What do you do if you are breastfeeding a sleepy baby who seems to drift off to sleep before finishing eating? You certainly don’t want your little one to wake up in an hour and be ready to eat again every hour!
There are few things in this world more precious to a mother than watching as her baby’s eyelids grow heavy, lashes fluttering until the little one sinks into a deep sleep. There’s also something satisfying about watching this happen as your baby is cuddled in your arms, feeling warm and secure. The problem is that babies may start to associate sleep with the breast, which becomes a problem later on when you’re ready to wean.
You may also have concerns that your baby isn’t breastfeeding long enough to take in an adequate amount of milk. This may mean that your baby sleeps for shorter periods of time and wants to feed more frequently. In some cases, this is only a problem in terms of lifestyle interruptions for the mother. In other cases, there are concerns about the baby’s weight gain and ability to thrive.
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This is why many mothers come to a point where they need to keep their baby awake during feedings. If you’re in this position, there are many strategies that you can try. This list will give you some great ideas to keep the little one awake for longer feedings and, hopefully, longer sleeping sessions.
- Shake up your bedtime/naptime routine.
Do you have a routine that involves bathing, cuddling, singing, story time, feeding, and other comforting activities? If you’re like many mothers, you have intuitively placed feeding as the last activity in the routine. This is because it’s natural to feed a baby until they fall asleep with a belly full of warm milk. The problem is that your baby will learn to associate feeding with sleeping, and you will eventually need to break that connection.
The easiest way to do this is to rearrange the routine. Place breastfeeding first or at least earlier in the process. This allows the baby to feed while staying awake to work through the remaining bedtime or naptime activities. Use some of the other strategies on this list to keep your baby awake long enough to finish out the bedtime routine.
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- Experiment with new positions.
Try to find a position that keeps your baby comfortable but not so comfy that they sink right into sleep. Some mothers find that their babies are more responsive and alert when they ensure skin-to-skin contact while feeding, but other babies may find skin contact more comforting and inductive to sleep.
The football hold is a safe position that keeps many babies more alert. Place a pillow beside your body, positioned so that you can rest your arm over the pillow. Place the baby on the pillow with his or her chest under your arm. This allows your baby to breastfeed while under your arm, feet moving freely behind you. You can hold your baby’s head and upper body with both arms much as you might cradle a football.
- Work in a little tickling action.
When you see those eyelids start to flutter, try getting the baby’s attention by running your finger gently along the bottom of his or her foot or along the side of an arm. You can also lightly tickle your baby’s cheeks or chin. Some people recommend doing this with a wet washcloth, but that may startle your baby a little too much. You can try that method if tickling doesn’t work and you don’t think that it will cause your little one too much discomfort.
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- Rotate breasts more often.
Rather than feeding until one breast is empty and then switching, rotate your baby every three to five minutes. You may also pay attention to your baby’s level of alertness and switch when they seem to start losing interest or dozing off. The act of switching breasts is often enough to rouse a sleepy baby for at least a few more minutes. Keep switching, and you may keep the little one alert long enough to sustain a more satisfying feeding.
- Burp in an upright position.
Do you allow your baby to rest comfortably on your shoulder for burping? Start holding him or her in an upright position on your leg instead. You can talk to him or her, smile, or sing a silly, upbeat song to encourage your baby to stay awake until it’s time to resume feeding.
- Change your baby’s feeding attire.
What does your baby wear when breastfeeding? It’s natural to wrap your baby in something warm and cozy, but that warmth will encourage sleep. If you’re in a temperature-controlled environment, you may want to limit clothing to a diaper or a light onesie. This combined with the football hold or another position that isn’t extremely cozy may do the trick. Some parents find that simply taking off a baby’s socks allows them to remain more alert.
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- Stop for a diaper change.
If your baby just seems insistent on going in for a deep snooze, break their latch gently and transition into a diaper change. This should create enough commotion that they wake up, even if they aren’t very happy about it. You can go back to breastfeeding when the change is complete.
- Experiment with background noise.
This may not work if your baby is easily distracted, but it does work in some cases. Try playing upbeat music or a television program that your baby finds engaging. Keep it kind of quiet so that it’s more of a background noise than a direct stimulant. It may keep your baby a bit more alert for a longer feeding session.
- Find your baby’s reflex points.
Gently massage your baby’s reflex points for instant stimulation. For instance, you may rub gentle circles around his or her palms for up to a minute at a time. The crown of the head is another reflex point to try.
- Try to stick to a predictable feeding and sleeping schedule.
Think about your baby’s schedule, positioning feeding away from sleeping as much as possible. If your baby can predict when it’s time to enjoy each of these activities and they don’t normally happen together, he or she is more likely to stay awake during feedings. This requires more effort than allowing your baby to eat intuitively, but it can pay off if you need the little one to stay awake for more rewarding feeds.
Regardless of your reasons for trying to keep your sleepy baby awake during feedings, these ideas should help you accomplish your goal. If you’re concerned that your baby always seems drowsy, pay attention to how many wet and dirty diapers they are producing each day. It’s always best to check up with your doctor if you’re concerned about your baby’s alertness.
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