Is baby still eating when sleeping breastfeed?

Newborn babies are often sleepy at the end of a nursing session. They’ve worked hard for their food, they are warm and snuggly, and snoozing feels like the natural thing to do. Some breastfeeding parents feel pressure to break the habit of sleeping while nursing, but others enjoy it as long as their baby is thriving and growing well.

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How to know if your baby is still eating

Newborns often eat every two to four hours, especially in the first weeks of life. As babies grow and their bellies get bigger, they will be able to go longer between feedings. However, they may still wake up from time to time for a feed when they’re hungry. This is normal and is usually due to teething, illness, growth spurts, or a change in sleep patterns.

While no one likes to wake a sleeping baby, sometimes newborns need to be woken up to feed. This is true, especially for small newborns, those who had a difficult labor or birth, or those who were given drugs during labour. It’s also common for sleeping babies to have a shallow latch and need to be awakened to nurse properly.

Sleepy babies can also increase the risk of choking or inhaling milk into their lungs. This can cause respiratory infections in infants and mothers, especially if the milk is cold. It’s important to spend at least two hours per day in skin-to-skin contact, which will stimulate the breastfeeding hormones that help babies to latch well and encourage a full, active feed.

It’s also important to not overdo waking a baby for sleep or feeding. A newborn should not be kept awake for more than four hours without a feeding to avoid dehydration. A baby can be woken up for a feeding by patting them on the head, gently shaking them, changing their diaper, or using a rattle.

What to do if your baby isn’t eating

Newborns are typically sleepy during breastfeeding sessions, and that’s normal. However, if your baby sleeps for more than four hours during a feeding session and hasn’t reached late hunger cues (crying, increased body movement, and/or drooling), it’s important to rouse them for a feed. Try turning on the lights, jiggling them, or changing their diaper. You can also use skin-to-skin contact and/or a more laid-back breastfeeding position to encourage feeding.

Once your infant latches on to the breast, they’ll suck vigorously to get the milk flowing, but then the sucking will slow down as they begin to pull and swallow. When your infant does this, it’s a sign they’re still eating.

If they’re not, try rousing them for a feed by fluttering their eyelids, shaking a rattle or dribbling a little milk on their lips. You can also try using skin-to-skin contact, increasing the room temperature, or undressing them if they’re overheated (being too warm makes babies sleepier).

Be sure to check the feeding cues described above to make sure your baby is still actively nursing and getting enough milk. If they’re only drinking 60 ml or less during a night feed, consider phasing out this feeding. Keeping your newborn well-fed is crucial for weight gain, so it’s worth waking them up to eat. Keeping their weight up will prevent them from dipping down to their birth weight and also protect your milk supply.

What to do if your baby isn’t sleeping well

It’s normal for babies to wake up at night, especially when they are breastfeeding. This is a natural part of their sleep cycle and will continue until they are weaned. Many new parents think they can “train their baby to sleep through the night” but this isn’t always possible. There are a lot of factors that come into play, including hunger, teething, and illness.

If your little one fights sleep, it might be because they are too overtired or too wired to relax. During the day, try to pack in extra naps to make sure your baby is getting the rest they need.

At bedtime, try to keep things quiet and soothing. Avoid rocking and singing lullabies because these are known to act as a sleep prop, keeping your baby dependent on you to fall asleep. Instead, try using a teething ring or giving them a gentle pat, a quick story, or a song to help them power down.

If you find your newborn is waking up more than every three to four hours, talk to your pediatrician about whether it’s time for a feeding schedule check. Most babies will start sleeping through the night at around 6 months, allowing them to sleep five to six hours without waking for a feed. However, there are some babies that take longer to get there, often because of teething, illness, or a change in their circadian rhythm (the natural cycle of the body that responds to light and dark). This is often called the ‘day/night reversal’ stage and is perfectly normal.

What to do if your baby isn’t gaining weight

If your baby is gaining weight well, achieving developmental milestones on time, and generally seems healthy and happy, don’t worry too much about their sleepy breastfeeding sessions. Most babies have one or two sleepy breastfeeding sessions a day that lasts for a few minutes, and that’s fine!

The most important thing is that your baby sucks, swallows, and eats enough. Watch their mouth for movement, a flutter-sucking action, and for them to gulp in the air while nursing to check that they’re eating well. If they’re having trouble suckling, try rocking them, gently tickling their feet, removing their swaddles or blankets, and unwrapping their diaper (to help get them to latch).

It may be hard for them to wake up when they’re sleepy at the breast, so sometimes you might have to break their suction. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant.

If your baby isn’t gaining weight well, have them weighed right away. They may be losing too much weight, which could indicate a problem like severe reflux or malabsorption (from a disease or food allergy) or a gastrointestinal infection. The doctor will examine your baby and ask you questions to find out what’s causing their poor growth. Then they’ll decide what to do next. This may include a referral for further tests or treatment.

Conclusion

Breastfeeding is not typically a conscious activity for a sleeping baby, as they are not actively sucking or swallowing milk while asleep. However, it’s common for babies to nurse to sleep and continue to nurse as they doze off. This is often referred to as “comfort nursing” or “non-nutritive sucking.”

During comfort nursing, a baby may latch onto the breast and suckle lightly, but they are not actively consuming a significant amount of milk. Instead, they find comfort and soothing in the act of nursing and the closeness to their mother.

Is it safe to breastfeed a sleeping baby?

Yes, it’s generally safe to breastfeed a sleeping baby, especially if they latched onto the breast while falling asleep. However, it’s essential to ensure that the baby has a secure latch to prevent any potential safety issues.

Is my baby getting enough milk while comfort nursing during sleep?

Comfort nursing during sleep usually involves light sucking and doesn’t provide the same volume of milk as an awake, nutritive feed. It helps soothe the baby but may not be sufficient for their full nutritional needs.

Should I wake my baby to breastfeed if they fall asleep while nursing?

It’s generally not necessary to wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed if they are gaining weight well and having an adequate number of wet and dirty diapers. However, if your baby has specific feeding concerns or isn’t gaining weight appropriately, you may need to wake them for feeds.

How can I encourage my baby to nurse more effectively while awake?

To ensure your baby gets enough milk while breastfeeding, try to keep them awake during feeds by gently tickling their feet or stroking their cheek. Switching breasts during a feed can also help stimulate their sucking reflex.

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