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Napping on the Job: How to Breastfeed a Sleepy Baby

February 22, 2021


Breastfeeding sleepy baby
What if baby nurses for 5 minutes then falls asleep?

Figures. You’ve just put your baby to your breast and poof. Asleep. For the first time in hours.

Sometimes you may choose to let baby sleep and feed them later. Sometimes you can breastfeed or bottle feed while they are sleeping, and other times, you’ll need to take action and wake them up to get a full feeding. What should you do and when? We have some tips.

Should I Wake My Baby To Feed?

You may have heard that you should never wake a sleeping baby, but that's not always the case. While some newborns will wake up ready to eat without help, others may need some encouragement.

Your breastfeeding newborn should eat approximately every two to three hours around the clock. If they aren’t waking up for these feedings (like you did!), you may have to get them up yourself. We suggest starting with a diaper change. That’s often enough to rouse a tired little one.

Sometimes, simply putting the baby to your breast will also work. The natural rooting reflex that your baby is born with may get them eating even if they are sleepy. You can also try to express a few drops of your breast milk onto your baby's mouth.

If you have your baby swaddled, try unwrapping them. The cooler air may get them moving.

When a Newborn Falls Asleep Nursing

Are you concerned that your baby isn’t getting enough breastmilk because they fall asleep breastfeeding? There are a few signs that indicate all may be well. If they start the nursing session alert and fall asleep, they may have simply gotten enough milk.

If their hands are relaxed and limp, that’s another good sign. Empty or soft breasts are another good indicator that baby has gotten a good breastfeeding session in before nodding off.

If your baby is full, but so are your breasts, use a breast pump to express extra milk and freeze it for later use. If you feel you have a small amount of milk left in your breasts, consider a manual breast pump - less assembly and clean up!

Sleepy baby
All moms can benefit by learning how to keep baby awake during breastfeeding.

What if Baby Falls Asleep but Is Still Hungry?

Concerned that perhaps your falling-asleep baby isn’t feeding well? Try switching to the other breast when the baby seems to be drifting off to sleep, or squeeze your breast between thumb and fingers as the baby sucks to encourage more milk to flow.

Other tips to keep baby awake include running your finger along their cheek or foot, turning on the lights, tickling their lower lip, or using a wet washcloth and dabbing it along their hairline.

Baby Falls Asleep While Bottle Feeding

Babies won’t finish every bottle; in fact, they are very good at judging how much they need. You can usually let your baby decide when they’ve had enough formula or breastmilk.

If your baby goes to sleep during a feeding, put baby over your shoulder, rub their back, and stroke their head, legs and tummy. This can help to wake your baby up or at least ensure a good burp. If a diaper change is needed, this is also a good way to wake your baby up.

Always throw away any leftover formula or breastmilk after one hour. Storing half-empty bottles for future use can be risky because of contamination once they’ve been sucked on. Find more important storage tips here.

When to Contact a Lactation Consultant

If you’ve tried these tips but are still concerned that your baby isn’t getting proper nutrition because they’ve scheduled naptime during feeding time, you may want to reach out to a Lactation Consultant (LC).

An LC - especially an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) - is specially trained to work one-on-one with you to solve these types of challenges. Even better, most moms qualify for no cost lactation consultations through their insurance plan.


Let 1 Natural Way join your prenatal and postpartum team! We are committed to helping new moms with many of their postpartum needs by providing insurance-covered breast pumps, breastfeeding supplies, pregnancy support bands, compression stockings and postpartum recovery garments, as well as fully covered sessions with a lactation consultant. Begin the process of qualifying for some - or all! - of these items at no cost to you through your insurance.

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