15 Tips For How To Keep Baby Awake While Breastfeeding

If you’re wondering how to keep baby awake while breastfeeding, odds are you have a sleepy baby on your hands who is falling asleep at the breast and not taking full feedings. Not taking full feedings can have negative consequences for you and your baby. So, I’ll give you 15 tips that I used when I was struggling with how to keep baby awake while breastfeeding.

15 ways to keep sleeping baby awake while breastfeeding mom wiping baby's foot with wipe. Mommy Maker Teacher logo.
15 Ways To Keep Sleeping Baby Awake While Breastfeeding

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Why Keeping Your Baby Awake During Breastfeeding Is So Important

If your baby falls asleep during breastfeeding, they may not be taking in enough milk which can lead to problems like:

  • Weight gain issues
  • Jaundice
  • Lower milk supply (for mom)
  • Poor latch and suckling skills
  • Lowered immunity
  • Dehydration

All of these problems are something you want to avoid, so keeping your baby awake while breastfeeding is essential.

Benefits Of Full Breastfeeds

If your breastfeeding newborn is taking enough breast milk at each feed, there will be many positive benefits:

  • They will be gaining enough weight
  • Longer stretches of sleep (meaning mom might get some long stretches of sleep too 😴)
  • Increased milk production for mom

Your pediatrician will track your baby’s growth at their (many) doctor’s appointments during the newborn period. There are a few signs that your baby is taking full feeds that you can look for at home:

  • Plenty of wet diapers
  • A growth spurt (sizing up in your baby’s clothes or diapers)
  • Able to sleep (even just in short 1-2 stretches)

Staying awake during breastfeeding can be so hard for newborn babies especially in the first week or months of life.

A new baby has shorter sleep cycles and needs more frequent feedings in the early days. This is also because your baby has a very tiny belly and can only take in so much milk during each feeding.

It is important for new parents to make sure their baby feeds regularly and fills up as much as possible.

Mom Tip: A baby’s natural rooting reflex (sucking reflex) is so strong, even for sleepy babies in the early weeks.  Just because your baby’s eyes are closed, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t taking in a full feed.  If your baby is in a very deep sleep they will stop sucking (or just have a shallow suck) or even unlatch. 

Older babies start to have longer sleep stretches as their stomach grows and they are able to take in more milk during each breastfeeding period.

The following tips should help keep your baby awake during breastfeeding so they can take in full feeds and sleep with full little bellies.

How To Keep Baby Awake During Breastfeeding

Tip #1: Breastfeed As Soon As Your Baby Wakes Up

This is the best way to keep a newborn baby awake while breastfeeding. When your baby wakes up in the morning, feed them immediately before they have a chance to fall back asleep.

You can also use this tip after nap time.

The only time this tip doesn’t work? In the middle of the night, when your sleeping baby may or may not fully wake to feed.

Tip #2: Change Your Baby’s Diaper First

By doing a diaper change before breastfeeding, you will increase the chances that they will be alert and awake.

Mom Tip: Don’t use this method at night if your baby routinely soils their diaper right after breastfeeding (because you’re going to have to change their dirty diapers again and that might wake them up too much in the night.

Tip #3: Play With Your Baby

When you’re playing with your baby before feeding, they are more likely to stay awake.

This can include things like talking to them, singing to them, or even just making faces.

Especially if you are trying to get them to stay awake in the middle of the night, engaging with them for just a minute or two will perk them up from their sleepy slumber.

Tip #4: Breastfeed From Both Sides

As much as it is time-consuming, feeding on both sides will help your baby stay awake while breastfeeding because they will have to suck more.

When you switch sides, you will have another letdown which means more flow of milk (and more quickly flowing) for your little one.

Tip #5: Breast Compressions

Breast compressions will increase your milk flow just like switching sides when breastfeeding.

If you have already tried switching sides, you can do breast compressions next.

To perform a breast compression, hold your baby on one breast, and with your other hand, press down in the middle of that same breast for about 30 seconds. This will help increase the milk flow and your baby should automatically respond with increased sucking.

If you’re not sure how to do breast compression you can find helpful videos on YouTube or as a lactation consultant.

Tip #6: Try A Bottle Feed

If your baby is falling asleep during breastfeeding, you can try bottle feeding.

Nursing at the breast might just be too comforting for your little one that they can’t stay awake.

If you are really struggling with getting a full feeding, you might want to consider switching to a bottle for a few feeds a day. You can pump milk for this bottle or use formula.

