So your baby falls asleep while breastfeeding. What on earth are you supposed to do about it?
If you’ve ever heard the saying “never wake a sleeping baby”, you might be confused. Well the answer is fairly simple but each baby is different. There are certain things to consider when problem solving for a baby that falls asleep while breastfeeding.
Usually the biggest concern of moms is whether their baby is getting enough breast milk.
Why Does Your Baby Fall Asleep While Nursing?
Before you start worrying too much, know this… a baby that falls asleep while breastfeeding is NORMAL. Breastfeeding is natural, giving your baby comfort. Hormones are perfectly synced to make your baby feel happy and at peace while nursing. It’s also a warm and familiar place- right up against mommy.
If your baby falls asleep while breastfeeding, there might not be any reason to worry. It all depends on other factors and whether your baby gets enough milk during a feeding before they fall asleep. Meeting developmental milestones and weight gain are more important than your baby falling asleep.
Unfortunately, there sometimes are concerns when a baby falls asleep while breastfeeding. The main concern stems from a baby not getting enough breast milk. If a baby falls asleep too early in a feeding they may not be getting enough milk. Some babies prefer sleep over eating – those are the babies to worry about.
It could be caused by not establishing a good breastfeeding latch or mom having a slow let-down. It could also be caused by just having a sleepy baby, which is out of a mom’s control. Some babies are just sleepier than others.
An important thing to know is that the clock doesn’t necessarily tell you if your baby gets enough milk or not. Some babies can nurse for 5 minutes and be effective at milk removal – leaving them completely full. Other babies can breastfeed for 20 minutes or more and not be effective, unable to eat enough.
So don’t rely on the clock when determining if your baby is getting enough milk.
How To Know Your Baby Is Eating Enough
Your baby should be pooping plenty, especially in the first 6 weeks of life. For the first 4 days, your baby should have the number of poopy diapers as they are days old. So on day one, they have 1 poopy diaper. Then 2 poopy diapers on day 2… until they have 4 poopy diapers by day 4. For the next 6 weeks, your baby should have 3-4 poopy diapers per day.
Wet diapers isn’t as important as poopy diapers. Sometimes a baby can still have wet diapers even if they aren’t getting enough milk. Pay attention to the number of poops. They don’t need to be big poops, at least the size of a quarter, 3-4 times per day.
After 6 weeks of life, many babies poop numbers start to decrease. This is normal, so if your baby is more than 6 weeks old weight gain is a more important indicator.
Weight gain is the best way to tell that your baby is getting enough milk. Newborn babies see the pediatrician frequently, and should be weighed each time. Expect your baby to lose 5-10% of their body weight after birth. Babies lose a lot of water after birth, so the weight loss is expected. But they should be back to their birth weight by 2 weeks of life.
Your pediatrician should be closely watching your baby’s weight gain and tracking it. They likely compare your baby’s weight with a chart. Breastfed babies and formula-fed babies gain weight at slightly different rates, so make sure your pediatrician is using the correct growth chart. If your baby is gaining as expected, they’re probably eating enough.
How Baby Behaves
Your baby should behave differently if they’re full after a feeding. When a baby is hungry, they clench their fists and show hunger cues. If they eat to fullness, they will relax and unclench their hands. They should be relaxed and sleeping soundly.
When they exhibit hunger cues, your baby is likely still hungry. Hunger cues include restlessness, moving their mouth, sucking on things, sticking out their tongue and turning their head with their mouth open. If you notice hunger cues after your baby falls asleep while breastfeeding, they’re probably still hungry.
When To Worry About Your Baby Falling Asleep While Breastfeeding
Baby Not Meeting Milestones. If your baby isn’t pooping enough or gaining weight as expected, they probably aren’t eating enough. Generally, a pediatrician will notice these signs so continue to take your baby in for regular appointments.
Your Breasts Don’t Feel Empty (but be careful not to use this as your only cue). If you finish feeding your baby and notice that your breasts still feel full, your baby may not be eating enough. Your breasts should feel softer and more empty after your baby breastfeeds. Be careful not to use this as the only sign though. It’s still important to consider developmental milestones. If they’re met, your baby is likely eating enough.
