Newborn needs to be fed every 2-3 hours or on demand during first few weeks of their life. But what should you do when newborn won’t wake up to eat? Read on to learn should you or should you not wake a sleepy baby to feed, tips for breastfeeding a sleepy baby and much more.
“Never wake a sleeping baby”
First time I heard this was back in 90s when my sister brought her newborn home from the hospital. Its been a long time and I don’t really remember whether my sister followed the advice or not.
15 years later, when I had my first one, I was often confused about what to do when my baby wouldn’t wake up past four hours from an afternoon nap.
I am sure many new parents going through same dilemma. While we all want our babies to sleep in their comfortable bassinet when we bring them home from hospital, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you let them sleep all day long.
Just as you let your baby to sleep in a bedside bassinet to ensure a safe co-sleeping environment, sometimes you will need to wake your baby to support their growth and overall sleep.
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Is it OK to wake up Newborn for Feeding?
While you may want your baby to sleep considering the amount of time he spends awake and crying, it may not be a good idea.
The AAP recommends waking your newborn if he sleeps more than four hours for the first two weeks.
It is not only okay, but it is important to wake a sleepy baby to feed if they sleep past 3-4 hours depending upon whether they are breastfed or formula fed.
Take a solace in knowing that this is temporary and before you know it, you will be teaching them to sleep through the night.
Why you Should Wake a Sleeping Baby?
Newborns are usually sleepy in the first few weeks. While you want your baby to sleep so you can sleep too, but it may not be good idea to let them sleep for longer initially. Here are reasons why you should wake a sleepy baby.
1. Babies have a Tiny Tummies
The capacity of newborn stomach is very little and it increases as they get older. At day 1-2, their tummy can only hold 5-7 ml of milk and by day 7, capacity increases to 45-60 ml.
Also, breastmilk is digested quickly in comparison to formula. So, if you are breastfeeding your baby, you will need to wake your baby to nurse about every two to three hours compared to formula feed baby who can go 3-4 hours between feedings.
So, speedy digestion and their tiny tummies requires you to feed them frequently for the first few weeks of their lives.
2. For Weight Gain
Newborn loses 5-10 percent of their birth weight in the first few days (1). And they need to gain that weight back in the first few weeks. So, if they are not fed every 2-3 hours, it can slow down their weight gain.
3. Baby can Sleep through Hunger
Most of the time when babies are hungry, they will let you know by crying out loud. But during newborn stage, they might sleep through hunger.
Usually, newborn gives you hunger cues – lip smacking, finger sucking and rooting. You want to feed them when they show these signs rather than waiting for them to cry. Feeding them when they show signs of huger, will help them fall back to sleep at night.
4. Help Boost your Milk Supply
Feeding every two hours or on demand sounds like a hard job for new moms (it is a hard job!!), but it is important for boosting your milk supply to keep up with the supply and demand cycle later on.
Frequent feeding increases mother’s prolactin level, that is needed to establish an adequate milk supply. A research study showed that breastfeeding frequency of about 10 times a day was associated with adequate amount of milk for babies (2).
Another advantage of frequent feeding is that it helps mother’s milk to come in earlier. In one research study, mothers who breastfed their newborns every two hours began lactating 24 hours earlier than moms who breastfed every four hours (3).
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5. To Help Organize Baby’s Sleep
Babies are used to sleep in a womb day and night and once they are brought into this world, they need help to establish healthy sleep habit. Without mom intervening baby’s sleep, they will sleep day and night or sleep all day and awake all night.
My firstborn was like this – sleep all day and up all night and it was hard to keep up with his schedule until he learned to recognize a difference between day and night ( that took almost 4-5 months).
So, with my second one I decided to organize his sleep from day one. Keeping him on sleep schedule of 2.5 – 3 hours during daytime helped a lot in helping him settle day and night pattern and establish a predictable routine specially when I have my elder one to care for.
