Should I wake my sleeping baby to feed?

Have you heard the advice that you should never wake a sleeping baby? What about when it’s time for a feeding? 

This advice stems from the idea that waking a sleeping baby may lead to fussiness and the inability to soothe them.  Depending on the reason, this rule of thumb may apply (if you are debating waking your baby because guests are over, etc., it might not be the best idea), but if your concern is related to feeding, then read on for tips on how to navigate feeding a sleeping newborn baby. 

Newborn babies need to be fed 10-12 times a day, approximately every 3 hours until they surpass 10lbs, which usually occurs around two months of age. So what happens during this window if your baby is sleeping, but you know it is time for a feed? Here are some things you can try:

  • Observe your sleeping baby for signs of light sleep, which include REM (rapid eye movement), small movements of their body, and changes in facial expression and sound. When you notice these signs, gently pick them up and bring them to the breast. You can hand express a little milk and allow them to smell it/allow it to touch their lips to help encourage them to latch on while in this light sleep state.
  • Warmly dressed/wrapped babies may sleep longer and not transition as easily from deep to light sleep. If the time has passed where you would anticipate a feeding, you can gently unwrap them and then observe for light sleep feeding cues.
  • Ensuring a relaxing environment without too much stimulation/sound/light may help your baby transition from deep to light sleep.
  • You can hold your baby skin to skin, without waking, and wait to observe these ideal feeding cues. 

Ultimately, the goal is to begin feeding before a cry, which is why it is helpful to gently rouse a sleeping baby and help them transition from deep to light sleep in order to begin a feed, rather than fully waking them up. Babies, especially newborns should sleep in close proximity to their mother so that she can hear the baby and be awakened by quiet sounds and movements, helping her respond to early feeding cues. In the early weeks, expect a baby to show feeding cues every 2-3 hours. Early ideal feeding cues include:

  • REM (rapid eye movement)
  • Bringing fist to mouth
  • Seeking food with lips, tongue, and head commonly known as rooting
  • Flexing of the legs and arms
  • Mouthing with little sucking motions
  • Sucking on a fist or finger
  • Mouthing motions of the lips and tongue
  • Clenched fists

After two months of age, or once a baby weighs more than 10 lbs and is gaining weight well, they may sleep for longer stretches of 5-6 hours, once a day. The more frequent feeds a baby has during the day and evening, the more likely they will sleep for a longer stretch at night. 

If there is a recurring pattern of the low frequency of feeds, or difficulty rousing your baby from a deep sleep, please contact your pediatrician! 

We hope this helps shed light on how to navigate feeding frequency and the common advice that you should never wake a sleeping baby.

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