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Many moms think that their baby will be ready and waiting to breastfeed as soon as they are born. It is true that some babies will do just that and will continue feeding frequently. Everybody will be happy, and no one will worry.
Then there are the babies who are more interested in sleeping off their birth hangover. If your new bundle of joy falls into this category, then he may feel more like a challenging bundle of frustration.
If you know what to expect and how to handle it, it can be less frustrating.
I’m going to include some pictures of sweet sleeping babies because they are so cute. You will notice that none of them are on their tummies unless they are being held. Finding photos like this is no small feat. I always want to have pictures on my site that show what I recommend, and I follow the AAP guidelines of always putting your baby to sleep on his back and making sure everyone else does too. This is an important step to take in reducing the risk of SIDS.
Why are babies too sleepy to breastfeed?
Babies are dealing will a lot of new stimulation. Sleeping can be their way of dealing by shutting out all the overwhelming new things they get thrown at them.
Think about it for a minute.
First, they go through the intense experience of being born. Birth can really affect breastfeeding.
All of a sudden the lights are brighter; the noises are louder, the air is cold. Their body probably gets rubbed all over with towels or blankets. I can’t even imagine what that must feel like.
It’s not too long before a cold stethoscope is slapped against their chest. Then a thermometer is being stuck under their armpit.
When the world gets to be too much, don’t a lot of us want to just take a nap?
How Old is Your Baby?
The baby who was just born and is less than 24 hours just needs time, patience and lots of skin to skin.
Skin to skin helps babies stabilize their temperature, stabilize their blood sugar levels and is important for their neurobehavioral development. I say it’s like snake oil, it’s good for everything. If you tell me that you don’t know what I mean by that, then I will feel really old.
Most babies will wake up and start breastfeeding regularly within the first 24 hours. The nurses will monitor them and make sure that there are no complications from them not eating.
After 24 hours – Until Your Milk Comes In
After 24 hours we do expect babies to start eating regularly. The more frequent, the better.
Continue skin to skin. You just really can’t do too much skin to skin.
Some people suggest changing the diaper to wake the baby up. This can work to wake the baby, but they may not stay awake because it is more of that stimulation overload. Diaper changes make most babies pretty mad. There is lots of crying. At least from the ones that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of babies over these many years.
I recommend diaper changing only when needed. Those new diapers are so advanced, they have indicators to let you know when they are wet. How amazing is that?
To check for poop, you have to take a peek. You will learn pretty quickly not to stick a finger in to check, because…well…yuck!
Instead of a diaper change, I prefer a gentler approach. Try doing some skin to skin for about 20-30 minutes. If your baby doesn’t start showing any feeding cues, move on to the next step.
Do you want to know what the next step is? I knew you did!
Tips and Tricks for Feeding a Sleepy Baby
Try these things as the next step.
- Rub baby’s arms and legs.
- Stroke baby’s lips.
- Hand express some colostrum and rub it on baby’s lips, gums and tongue.
- Often, after you get 10-15 drops into your baby, he will wake up.
- Wait about 15 minutes to see if this works.
One of the best tricks I have for feeding a sleepy baby is to get in the side-lying position when they are skin to skin. It works at least 75% of the time.
Don’t try for longer than 15-20 minutes to get your baby to wake up and eat. Long sessions of trying to get a baby to eat usually just result in an even sleepier baby and a frustrated mom.
Let your baby sleep for another hour and then try all those things again, starting with some skin to skin first. That is if you haven’t just kept him skin to skin to begin with.
Keep Your Baby Safe & Protect Your Milk Supply
After the first 24 hours if your baby hasn’t started eating regularly, then you should be using a breast pump regularly. Regularly would be every 2-4 hours.
Feed your baby everything you are pumping, within reason. Most moms will be getting drops of colostrum or even a few ccs. You can spoon-feed or syringe-feed your baby a few drops at a time. Have the nurse show you how to do it safely.
You may wonder why I don’t recommend using a bottle. The primary reason is that because colostrum tends to be thick. There is usually not very much of it, and if you use a bottle, much of it ends up stuck to the bottle instead of in your baby’s mouth.
Be sure and offer your breast whenever you see feeding cues from your baby. These are smacking his lips, sucking on his hands, and rooting.
Tips for Your Sleepy Baby After Your Milk Comes In
By 4-5 days your milk should be in.
What if your baby is still sleepy after your milk comes in?
You may have heard that you should never wake a sleeping baby. That’s another one of those lies. Or as I like to call it, another old wives tale, although I’m not quite sure why old wives get so much blame. I’m sure old husbands had their share of myths that they passed on.
If a baby is sleeping through feedings, you should wake him up. This means during the night too.
- Continue the routine of skin to skin for 20-30 minutes
- Follow up with massaging your baby’s arms and legs
- When he wakes up, spoon-feed some drops of milk
- That usually works to get him awake enough to breastfeed.
Sometimes it works to give an appetizer of half an ounce to an ounce of your milk.
- Spoon feed or bottle-feed first
- Wait about 10-15 minutes
- Then try at the breast.
It is best to avoid bottles, but more than half an ounce can be very time consuming to spoon feed. It is always best to feed the baby.
When to Worry
If breastfeeding is not adequate as indicated by poor diaper counts or any signs of dehydration, pumping and bottle-feeding may be needed until your baby gets over this sleepy stage.
You may have heard the advice to never give a bottle because that will hurt breastfeeding. If your baby is not feeding adequately at the breast, he will not have the energy to feed and it becomes a vicious cycle.
The number one rule is FEED THE BABY!
Make sure you are working with your baby’s health care provider and a lactation consultant to ensure that your baby is getting enough to eat.
Your lactation consultant will help you come up with a plan to work on breastfeeding while you make sure that your baby is getting enough to eat.
Feeding a sleepy baby can be one of the challenges of breastfeeding. There are many tips and tricks that can help you overcome this challenge.
Do you have a sleepy baby? What has worked for you? Share with me and my readers in the comments sections.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.