Why Does My Baby Fall Asleep at the Breast?

Baby Fall Asleep Breast

Many new mothers think that because breastfeeding is natural, it should come easy. But, the truth is that breastfeeding sometimes takes a lot of effort, and is frequently plagued with hurdles to overcome. One such common problem is when the baby falls asleep at the breast while eating.1 But don’t worry; this is a problem that can be solved!

Reasons

There are several reasons why your baby may be falling asleep at the breast.  Some babies lack the stamina to feed for a long time at the breast. The following are some common reasons why this may be occurring:2

  • Prematurity
  • Small for gestational age
  • Ill babies: for example, babies with congenital heart defects may get fatigued at the breast (again, don’t worry: babies are checked for this at birth)
  • Maternal medications
  • Baby may be sleepy from overstimulation (loud noises, bright lights, etc.)

But most babies have nothing wrong with them: they just fall asleep at the breast while feeding, and they may be perfectly healthy

Is This A Problem?

So, is it a problem if your baby is falling asleep at the breast?  The answer to that is “it depends.” If your baby is getting a full feeding and gaining weight just fine, then there is no problem with her falling asleep at the breast.

But, if your baby is falling asleep at the breast before getting a full feeding, and doing this frequently, then there may be a problem. One of the only ways to know for sure is to weigh the baby and see if she is gaining adequate weight.

There are clues to look for to determine if your baby is eating well while you are feeding her:3

  • Don’t use the clock to guide you: some babies suck for 5 minutes and get a full feeding, others can suck for 20 minutes and not get enough.
  • Your baby starts the feeding with open eyes and alert expression
  • Your baby is visibly swallowing after every suck or every few sucks
  • Your breasts are softer and feel less full after a feeding

If you don’t see these clues, then the baby is not getting a good feeding. In that case, it might be a good idea to have the baby weighed by your doctor or lactation consultant.

Tips to Keep Your Baby Awake at the Breast

If your baby is not getting a good feeding, there are tricks you can use to keep her awake at the breast:2

  • Try holding the baby in a position that is less “sleep-inducing” like the football hold
  • Undress the baby or at least take off her socks: if she is not warm and cozy, she is less likely to fall asleep
  • Put on some upbeat music to keep her awake
  • Tickle her gently to wake her up
  • Switch breasts when she starts to fall asleep
  • Rub her spine, feet, face, or other body parts to stimulate her
  • Change her diaper in the middle of the feeding
  • Break the suction by putting your finger in between the mouth and nipple: this may encourage her to start sucking again
  • Use compressions to increase your milk flow breast compressions to increase your milk flow.

So, if your baby is falling asleep at the breast, and you think she’s not getting a good feeding when she does this, then try those tips above. Of course, if this doesn’t work and she keeps falling asleep, have her weighed and talk to your lactation consultant or doctor about this habit.

References:

  1. Lothian JA. It takes two to breastfeed. The baby’s role in successful breastfeeding. J Nurse Midwifery. 1995 Jul-Aug;40 (4):328-34.
  2. Baby Keeps Sleeping When Breastfeeding?
  3. What to do if your baby falls asleep while breastfeeding. Today’s Parent, 2016.
Ruben Rucoba
Dr. Rucoba has over 25 years of experience as a primary care pediatrician after completing medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. His clinical areas of expertise include caring for children with special health care needs and assisting families with international adoption. He has been a freelance medical writer since 2010, writing for health websites, continuing medical education providers, and various print outlets. He currently works at Wheaton Pediatrics in the suburbs of Chicago, where he lives with his wife and four daughters, including a set of twins.

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