Baby Falling Asleep while Nursing

Archived Q&A and Reviews

October 1998

Our newborn falls asleep at the breast within five minutes of the beginning of feeding. We have tried various methods to try to rouse him, with varying degrees of success. The result is that feedings are drawn-out and take a long, long time. Any advice?

We are under a Dr's care and the baby's weight is being monitored, and we have made use of TWO lactation consultants! Our poor baby is managing to gain weight, but extremely slowly. Has anyone experienced this, & are there any suggestions on what we might do, in order to get our infant to nurse more vigorously. Thanks!

My newborn did that also, then needed to nurse again in an hour--all night long. I finally figured out that I was picking him up at the first squeak so he wouldn't cry and he really wasn't hungry and ready to eat yet. I moved him out of the bedroom so I couldn't hear the squeaks and made him really yell before I fed him. He was then awake and hungry, the feedings were spaced out longer and I got some sleep! Barbara
My son did the same thing. On the advice of a lactation consultant, we got a cold washcloth adn stroked it on his cheek or forehead to keep him awake while eating. We also (at various times) spoke to him, patted his back while eating, tickled his feet, and stopped his nursing to burp him frequently. These methods worked with varying success, and didn't seem to trouble him much (he actually slept though them sometimes, but it worked often enough to keep doing it). The good news is that he grew out of it pretty soon, that he was gaining weight nonetheless, and that he is now a champion nurser and thriving at 6 mo. I think long feedings are pretty normal at this stage, and it will get better very soon, I promise. Hang in Ann
For the parents who are concerned about their newborn falling asleep too soon at the breast -- try to relax. Your doctor is monitoring the situation; you've seen two lactation consultants. You haven't said whether any of them are concerned, but I suspect that if they were, you'd be telling us so.

Healthy newborns have been so well fed for so many months, many of them don't come into the world with roaring appetites. For many newborns, sleep really is more important than eating.

Some babies fit themselves well into a parent-defined schedule of eating and sleeping, and some do not. It sounds like Baby wants to set her/his own schedule -- five minutes of milk, 'X#' minutes or hours of sleep. That means that Mom will need to be available to him/her all the time, not just when it's convenient. This is harder for Mom (and demands more assistance from Dad), but these rhythms can be experienced naturally and comfortably if you can accept Baby's schedule as the right one for all of you. It will probably be easier for you all if Baby sleeps next to Mom, so that nursing can happen with the least disruption to anyone, any time of the day or night. (Mom should be sleeping as much as possible during these post-partum days.)

inally, about your statement -- > ... Our poor baby is managing to gain weight, >but extremely slowly.

I think that any baby referred to as newborn is way to young to judge against a scale of normal weight-gain. Newborns very typically *lose* weight after birth for a while, so if yours is gaining, you're doing alright! Relax! Your baby isn't poor, or to be pitied in any way. Your baby is blessed to be born into your caring family. Listen to what s/he is telling you: I know there is enough food, therefore I don't have to guzzle. I know I can relax, therefore I will sleep now. I feel safe here, I feel secure. I know I am loved. Letitia

When our son was a newborn, he fell asleep at the breast, too. We didn't know what to do because one nurse said he must eat every 2 hours, and the other said that we shouldn't give him a bottle or he'd get nipple confusion. We'd wake him up every two hours and fight with him, trying to get him to nurse. It was so awful! We finally went to the doctor, and she said he HAD to eat every 2 or 3 hours because he had severe jaundice and low blood sugar. So we gave him a bottle, and I pumped, which eased my engorgement. After a couple of bottles, Sammy took the breast and stayed awake! My own theory is that he was too hungry to stay awake because he had so little energy. So I'd try pumping and giving your baby a bottle. I was afraid of nipple confusion, but it didn't happen. Just to be safe, you might try the Avent bottles because the nipple is wider and more similar to a mother's nipple (see my e-mail about the Avent pump, also). (I don't own stock in Avent, though it sure seems like it!)

Good luck! I empathize so much! I wish I'd known about this list when I was going through that. Hannah

My infant daughter fell asleep a lot during nursing in the first few days. We finally figured out that what we needed to do was put her down--alone. As long as she was in my arms--even when being actively washed with a damp rag, for instance--she felt safe and stayed asleep. Putting her down for 5 or 10 minutes resulted in an *awake* baby, and one that was ready to nurse. It felt very counterintuitive to us (and is hard to do when you are worried!), but it worked. Good luck! Dawn