What to Do When Your Newborn Baby is Sleepy & Won’t Nurse

By Janelle Turk

May 14, 2019

I remember being in the hospital after I had just had my first baby. He was the sweetest thing I had ever seen in my life. I was so over-the-moon happy to finally meet him after a long labour. I’d expected that breastfeeding would simply “happen”, it is a natural thing, what could be hard about it? I was in for a rude awakening! We struggled with latch, and low supply. It was so stressful! Along with all that, he was a very sleepy baby! It seemed as if he was either frantically hungry or so sleepy that we had a hard time waking him up to eat. The struggle was REAL!

Newborns are generally a bit sleepy, but they need to eat every 2-3 hours. This will help to build up your milk supply, and fill up their tiny tummy! They only need just over a teaspoon of milk or colostrum at each feed for the first 24 hours, and this gradually increases over the first week of life. So it is important for a breastfeeding Mama to offer her baby the breast lots in the first bit to get milk coming in.

So what if your baby is so sleepy he won’t breastfeed? Well, time to pull out all the stops Mama! Here are some things you can try to wake up that sweet baby:

Tickle or Touch

Sometimes tickling the bottom of your baby’s feet, or rubbing his arms or legs will be enough to stimulate him to feed

Skin to Skin

Try stripping him out of his clothes and just keep his diaper on, this will cool baby off so he’s not so snuggly and warm

Diaper Change

This will disturb his sleep and hopefully stimulate him so he is awake enough to know he is hungry

Dim the Lights

Baby’s eyes are sensitive to bright lights, so dim them or have a soft lamp on, so he is more willing to open them

Change Positions

Try a different feeding position, or get up and walk around with baby, burp him, change things up a bit

Hand Expression

Massage your breast and then express some colostrum or milk onto the nipple, then put his lips to it, this will sometimes give baby a taste, and stimulate him to want to feed

If your baby has nursed on one side, and falls asleep mid-feed, or you aren’t sure if they’ve gotten enough, you can do some hand massage on your breast to stimulate the milk to come down and baby may wake up and start sucking. Watch for effective sucks and swallows, if your baby starts flutter sucking this may be a sign that he is getting sleepy. Also, unlatching babe or breast massage is enough to perk him up to start sucking again. Another option is to switch breasts. Offering baby the second breast may be stimulating enough to get him drink some more.

There are varying reasons that babies can be excessively tired. Jaundice, illness or infection could all be possible factors. It is important that if you feel your baby is unusually tired, your baby has a fever, or you are concerned in any way, that you seek medical attention or call your provincial health line.

If you are in need of breastfeeding support reach out to a Mama Coach, we are all Lactation Counsellors or Consultants and would love to help you on your breastfeeding journey. If there isn’t a Mama Coach close to you, don’t worry- we can help you virtually. You Got This Mama!

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