Your breasts may become engorged around day 4 when your milk comes in. When this happens, they still might feel full of milk after your baby feeds. Your baby may have gotten enough, but your breasts may not feel completely soft. In addition, after your milk supply regulates around 6 weeks your breasts might feel emptier more often. Around 6 weeks is a common time for moms to worry about their supply, but it’s just their body adjusting to breastfeeding.
Baby Ending A Session Too Early. Some babies breastfeed for a short amount of time and are full. They’re very efficient nursers so sometimes quick feedings are nothing to worry about. But if your baby acts hungry after feeding or falls asleep after only a few minutes, they are falling asleep too soon. Most importantly, notice how your baby acts after falling asleep. If their hands are clenched and they’re showing hunger cues they likely fell asleep too early.
Baby Still Showing Hunger Cues. Babies show signs they’re hungry. Restlessness is the first sign, with baby moving around. Then they will lick and smack their lips, suck on their fingers, open their mouth while turning their head, and may start to cry. If these things happen after a feeding, the baby is still hungry and didn’t feed enough.
What To Do About A Sleepy Nursing Baby: 4 Tips
- 1. Feed Frequently. If your baby falls asleep quickly after starting a feeding only to wake up 20 minutes later hungry, feed them again. While most pediatricians recommend feeding every 2-3 hours, some babies eat more frequently. It might seem like all you do is feed your baby but usually it only lasts for the first few months. Once the baby becomes a more efficient nurser, they will feed faster, get more milk, and go longer between feedings.
- 2. Switch Breasts. Try switching your baby to the opposite breast after they fall asleep. The movement might rouse them enough to want to breastfeed again. If your baby is still hungry, moving them to the other breast wakes them up and gives them the opportunity to feed again.
- 3. Breast Compressions. You can try to use breast compressions during a feeding. Place your thumb and forefinger on opposite sides of your breast while baby is feeding. Then each time your baby sucks, press your thumb down and compress your breast. Breast compressions increase the flow of milk while your baby sucks, so they get more milk each time.
- 4. Move and Unswaddle Them. Some babies just really like to sleep. If your baby falls into the sleepy category, try stimulating them during feeding time. Swaddling a baby encourages them to sleep, so sleepy babies are best left unswaddled. You can also rub or tickle their feet to keep them awake. Position changes are effective, and sitting your baby more upright during feeding time may prevent them from falling asleep while breastfeeding.
If Milk Supply Decreases
Moms commonly worry about their milk supply if their baby falls asleep while breastfeeding. If your baby shows signs that they’re eating enough, then your milk supply is likely fine. The number one reason moms quit breastfeeding is milk supply concerns- and usually their baby is getting enough.
If you notice your baby not gaining weight, pooping enough, and showing hunger cues after feeding then your milk supply is a valid concern. The way to increase your milk supply is to increase demand. So the more your baby feeds, the more your breasts will get the message to produce milk. The same works for a breast pump. Breast milk is produced by a supply and demand process.
The best way to increase your milk supply is to feed your baby more frequently. In effect, your baby should get more milk because they feed more often. It’s okay to feed frequently throughout the day because it increases your supply and allows your baby more opportunities to eat. With time, most babies become more effective nursers – the frequency slows, milk supply increases, and baby becomes more efficient at removing milk.
Talk To An Expert
If you’re concerned, it doesn’t hurt to talk to someone. Look for a lactation consultant near you or find a La Leche League meeting. La Leche League leaders can help you establish a good latch, and lactation consultants are able to tell you how much milk your baby transfers during a feeding.
Your pediatrician is also a good person to talk to about your concerns. They will be able to give you a good idea about where your baby is at and whether they are gaining weight and growing.
If you need help but don’t want to venture out of the house, you can always contact me. I’m a Certified Lactation Counselor, offering telephone consults. I can also do a video consult to help you through a feeding.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
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