Breastfeeding a newborn comes with many possible challenges, one common challenge being the "lazy breastfeeder" as some would describe it. A "lazy baby" won't stay awake long enough to breastfeed, and may not be interested in latching. Today we're going to discuss the "lazy baby" and learn how you can help your baby become a better breastfeeder.
To start, I'm going to address the idea of the "lazy baby". Your baby isn't lazy. If your baby isn't staying awake long enough to eat, there's a reason. Babies by default are designed to eat. They do not have the capacity to consciously decide to be difficult or lazy. A sleepy baby is communicating a problem to you.
There are no lazy babies.
Why being a sleepy breastfeeder is concerning
Babies who are sleepy feeders will often transfer low volumes of breastmilk. This often results in weight loss, slow weight gain, and/or low milk supply issues. It is extremely important for these families to work with a lactation consultant.
If your baby is struggling to stay awake at the breast, can't keep a deep latch, and doesn't get a full feed, there are a few reasons why.
Your baby is tired.
There are many reasons babies can become tired at the breast, even though they seem to be asleep ALL THE TIME.
Born preterm/late preterm/early term
Let's dive into each of these reasons a little deeper
Breastfeeding Preterm / Early Term Infants
Babies born early are often not quite ready for the outside world. Sometimes their feeding skills have not fully emerged and they aren't always good at cueing to feed. I see this a lot in babies who were induced or scheduled for cesarean at 39 weeks. The first week they are just sooooo sleepy, then magically around their due date they "wake up" and start cuing to feed, cooperating with latching, and actively nurse like they didn't just spend the previous week giving everyone anxiety over feeding.
Babies who are jaundice have a tendency to be very sleepy. They often do not cue to feed, and the challenge is that EATING plenty is what clears the bilirubin from their system. While some people believe jaundice babies require formula, there are ways to successfully and exclusively breastfeed your jaundice baby (I'll dive deeper into that in another post!)
Cardiovascular issues can mean a baby fatigues quickly as they struggle to circulate enough oxygen throughout the body while actively feeding. Breastfeeding is still very important for these babies, but there may be certain adaptations necessary to help them avoid over-exertion. Signs your baby could have a circulatory issue affecting feeding include not just sleepiness but other signs like discolored limbs, bluish/gray nail beds and lips. If you have concerns about possible circulatory or cardiovascular issues in your baby, please contact your baby's pediatrician immediately.
This one probably seems kind of funny. After all when your body hurts you probably find comfort in eating if you're anything like me! Well newborns who have physical tension from birth trauma, being malpositioned in utero, being engaged in the pelvis too early, or experiencing tongue ties will often experience muscular fatigue when they use the tongue, jaw and neck muscles to feed. They will often be eager to nurse, might stimulate a let down, then after managing the let down (if they could even do that) they are too exhausted to continue putting forth effort for feeding, and they fall asleep.
How to breastfeed a sleepy baby.
There are lots of tips on the internet about how to breastfeed a sleepy baby, from tickling their feet or using a cold wash cloth to just letting them sleep and assuming they'll eventually want to feed. While some of these ideas can be helpful and others are dangerous, the most important thing to do is work with a lactation consultant as soon as possible.
Your lactation consultant will assess WHY your baby is sleepy when breastfeeding. Then your lactation consultant will assess weight gain, milk transfer, and milk supply. Your lactation consultant should be able to offer tips on getting a functional feeding position and latch. But sometimes there may be a more complex approach necessary. Sometimes, it may become necessary to incorporate breast pumping, finger feeding, suck training, and other breastfeeding management techniques to ensure baby stays well fed, your milk supply stays strong, and your baby learns how to breastfeed without falling asleep. The thing about sleepy babies and breastfeeding is that breastfeeding is not one size fits all. You and your baby are unique, so you will likely need a unique approach to breastfeeding.
The good news is lactation consultants are becoming more accessible than ever! From growing insurance coverage for lactation support to Telehealth Lactation Consultants offering Virtual Breastfeeding help, most families have the ability to access breastfeeding support. If you would like to book a Virtual Lactation Consult with Jaimie, click here to learn more! It's time for you to start feeling confident about breastfeeding!
Jaimie Zaki is an Air Force Wife, Homeschooling Mother of 4, and an IBCLC in Wichita Falls, Texas providing in-home, in office, and telehealth lactation consults. Jaimie accepts many major insurance programs including Tricare East and provides special rates for Tricare West Beneficiaries and Medicaid Participants. Jaimie prefers to take a holistic approach to breastfeeding support and postpartum wellness, but eagerly collaborates with healthcare professionals and allied healthcare professionals to ensure families have all of their wellness needs met when breastfeeding.