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When your Newborn is too Tired to Breastfeed

Some babies are very sleepy after birth and aren’t up for latching and frequent nursing.  In order to cue your breasts to start making a plentiful supply of milk and ensure your baby is being fed, you might have to take the lead for a little while until your newborn “wakes up” to nurse. 

If your baby isn’t latching after the first golden hours, offer the breast every 2-3 hours around the clock and keep a close eye out for hunger cues.  Avoid pacifiers, mittens and swaddling.  Hand express colostrum into a collection device when your baby doesn’t latch and nurse robustly. You can then offer the expressed milk to your baby with a small spoon, cup or syringe.  Some babies need a little bit of breastmilk in their bodies before they have enough energy to nurse.  

*Note: You can also purchase colostrum collectors specifically designed for hand expressing and feeding to newborns.

Tips for waking a sleepy baby to nurse

  • Strip baby down to a diaper and place him/her skin to skin with you.

  • Stroke baby’s skin- hands, feet, face. Try to invoke the rooting reflex by gently stroking near baby’s mouth. 

  • Talk to baby.

  • Express a little breastmilk onto your nipple for baby to smell.

  • Change baby’s diaper.

  • Switch baby to the other breast if he/she falls asleep while nursing.

  • Try to wake baby when he/she is in a light sleep (body and eyelids moving).

  • Gently wipe baby’s skin with a damp washcloth. 

  • Turn the lights down and keep the environment calm.

  • Try offering the breast while in the bath (make sure the water temperature isn’t too hot for baby and that you have help).

It’s quite common for newborns to be extra sleepy if mom was given IV fluids during labor, labor was really long or stressful, mom had a c-section delivery, baby was recently circumcised, baby was born early, baby has jaundice etc. Until baby is coming to the breast 8-12x in 24 hours, it’s important to keep your milk supply up through hand expression or pumping and feeding your baby your expressed milk. 

Feeling overwhelmed or unsure about breastfeeding your newborn? Reach out for lactation support right away!

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