My baby keeps going to sleep during feeds. How can I keep her awake?

Oh, those sleepy babies! This is the number one challenge I hear from new mums. Here are some suggestions to keeping baby awake:

  • Uncover baby. Removing blankets or socks, opening clothing or undressing baby, or changing the nappy, may waken her.
  • Dab some expressed breast milk onto your nipples and baby's lips. This may stimulate sucking even though she isn't fully awake.
  • Apply a cool (not cold) wash cloth to her cheeks or forehead.
  • Try gentle body manipulations (such as gently pulling her into a supported sitting position) or baby massage to stimulate her. When doing "sit ups", make sure the baby bends at the hips, rather than at the waist.
  • Keep room light dim, as bright lights may encourage her to close her eyes.
  • Change nappy in between breastfeeding sides.
  • Stroke baby gently around the lips and under the chin.
  • Gently jostle your nipple when you notice your baby's sucking pattern slow down.
  • Rub or pat her back; walk your fingers up her spine; gently rub her hands and feet; massage her crown in a circular motion while nursing.
  • Chatter or sing spiritedly to her as she nurses; try to maintain eye contact.
  • Try "switch nursing". Whenever you notice your baby's sucking pattern slowing down, remove her from the breast, burp her, and offer the other breast. When her sucking pattern slows on the second side, remove her, burp her and return to the first side. Try to nurse at least twice on each side.
  • Try using the clutch ("football") position rather than the cradle or lying down.
  • Make sure your sleepy baby is latching on well, getting all the nipple and as much of the areola as she can in her mouth. The stimulation of the nipple well-positioned in her mouth may also help rouse her. You can also try gently compressing the breast to increase flow.
  • A sleepy baby requires stimulation to stay awake. Avoid quieting manoeuvres such as rocking, too much non-nutritive sucking (especially dummies / pacifiers), and swings.

Be patient, Mum! Soon your baby will be awake for much longer periods of time and won’t require any work to keep her awake during feedings.