As a parent it can be difficult to know how to keep a baby awake while nursing for long enough for them to finish a full feed. This is particularly difficult with newborn babies. Whether you are breastfeeding or nursing with a bottle of warm formula, your baby will feel warm, cozy and content and will very easily drop off to sleep.
There is also a hormone called cholecystokinin that is released as soon as your baby starts feeding, and this hormone makes them feel drowsy.
Whilst it is normal for babies to fall asleep whilst nursing, it can cause problems if they are not getting their full feed before they drift off. We have put together this useful guide to help you keep your baby awake while they are nursing.
How To Keep Baby Awake While Nursing
There are a range of things you can do to help you understand how to keep a baby awake while nursing. These are:
Understanding Sleep Schedules
The sleep schedule for a baby is different to that of a small child, and adults are different again. A newborn will generally be awake for 45 minutes up to an hour and a half before they need to sleep again.
At around 6 months old they will have developed a natural body clock (also called a ‘circadian rhythm) which is a 24 hour cycle telling them when to sleep, when to eat and when to digest their food. Knowing a baby’s sleep schedule will help you know how to keep your baby awake while nursing.
Feed Your Baby In A Light Room To Keep Them Awake
When you get up for a night feed and you are feeling tired it can be tempting to leave the lights off. However, your baby is more likely to fall asleep during nursing if the room is dark.
Turn on a lamp or the light to brighten the room to help keep your baby awake while nursing.
Don’t Keep Your Baby Too Warm While Nursing
Your baby most likely associates warmth with feeling sleepy and relaxed. If you feed your baby while they are still wrapped up in a blanket or a swaddling cloth then they will continue to feel drowsy and are more likely to drift back off to sleep half way through their feed.
Try taking a layer off them so they can feel some air against their skin. This will help to signify to them that it is time to be awake while nursing.
Pause The Feed To Move The Baby Around
If you notice that your baby is starting to drop off then stop nursing them for a movement and change positions. You could wind them, or blow on their skin gently to perk them up.
Don’t move them too vigorously or you could make them sick, but a bit of gentle movement will help to keep a baby awake while nursing.
Make Some Noise
You don’t want to overstimulate your baby and distract them from nursing, but you can have some noise in the room to help keep the baby awake while nursing.
You could watch some TV or listen to some music, or speak to your baby while they are nursing.
Skin To Skin Contact
Skin to skin contact can often awaken your baby’s natural instinct to feed, which can help to keep a baby awake while nursing if they are getting sleepy. You can also gently stroke their hands and feet to keep them stimulated if you notice them starting to drift off, or massage the crown of their head.
Skin to skin contact also helps you to pick up on subtle movements and body language to see when they have had enough or when they need winding.
Learn Your Baby’s Hunger Cues
It is important that you pay attention to the signs that your baby is hungry. If you feed them at the earlier stages of hunger then they are more likely to stay awake during their feed. If you wait until they are already very hungry they will likely be tired and might fall asleep before they have finished feeding.
It is best to try and feed your baby as soon as they wake up so they have more energy. If they have already been awake for 20 to 30 minutes they probably won’t stay awake through nursing without needing another nap.
Keep The Flow Steady
If your baby can feel a steady flow of milk then they are more likely to keep sucking enthusiastically. If the milk flow begins to slow down then they will stop sucking as much and will quickly fall asleep. If you are breastfeeding then you can keep the flow steady by compressing your breasts.
You could also switch sides halfway through the feed to ensure a fresh supply of milk and a strong flow. If you are bottle feeding then ensure you adjust the angle of the bottle as your baby feeds, ensuring it is tilted in a way that keeps the milk flowing. This also prevents your baby from swallowing air which helps to reduce wind.
These feeding tips are all good tips to know how to keep your baby awake while nursing.
Try A Diaper Change
If your baby is feeling uncomfortable this could stop them from wanting to finish their feed and they may struggle to stay awake. Check to see if their diaper needs changing and then try again.
This activity will also help to keep them awake by stimulating them and letting them feel cool air on their body while feeding.
Tickle The Lower Lip Of Your Baby While Nursing
If your baby starts falling asleep and is struggling to latch on to feed, then you can tickle their lower lip to encourage them to latch back on and continue feeding.
You can also stroke their cheek or their hairline, or use a cloth with lukewarm water and squeeze little droplets on their skin to give them a different sensation to stimulate them to stay awake.
The most important thing is to make sure you don’t get stressed. Your baby is very in tune with you and will pick on any negative energy you put out. The feeding environment should be calm, as your baby will feed better if they are calm.
If your baby doesn’t make it through every single feed before they fall asleep then don’t worry- they will still be getting enough food. But it is a good idea to try and keep them awake for most of them to avoid an association between eating and sleeping.
Hopefully in this article, we have given some good information on how to keep a baby awake while nursing which will work for you and your baby.