How to Wake a Sleepy Baby to Feed

How to Wake a Sleepy Baby to Feed

“Wake your baby every 2 to 3 hours to feed”.

“Never wake a sleeping baby!”

New parents get tons of conflicting advice. Who is right? Do you need to wake your baby to feed?

The answer is yes AND no!

How to wake a sleepy baby to feed

Waking your baby to feed will not always be necessary. In fact, it won’t be long before you are spending your energy trying to get your baby back to sleep!

In the early days, however, there are special circumstances that make waking for feeds a good idea.

Immediately following birth, babies usually have a quiet alert stage. They are awake and show interest in feeding. After this first period of alertness, however, they enter a drowsy state that lasts for about 24 hours.

After this first 24 hours, most newborns will wake on their own and want to feed often. Unfortunately, these early days can often be busy with visitors and hospital routines; it is easy to miss baby’s feeding cues. Some babies will wake and cry for feeds while other babies are more laid back and may need reminders to feed.

As a general rule of thumb, we recommend waking baby every 2 or 3 hours in the day to feed and every 3-4 hours at night until he is about 2 weeks old and back to birth weight. This will help to ensure a plentiful milk supply, as baby gets older.

Other reasons babies may be too sleepy to feed are:

  • Prematurity:   Premature babies may tire quickly and may fall asleep before they have had a full feed.

  • Jaundice:   Jaundice can cause babies to be too sleepy to feed well.

  • Difficult delivery:   Use of vacuum or forceps and/or drugs during delivery can result in a sleepy baby.5767768168_55ce76afbf_n

  • Medical problems:   Babies who have a medical problem such as an infection or a heart problem may not feed well.

  • Overstimulation:   Babies can react to excessive handling by visitors, constant loud noises or bright lights by tuning out and going to sleep.

  • Not taking in enough calories:   Babies that are consistently not taking in enough milk may lack the energy needed to feed well.

Tips for waking a sleepy baby:

  • It is difficult to wake a baby in deep sleep. Watch for “soft signs” that your baby is waking such as small body movements, sucking on a fist, or eye movements.

  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin with baby in a diaper only. The closeness to mom helps to cue baby to feed.

  • Use diaper changes to wake baby. If your baby is alert and ready to feed, save the diaper change until after the first breast. It may help him to be alert enough to take the second breast.
  • Express a drop of milk on your nipple and bring it near baby’s lips.

  • Use breast compressions while baby is feeding, to keep him alert and drinking.

  • Burp baby between breasts to reawaken him.

  • Change your breastfeeding position. If you find your baby is sleepy when tucked against your body, try feeding in the football position.

  • Some sleepy babies benefit from switch nursing. (Leave baby on the first breast as long a he is actively sucking. When baby is no longer actively sucking, even with breast compressions, wake your baby and switch to the second breast. Repeat as often as needed. Some moms feed 2 or 3 times on each breast.)

  • Talk to your baby as he nurses. Babies love the sound of their mother’s voice.

  • Walk your fingers up baby’s spine.

  • Rub the soles of baby’s feet.

  • Massage baby’s scalp.

  • Hold your baby up in front of you, talk and make eye contact.

  • imageTry the “doll’s eye technique”: gently lift baby from lying to sitting, hinging at the hips.

  • Gently clap baby’s hands together or bicycle baby’s legs.

  • With your thumb on baby’s palm and a finger on the back of baby’s hand, rhythmically apply pressure.

  • Rub baby’s back with small circular motions, starting from the small of the back and working upwards.

  • Use your finger to trace a circle around baby’s mouth.

  • Some people have used a cool washcloth. This seems a bit harsh so try this only if nothing else is working.

Please note: This list is long; try one or two per feed and see which ones work best for your baby.

Feeding a sleepy baby can be frustrating and time consuming. Keep your baby close so that you are able to respond as soon as baby shows interest.

Once your baby is 2 weeks old and weighs more than when she was born, you will no longer need to worry about waking for feeds. You can relax and feed on demand.


Learn more about breastfeeding a newborn in our online Simply Breastfeeding course (12 videos that teach you everything you need to know about breastfeeding).


Related posts: Days and Nights Mixed Up and How Often will my Newborn Feed?


thumbnail-cindy-and-janaCindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.



5767768168_55ce76afbf_n(Photo courtesy of Flickr:  Digenis Akritas)

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