Here are few tips to organize baby’s nap
- Limit naps to 2.5 to 3 hours during day
- Feed him immediately after he wakes up
- Expose him to sun light during day- go out for walk
- Keep baby awake for a bit after each nap
- Keep the nap schedule consistent (It is okay to change a bit to meet your baby’s demand.)
- Keep a routine of feeding a baby every 2.5-3 hours. When you feed them more during day, they will slowly drop nighttime feeding when they are ready.
- Do not stimulate baby at bedtime – no TV or loud noise or electronics near baby
- Keep the light dim at night
- Once your baby gains enough weight, you can let them sleep little longer than 3 hours at night.
Do you need a help to establish a healthy sleep habits in your baby? Check out THIS post.
How Long should you let a Newborn Sleep before Waking to Feed?
As mentioned earlier, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waking your newborn if he sleeps more than four hours for the first two weeks.
While it is okay to follow what AAP recommend, I limited my second baby’s nap time to 2.5-3 hours during first few weeks. This helped me tremendously in boosting my milk supply, catching up with his initial weight loss and organizing his sleep.
By 3 months, he was sleeping in stretches of 5-6 hours at night and I got much-needed rest at night.
That being said, every baby is different. Usually it takes 3-4 months for babies to develop mature circadian rhythms. Research also confirms that if you keep them on schedule and provide them with right environmental cues – exposing them to sun light during day and dimming the light at night- they will sleep for longer stretches at night (4).
When do you Wake a Sleeping Baby?
Rule is simple. Wake your baby
- When next feeding time rolls around
- When you last fed your baby 2.5 – 3 hours ago
How to Wake a Sleepy Baby to Feed?
Most babies are like an alarm clock -wake up crying every 2-3 hours to feed. But in the first few days, they are generally a bit sleepy. It sometimes becomes a hard job to do.
You will want to wake a baby when he is in the lighter stage of sleep cycle. This stage is recognized by baby fluttering his eyelids, clenched fists, smacking his lips or moving his legs or hands a little.
Once your baby is in deep sleep cycle, it is hard to rouse. For mamas, it is easy to miss baby’s light sleep cycle signs specifically for midnight feeding. Can’t blame you mama, you are exhausted, and you need your sleep too.
When your baby is in deep sleep and won’t wake up, use following tips and tricks to wake him up when his next feeding time enrolls.
1. Skin to Skin
The Easiest way to wake baby up is stripping his cloth off. This will cool baby off and usually its enough to wake him up.
Sometimes you feel lazy to take his cloths off specially when you have to wake up for midnight feeding. Stripping cloths off was my last resource if my baby wouldn’t wake up for feed.
2. Tickle them
Tickling baby at the bottom of his feet or touching his legs will help him to wake up to feed. If this doesn’t work, straighten out his arm and legs to signal his brain to wake up.
3. Diaper Change
Changing his diaper while he is sleeping usually wakes him up as you will be applying moist (hopefully warm) wipes to his bottom.
4. Hold Baby Upright
If your baby is not waking up by tickling or touching, hold him upright and talk to him to encourage him to open his eyes.
5. Lure your Baby
Hand expresses a few drops of colostrum or breast milk onto your nipple and touch his lips to stimulate him to open his mouth.
6. Dim the lights
If room is too bright, your baby won’t open his eyes. So, keep the lights dim to encourage him to wake up for feed.
Related Readings : Do Light Projectors Help Babies Sleep?
7. Use a washcloth
There are some days when baby is in deep sleep and won’t wake up no matter what you do.
In this case, this little cruel method will come in handy. I used this method when my little one wouldn’t wake up after trying everything else.
This no fail method of waking baby involves simply rubbing a cold washcloth to baby’s face.
I know, it sounds very cruel, but their feed is more important then little physical discomfort early on.
Often time when you wake your baby from a deep sleep, they drift off after only a few minutes of sucking at the breast. In this case, you need to make sure that he gets enough amount of milk by encouraging him to feed. Here are few tips for breastfeeding a Sleepy baby.