Pro Tip: by giving a bottle you will know exactly how much milk your little one is taking.

Not interested in pumping or formula for a bottle? You can actually effortlessly–seriously–collect a bottle or two of milk for your baby without having to pump or prepare formula. The secret? The Haakaa. If you want to know more, read my in-depth guide on how to use a Haakaa.

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Tip #7: Make Sure You Have A Good Latch

If your baby has a poor latch, they are tiring themselves out by not sucking in an effective way. It’s difficult to know, especially for new moms, if your baby is getting an effective feed.

If you can, visiting a lactation consultant is a great way to check on your baby’s latch. They might even give you additional tips on how to help your baby learn the difference between wake time (for feeding and playing) and sleep time.

Tip #8: Try A Different Breastfeeding Position

If you’re in the same position for too long, your baby might get bored and fall asleep.

Try lying down on your side, a football hold, or using a breastfeeding pillow to help keep them upright.

Tip #9: Try Burping Your Baby More Frequently

If your baby is spitting up frequently after eating, they might be swallowing too much air and getting gas bubbles in their tummy.

This will make them feel full and drift off to la-la land.

Burp your baby every few minutes to get all of the air out.

Plus, the change in position for burping will also help keep your baby awake.

Tip #10: Use A Cold Wipe

This might sound cruel, but it is definitely effective if you have an extra sleepy newborn.

Grab a diaper wipe, cool washcloth, or face wipe, and rub it on your baby’s face, cheek, hands, or feet.

Combined with the cold air, this will perk your baby up quickly from their deep sleep.

Even if your baby stays in a light sleep (they are sucking or respond when you touch them) they will still be getting breastmilk. When a baby is in their deep sleep (or REM sleep) they won’t even latch.

Tip #11: Undress Your Baby

Just like Tip #10, this might sound down-right mean–especially if it is in the middle of the night–but it might be completely necessary.

Strip your baby down to the diaper for the feed and rely on the warmth from your skin contact and the breastmilk to keep them at a comfortable temperature.

I used to combine this tip with tip #10 when my sleepy jaundiced baby would not stay awake for more than a minute or two for a feed.

It was imperative for his health that he take full feeds every 2 hours, so I had to pull out all of the stops. This combination worked the best in the middle of the night.

Tip #12: Stimulate Your Baby’s Senses

Babies love stimulation and they especially love it when it comes from their mother.

Gently blow on your baby’s face or tickle their toes with your free hand. Rub the palms of his hands together in a circular motion.

Anything that is out of the ordinary to wake them up or get them to a lighter stage of sleep.

Tip #13: Turn On The Lights

Nursing in a dark room is only going to make matters worse.

Try nursing with sunlight coming in during the day or with bright lights on during night feeding.

Just like with adults, light lets babies know it is time to wake up, and dark means it is time to sleep.

One of the 7 baby gadgets that I loved with my newborn was my smart lightbulb. I programmed it to come on every 2 hours through the night.

This helped wake me up–hello, new mothers are sleepy too!–and it would gently wake my son as well.

Tip #14: Nurse More Frequently During the Day

Sometimes it is just a matter of quantity.

If your little one isn’t getting full feeds every time, they are going to get hungry quickly and be ready to sleep when their tummy feels good again.

Try nursing them more frequently during the day so that you can stretch out each feed longer in between at night.

Pro Tip: If you need to nurse more frequently, make sure you have the right nursing gear! Nursing tank tops are a must for excursions and I love breastfeeding gowns for lounging around the house.

Tip #15: Nurse Your Baby In A Different Room

If you haven’t tried this yet, it’s definitely worth a shot if your baby seems to almost be falling asleep immediately after nursing in the same room.

Nurse them in another room and then bring them back to their nursery (or your room if you are still room sharing) only after you are done feeding.

The change of scenery, combined with any of the above tricks will make your baby more alert.

Pro Tip: You might not need to change rooms every time you nurse, but when it comes down to it you want to be prepared to make an easy switch. Have a portable breastfeeding caddy that stays in your usual breastfeeding spot, but that is ready to go if you need it.

It might be tough to keep your baby awake while nursing, especially if they are tired, to begin with. The above tips for how to keep baby awake during breastfeeding should help your little one take fuller, longer feeds.

And, when all else fails, remember that this newborn sleepy stage doesn’t last forever. Before you know it, you’ll be asking yourself how you can get more sleep with a baby.

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