Nobody likes to disturb a sleeping baby, but sometimes a baby can be too sleepy for their own good. At times like this they may need you to take action.
Your newborn baby needs to nurse actively for one or both breast at each feed. Offer the second breast after they seem to have finished at the first, although they may not want both sides at every feed.
What makes a baby sleepy?
Recovering from birth: In the first few days, some babies are sleepy or uninterested in feeding. It’s especially true for small babies, after a difficult labour or birth, or if you received drugs for pain relief during labour.
Jaundice or an infection may make a baby sleepy. Newborn jaundice is normal but frequent breastfeeding helps prevent it becoming a problem.
Not enough milk: Your baby may sleep to conserve energy if they are not getting enough food. They may also sleep longer that is good for them if they are apart from you.
Is my baby too sleepy?
To gain weight and stimulate your milk production, expect your newborn to:
- Breastfeed effectively at least 8–12 times in 24 hours
- Feed actively from one or both breasts at each feed, swallowing regularly.
- Nurse at least every 2–3 hours from the start of one feed to the next, with one longer sleep of 4–5 hours.
- Have periods where they breastfeed on and off for several hours, usually in the evening.
- Gain weight from day 4 and regain birth weight by about two weeks.
Look at our page Beginning Breastfeeding for more information. If your baby is too sleepy to do all these things they may need your active help to ensure they are nursing effectively and getting enough milk.
Is my baby getting enough milk?
A baby may lose up to 7% of their birth weight during the first few days. From around day 3-4, expect them to start gaining, and to regain their birth weight by 10-14 days. Many breastfed babies gain around 200-235g (7-8oz) as week for the first 2-3 months. If you baby consistently gains less, or they haven’t regained their birthweight by 14 days, seek skilled help to assess whether they are getting enough milk. What comes out is a sign of what has gone in, so counting dirty nappies can be a useful guide between weighing sessions. For more information to help you know if your baby is getting enough milk in the first few days, you could read our article here about signs of effective feeding in the early days. And then after the first few days, this article will help you decide if your baby is getting enough milk.
|Age||Dirty nappies per 24 hours|
|1-2 Day||1 or 2 greenish-black tarry meconium poos|
|3-5 days||At least 3 green transitional poos|
|5+ days||At least 3-5 yellow, loose unformed poos the size of a 2p coin or larger|
Remind your baby to nurse
If your baby is too sleepy or groggy to rouse themselves every few hours, you will need to wake them to feed to ensure they get enough milk. This will be easier if your baby is in a light sleep cycle: watch for rapid eye movements under their closed eyelids, arm and leg movements, sucking activity and changes in their facial expression.
- Aim for your baby to feed at least 10 times in 24 hours, including at least once at night
- Encourage active nursing on the first breast, watching and listening for signs of swallowing.
- Use breast compression (see below) to keep your baby nursing actively.
- Offer the other side in the same way. You can switch back and forth several times if it helps your baby stay awake and feed.
- Encourage cluster nursing whenever your baby is more alert.
- Give expressed milk if they aren’t feeding well.
- Keep them close by—day and night—so they don’t sleep too long and you don’t miss their feeding cues.
- Dimming the lights and keeping your surroundings quiet and peaceful.
- Keeping the room temperature at around 18°C or undressing your baby a little if the room is warm. Being too hot can make a baby sleepy.
- Unwrapping any blankets.
Newborn feeding cues
Signs of interest in feeding include:
- Mouth movements; smacking or licking his lips
- Sucking on lips, tongue, hands, fingers, toes, toys or clothing
- Rooting, head bobbing or nuzzling against whoever is holding them
- Fidgting and squirming a lot
- Crying – a late sign of hunger.
Do offer feed generously. A newborn won’t find it easy to feed well, if they have to wait and reached late hunger signs.