Tips for Breastfeeding a Sleeping Baby
Once you are successful waking your baby up and get him to latched on and feed, it doesn’t always mean that he is drinking enough. Once the initial letdown subside, sleepy baby is quite likely to drift off before he has done feeding. Following tips will help breastfeeding your sleeping baby effectively.
Undressed your baby and hold him skin-to-skin in your chest will maximise their feeding reflexes and help stimulate him to feed.
Changing the Position
If your baby falls asleep after few minutes at the breast, change the feeding position. Before putting him in a different breastfeeding position, hold him upright and pat his back gently or try to burp him.
Apply a gentle pressure on the breast with your hand while baby is suckling to keep your milk flowing. This will encourage your baby to feed longer.
Switching breast as soon as suckling slows down on the first breast helps to keep them awake. While you are switching him to other breast, burp him or rub gently on his back to wake him up. Keep switching baby back and forth until he seems satisfied.
Active Feeding cues
Watch your sleepy baby how he feeds. Watch for effective sucks and swallows. If he starts flutter suckling or comfort nursing, this may be sign that he is not swallowing anything. At this point, you want to unlatch him and hold him upright, burp him and offer another breast.
When you are breastfeeding, it is impossible to know -even with actively watching suck and swallow- how much milk your baby has drank when he is so little.
I was often confused about the amount of milk my newborn consumed when I breastfed my sleepy baby. An important tip that I learned from neonatal nurse at the hospital was weighing your baby before and after breastfeeding. Weight scale was life saver initially to know how much breastmilk my newborn consumed.
Even after applying above tips, if your baby would not wake up to feed, you may want to find out the reason of his excessive tiredness. There are many reasons like jaundice, fever, infection- for tiredness in baby. If you are concerned in any way, check with your pediatrician.
When to stop Waking Baby to Feed at Night?
According to Kelly mom, once your baby has established a good weight gain, you should stop waking your baby to nurse and let him sleep little longer than 2 – 3 hours. You baby should be gaining at least 4 ounces per week until he is 4 months old.
Once your baby gains enough weight, you can watch out for hunger cues to feed him at night. Remember, even after gaining weight newborn feeds anywhere from 8-12 times each day. Frequent feeding is still necessary for their weight gain and stimulate your milk supply.
Newborn won’t wake up to eat – Conclusion
Here you go mamas!! These tips will help you wake your sleepy baby and make sure that your sleepy heads are fed effectively to gain enough weight and boost your milk supply.
I know, feeding your baby every 2 – 3 hours sounds exhausting, but if you stick to this schedule initially, in just couple of months your baby will drop his feedings at night as his body allows.
If you are looking to get your straight sleep back at night in couple of months, it is important that you establish a healthy sleep habits in your baby from day one and that starts with waking your baby to feed every 2.5 to 3 hours.
Understanding how sleep in newborn works will help you not only teach your baby how to sleep longer stretches at night independently but also teach your baby to self-soothe when they wake briefly between sleep cycle.
Do you have any tips to wake up a sleepy baby? Leave your comment below.
- Dewey KG, Nommsen-Rivers LA, Heinig MJ, and Cohen RJ. 2003. Risk Factors for Suboptimal Infant Breastfeeding Behavior, Delayed Onset of Lactation, and Excess Neonatal Weight Loss. Pediatrics 112: 607-619.
- deCarvalho M., Robertson S, Merkatz R, and Klaus M. 1982. Milk intake and frequency of feeding in breastfed infants. Early Hum. Dev. 7:155-163.
- Salariya EM, Easton PM and Cater JI. 1978. Duration of breastfeeding after early initiation of frequent feeding. Lancet 2 (8100): 1141-1143.
- Iwata S, Fujita F, Kinoshita M, Unno M, Horinouchi T, Morokuma S, Iwata O. 2017. Dependence of nighttime sleep duration in one-month-old infants on alterations in natural and artificial photoperiod. Sci Rep. 7:44749.