d hear them. Very rarely did I make it before they started crying, but hey, they turned out just fine. And soon, I found they wouldn’t wake so often, and all was right with the world.
How long should you let your newborn sleep before waking?
According to Cleveland Clinic, newborns should never sleep longer than 5 hours in one stretch during the first month to 6 weeks of their lives. Babies will generally wake up on their own, but if they don’t, it’s up to you to wake her up, roughly every 3 to 4 hours.
Hey, mine were solid 2-hour sleepers in the beginning. Then it stretched out, and I was able to get slightly more sleep at a time.
Around 4 months, it’s typical for most babies to sleep a little longer at night, though it’s not normal for a baby to sleep through the night as we know it.
At 6 months, babies will go about 5 or 6 hours (sometimes slightly more), which is what doctors call “sleeping through the night” in terms of babies. If your baby is sleeping 8 to 10 hours, it’s not common, and it’s not something to brag about as it could be a sign, something is amiss. Contact your doctor immediately if you find this to be the case.
How do you feed a sleeping baby?
Perhaps you’d slug someone if they woke you up to feed you. My husband once learned the hard way when I had the chance to sleep a little longer that he shouldn’t disturb me while I’m sleeping, even when bacon is involved.
But babies can’t wait. They don’t know how to fire up the stove or push the buttons on the microwave. So you will have to be vigilant with sleep feeding, something I’ve known by the term “dream feeding” for a while.
So, what is Dream Feeding?
It refers to when your baby is either drowsy yet awake while feeding and then falls asleep while feeding as well as when the baby is asleep and starts feeding. I think that was my favorite thing about my girls, honestly. I loved it when they would fall asleep while nursing. Those precious moments from the past make my eyes fill with tears now when I think of how little they once were!
With this dream feeding, you’ll want to make sure you let your newborn have a feast right before you go to bed. That means they’re very likely sleeping at that point since it should be about 10 or 11 pm, depending on your schedule. Since not everyone has the same schedule, make sure you’re looking at the clock and counting between 2.5 and 4 hours since the last time you fed your baby before you do the dream feed.
Here are some tips to make it all go smoothly!
- Use minimal lights. It’s an excellent time to put that dimmer switch to use.
- Don’t talk and for the love of everything, avoid making loud noises.
- Hold your baby gently in your arms while she’s sleeping and take her to the place you’re most comfortable nursing.
- Tap or gently rub your baby’s lips with your nipple. Most of the time that should do the trick. If not, you can gently open her mouth and pop your nipple in.
- Don’t make the mistake I did…burping isn’t often needed when babies are dream feeding since they don’t really gulp down any air this way. If you’re worried about spit-up, though, you can sit her upright and rub her back.
- Now you can put the baby back to sleep!
But Leslie, what if she starts waking up during the dream feed or after?
That’s when you use those soothing shushing sounds to recreate the sounds from the womb. My favorite tip from Dr. Harvey Karp!
Generally, you don’t have to worry about diaper changes (read our first experience) during the sleep feeding though if you notice the diaper feels really wet or you smell something foul, you’d better change it.
What do I do if my newborn won’t wake up to eat?
Some babies just like sleep. Who could blame them? I love to sleep. My husband and kids ordered me a shirt that says exactly that. Then again, I also have one declaring my love for wine, so there you go.
If your baby seems just to want to keep on sleeping, you’re probably trying when she’s in a deep sleep. Babies have a shorter sleep cycle than us, though, so you can keep an eye out for those little body movements like fluttering eyelids or moving of the hands. You’ll have better luck getting that dream feed once she shows those signs.
Once she’s in that stage of sleep, try holding her with skin-to-skin. This will require her to be in her diaper only, but that contact will stimulate her instinct to nurse. You can also change her diaper at this point, though I only recommend that if it seems soiled.
One trick that worked for me with sleepy babies that fell asleep eating was to give them a little drop of breastmilk on my nipple and bring it near their lips. That got them back to latched on in a second!
Position changes can help keep baby alert enough to feed, though some mamas find great success in just talking to the baby. Our babies love the sound of our voice. It’s music to their ears. And another bonus you’ll discover when they’re bigger…they’ll think you’re the most beautiful woman on the planet. No, seriously. The other morning when I woke up, I’d had dreams that made it impossible to sleep well. I felt exhausted as I stood by our coffeemaker, waiting for that sweet coffee to perk me up. My hair was all over the place. I was wearing old ripped pajamas, and my daughters came in and said, “Mommy, you’re so beautiful!” 😀
Often, babies are like those baby dolls we had growing up. Remember the ones that would open their eyes as soon as you sat them upright? Real babies do that too, probably where the idea for the doll came from.
One of the moms I knew told me she used a cold washcloth to wake her son, who was impossible to wake for feedings. I think that’s a bit extreme, but if you’ve tried everything else under the sun, it might have to come down to that.
When to stop waking baby to feed at night?
Now keep in mind, you will not have to wake your baby to feed for a whole year. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should keep tabs on the weight your baby gains. Your baby should be gaining weight with each day, and generally, around the 2-week mark to the 4-week mark, you should be able to let them sleep a little longer than every 2 to 3 hours.
A baby scale can help you make sure she’s achieving the proper milestones, though do keep in mind that newborn babies eat anywhere from 8 to 12 feedings each day. Those frequent feedings help her gain the weight she needs, stimulates your milk supply, and nourish her to protect her immunity.
After she gains enough weight, you can let her hunger cues signal you for when she’s ready. As I mentioned earlier, crying is one of the later signs of hunger. Getting to know your baby, you’ll see things like hand-to-mouth activity, stirring during sleep, or smacking lips as she’s in her crib. You can then scoop her up and nurse her before she starts crying.
And hey, don’t feel bad if she DOES start crying. Often, that’s how I was woken up. But getting to her quickly is what matters. We had both our daughters in our room, so it was easy to respond. The crying would start as a little whimper, and I’d jump up and start nursing.
Keep up the good work, mama! 🙂
Right now, I know you would give anything to sleep without being disturbed. But if you stick to it the first few weeks, you’ll have a healthy baby who will soon be less and less needy as time goes on.
And trust me, you blink, and suddenly it’s their 9th birthday, and you can’t even believe how much they can do for themselves. My breastfeeding coach was right…those newborn days are the most important because that’s when they need you more than they ever will in their lives.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.