7 Things You Need To Know About Waking Your Baby For Feeds

7 Things You Need To Know About Waking Your Baby For Feeds

Being a new parent can be a rewarding yet daunting experience.

It’s common for new parents to feel unsure about many things and have many questions.

A common question new parents have is “Should I wake my baby for feeds?” And, it’s a good question too!

7 Things You Need To Know About Waking Your Baby For Feeds

How does one figure out if their newborn is waking often enough to ensure they drink enough and thrive as opposed to not waking often enough and hence being at risk of not drinking enough?

As always, it’s important to be guided by your health care professional.

However, here are 7 things you need to know about waking your baby for feeds.

#1: Feeding According To Need Ensures Healthy Newborns Get What They Need

Feeding your baby whenever he shows early feeding cues, such as sticking his tongue in/out or makingsqueaky noises, will help ensure he gets what he needs. Be sure to read Baby Hunger Cues – How To Tell If Your Baby Is Hungry for more information on hunger cues. 

Having your baby sleep close by, particularly at night, can help you pick up on and respond to these early feeding cues. This is important especially since sometimes a newborn might wake, show early feeding cues but if not responded to swiftly, go back to sleep.

In which case, a feed opportunity is missed. If this occurs repetitively, this can affect the establishment of your supply and may result in your baby not getting what he needs.

It’s important to remember that crying is a late feeding cue. Responding to your baby’s early feeding cues can him settle into a feed better as compared to waiting until he reaches the crying stage of wanting to feed.

If your baby reaches the crying stage of wanting to feed, helping him to calm down first can help, such as with a cuddle or by getting him to suck briefly on your clean finger).

A calm baby coming to the breast will more likely have his tongue down and forward and so be in the best position to attach to the breast.

#2: Newborns Feed Often…Very Often

Newborns have tiny tummies that need to be refilled often. Most newborns feed at least eight times in 24 hours. If your newborn feeds less often, it’s a good idea to check with a health care professional to see if what your baby is doing is OK.

Your baby feeding often, particularly in the early weeks, helps you to establish a good milk supply.

#3: Thriving Babies Don’t Need To Be Woken For Feeds

If your baby is showing reliable signs of getting enough milk (e.g. not losing too much weight in the early days and then gaining sufficient weight, and passing enough poos and wees), it’s likely he will wake and show feeding cues whenever he needs to feed.

However, if your baby is not showing reliable signs of getting enough milk, he may need to be woken until he starts showing signs of getting enough milk and starts waking on his own for feeds. You should also seek advice from a health care professional.

#4: Certain Reasons May Make Newborn Extra Sleepy

There are some reasons why newborns may be extra sleepy and may make it necessary to wake them for feeds. For example, babies might have jaundice, which can make them sleepy, or they may have a medical complication such as an infection or a heart problem.

Sometimes newborns may be extra sleepy due to certain medications the mother is taking or had during labour. It’s important to be guided by a health care professional in these situations.

#5: There Are Tips To Help Rouse A Sleeping Baby To Feed

If you need to wake your baby for feeds, there are a few tips that can help rouse him.

Waiting until your baby is in a light phase of sleep can help him rouse more easily. Since 60% of a young baby’s sleep is light sleep, you won’t have to wait long!

A baby in the light phase of sleep will tend to make rapid body movements and twitches (mostly fingers, toes and face muscles), have an irregular breathing pattern and make various vocalisations.

Whereas a baby in deep sleep will tend to make very little facial or body movement, will not vocalise and have a regular breathing pattern.

The following tips can also help when waking your baby for feeds:

  • Change his nappy
  • Give your baby a warm bath
  • Place him on your lap with his legs near your tummy and head on your knees. Gently raise him into a sitting position. Repeat a few times.

#6: Breast Compressions And Switch Feeding Can Help Your Baby Get More Milk

If you have to wake your baby for feeds, using breast compressions (squeezing your breast when he is sucking but not swallowing) during breastfeeds can help keep your baby interested in feeding and help him get more milk. This is because breast compressions help to keep the flow of breastmilk going.

Also, switching to the other breast once your baby’s sucking slows and he starts to doze off (despite breast compressions) can help for the same reasons. It’s a good idea to offer each breast at least twice.

#7: Expressing May Be Important If Waking Your Baby For Feeds

Some mothers find that when waking their newborn for feeds, they don’t tend to feed as well as compared to when they wake on their own for feeds.

For this reason, if your baby is not feeding well (despite doing breast compressions and switch feeding), it may be a good idea to express after feeds to ensure your breasts get drained well at feeds and hence give you every chance of establishing a good milk supply.

Seeing an international board certified lactation consultant would be a good idea too as they will be able to assess a breastfeed to determine how well your baby is feeding and guide you as to what might be best given your individual circumstances.

Trying to feed a sleepy newborn can be hard work. The good news is that soon enough this will change and you’ll be able to relax and let your baby set his own individual feeding pattern.

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Renee Kam IBCLC CONTRIBUTOR

Renee Kam is mother to Jessica and Lara, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


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