Helping your sleepy baby
Positioning and attachment
Getting a deep, comfortable latch is crucial. If your baby is not latched on well at the breast, they will have to work harder to get your milk. They may tire easily and fall asleep. Sometimes just a small adjustment to the way your baby comes to the breast can make a huge difference. An LLL Leader can provide individual suggestions tailored to your circumstances. If your breasts are engorged, gently hand express a little milk and/or ease swelling back with your fingertips to make it easier for your baby to latch on deeply and prevent you getting sore. See our longer article about Positioning and Attachment for more help on how to help your baby latch well, feed effectively and be comfortable for you.
Seek skilled help early on if you are finding breastfeeding difficult or uncomfortable.
Laid back breastfeeding
Try letting your baby lie on your body with their chest and tummy against you as you recline at about 45 degrees. If they can snuggle up close to your chest for periods of time, even when sleepy or during light sleep, they will often instinctively seek the breast and attach deeply and comfotably even during light sleep. This can be done skin-to-skin or with you and your baby lightly clothed. Watch for signs your baby is stirring and gently encourage feeding. Spending time relaxing like this can make a real difference to how well your baby feeds and how much milk you make. Our page on Comfortable Breastfeeding has more ideas.
If your baby starts to doze at the breast, this technique will help him breastfeed actively and take more milk.
- Cup your breast with your hand, near your chest wall, thumb opposite fingers in a C shape. Keep your hand well back from the nipple area.
- Wait while your baby breastfeeds actively, with their jaw moving all the way to his ear. When they stop swallowing, compress your breast firmly. They probably start swallowing again. Hold it squeezed until they stop nursing actively, then release your hand.
- Rotate your hand around your breast and repeat step 2 on different areas of the breast as needed. Go gently—this should not hurt.
Express milk for your baby
Until your baby gets the hang of feeding you may need to do some work for your baby. If they aren’t latching at all, or is not feeding well and gaining weight, then expressing your milk will help establish milk production. The earlier you start, the sooner you’ll produce plenty of milk. Hand expression is often easiest at first but when your milk comes in combining hand expression with pumping can be most effective.
Giving expressed milk
First, encourage your baby to nurse at both breasts. Watch for swallowing and use breast compression an switch nursing until they stop drinking and start to doze.
Next, give your baby expressed milk until they have had enough. (For more on how to give additional milk, our article here). Giving your baby your expressed milk after breastfeeding can help them overcome sleepiness and feed more effectively next time.
Then, once your baby has settled, express from both breasts switching back and forth and using compressions and hand expression to get the available milk. Store this milk in the fridge ready for the next feed.
Aim to complete this process within about an hour.
Avoid bottles and dummies
You can give small amounts of expressed milk using a spoon, flexible feeding cup or syringe. If you decid to use bottles for larger amounts, you can give the bottle in a way that helps protect breastfeeding. For more information on ways to give your baby milk and bottles see our article on Bottles and other tools. An alternative is to use a nursing supplement: this acts like a straw to deliver extra milk through a tube along your breast as your baby nurses, avoiding the need for bottles. Our article Nursing Supplementers explains more.
Don’t give up too soon
If your baby doesn’t respond quickly to your efforts to get him to breastfeed more often and more effectively, don’t give up. Keep your baby fed, Keep your supply protected and Keep your baby close. You may find our article on Getting breastfeeding back on track after a tricky start helpful. Check with your doctor to eliminate any medical reasons and contact your local LLL Leader to find one-to-one breastfeeding help. You can find support and encouragement from breastfeeding mothers in your local LLL Group too.
Written by mothers of LLLGB. Photos courtesy of Ellen Mateer and Suzanne Tobin.
Positioning and attachment
Engorged Breasts – Avoiding & Treating
Hand Expression of Breastmilk
Is my baby getting enough milk?
My Baby Needs More Milk
Jaundice in Healthy Newborns
Getting back on track after a tricky start – the Three Keeps
My baby won’t breastfeed
Bottles and other tools
Biological Nurturing™: www.biologicalnurturing.com/video/bn3clip.html
Natural Breastfeeding Position video, Nancy Mohrbacher:
Benefits of skin-to-skin contact: www.kangaroomothercare.com
The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding. LLLI, London: Pinter & Martin, 2010
This information is available to buy in printed form from our shop.
Copyright LLLGB 2020
Updated June 2022