How to keep your baby awake during feedings

What to Know

  • Understanding your baby’s sleep and eating patterns
  • Tips for keeping your baby awake and alert to feed

Keeping your baby awake during feedings is important to avoid a feed-to-sleep association – when your baby needs to be fed in order to fall asleep. So how do you keep her from nodding off while eating?

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Breastfeeding baby with closed eyes

Remember that the circadian rhythm or “body clock” is a 24-hour cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep and also signals hunger and digestion. Likely developed by 4 months of age, your baby’s circadian rhythm will establish her sleeping and eating patterns, but you’ll see some variation in her schedule until about 6 months.

Homeostatic pressure or sleep pressure is the buildup of sleep need over time. This pressure builds up very quickly in newborns and gradually lessens as babies grow and develop. Periods of wakefulness can only be tolerated for 45-90 minutes in the newborn period, but infants and toddlers can go stretches of 2-5 hours of being awake before needing to sleep again.

What to Do

Observe your baby and keep track of her natural biological patterns of sleep and hunger

Feed your baby at the times she is most awake – either right after waking up or well before she is ready for sleep again.

Remember that newborns can only tolerate being awake for 45-90 minutes at a time, whereas infants and toddlers can go for 2-5 hour periods of wakefulness before needing sleep again.

Create an environment for eating, not sleeping

  • Turn on the lights: Feed your baby in a lighted room, as the dark will signal the body it’s time to sleep.
  • Keep things cool: Unwrap your baby from her swaddle, sleep sack or pajamas before feeding. Your baby associates being snuggled and warm with sleep time, so keep her cool and awake by exposing her chest and feet to the air.
  • Don’t be afraid to move: Move your baby around and burp her to keep her alert. If she seems drowsy, remove the bottle or gently unlatch her and change positions to rouse her. You can also gently blow air on her cheeks or forehead (avoid blowing air directly into her face), stroke her bare feet or change her diaper.
  • Make some noise: A feeding environment should be calm and not over stimulating, but playing music or singing and speaking with your baby while she eats is a nice way to bond while keeping her engaged and awake.
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