Sleepy Newborns: Work to Feed for 10 Minutes

What do you do when baby just won’t wake up to eat when it is time for a feeding? How do you get baby to wake up and what point should you be worried?

Feed sleepy baby hero image. Mom and newborn baby.

It doesn’t seem right, does it?

Not only are you super tired from taking care of a newborn, but even during the feeding sessions–a moment when you might relax for give or take 20 minutes–you have to work like crazy to keep that little baby awake.

It does get better. Baby eventually gets better at eating and better at staying awake and you will be able to let your mind wander, read a book, or watch a show…whatever suits your fancy.

But you are not there yet. You are still working on it.

What do you do at these times?

How To Keep a Sleepy Newborn Awake for Feedings

Start by trying to keep your little one awake during feedings.

There are a couple of posts on this blog that provide ideas for keeping baby awake during the feeding. Head on over to those posts to get the ideas.

When Will Baby Stay Awake for Feedings

In The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, Hogg states that bottle-fed babies are less likely to fall asleep while eating once baby is 6.5 pounds (page 99).

She explains that a breastfed baby falls gets sleepy after about 10 minutes of eating because of the oxytocin in the milk. She says premature and jaundiced babies are also likely to fall asleep while eating.

We all know how important it is to keep baby awake to eat if we believe in The Baby Whisperer or Baby Wise. We are looking for baby to get full feedings.

“…if the sleepy-baby pattern continues for more than three feeds, you might be accidentally turning your baby into a snacker”.

(page 99)

You also will likely teach baby to need to eat to fall asleep and will make it hard to establish a routine.

Baby won't wake for feedings pinnable image

What To Do When Baby Just Won’t Wake Up to Eat

I have definitely experienced those feedings where you couldn’t get baby to finish out that feeding. With Katilyn, I often had feedings where I couldn’t even get her to start eating, much less finish.

In those cases, I did as Babywise says and let her sleep another 30 minutes and then tried feeding her again.

With McKenna, I often faced the feedings where she would zonk out after feeding for about ten minutes. Hogg says to spend only 10-15 minutes trying to wake baby at that point. After that point, the oxytocin will be in full effect and she will be in the sleep part of her cycle.

I know some of you are having mini panic attacks when your baby doesn’t take that full feed or falls asleep while eating.

You are concerned about ruining her for life. You want to “start as you mean to go on” and you want to avoid starting bad habits. You want to stick to that schedule.

Take a deep breath. Relax. It will all be okay.

Just expect and accept that there will be feedings that the baby will not stay awake for.

I really like Hogg’s advice to try for 10-15 minutes and then move on with the day. That means you try for 10-15 minutes if baby fell asleep eating, then go about your schedule as normal.

Do not fight it longer than 10-15 minutes.

This gives mom a timeline. Work at it for that long, then move on and try to move on without the stress.

All of my babies have fallen asleep during feedings. All of my babies have had times they didn’t take a full feed because they fell asleep before they were done eating. Two of them wouldn’t start a feed when I wanted her to (notice I said her; I never had that issue with Brayden).

And you know what? I think all of my kids are pretty darn awesome. We all made it out okay. We are all happy and healthy today. I survived to tell the tale.

You will be fine.

Your baby will be fine.

Work for 10-15 minutes and then move on.


Keep in mind that I am encouraging you to not worry about the occasional feeding that doesn’t go as planned. Remember that Hogg warns against three in a row.

One or two isn’t an issue, but if three happens, you need to evaluate the situation and perhaps change your game plan somewhere. But for those occasional feedings that aren’t quite right, relax, put your baby down for a nap, and go take your own nap.


This post originally appeared on this blog in June of 2010

13 thoughts on “Sleepy Newborns: Work to Feed for 10 Minutes”

  1. Thanks for the reminder Val. My LO was 3 months I think before he finally started staying awake for his feedings, and I tried my darndest to keep him awake but to no avail. Next time around I won't be so panicky about it ;o) I'll do what I can, but not work at it for an hour with no progress :o)

  2. Good plan! I remember one time crying when Kaitlyn was a newborn because she wouldn't wake up. She was my sleepiest baby. In my current state of mind, that seems silly. But in my post-partum, newborn engrosed state of mind, it was so sad for me 🙂

  3. Ha ha! I was the same way with my 2nd baby- my super sleeper. I was so emotional and would just cry with frustration at not being able to wake her. With my 3rd it wasn't so bad.

  4. My baby is 9weeks old (was 3 weeks early so adjusted age 6 weeks) and she is soo difficult to keep awake during a feeding…but as soon as I put her down (if i try the work for 10 and move on theory) she pops right awake. I'm dying to be babywise, but I have to intermix the waketime with feedtime in order to get her a good feeding. I know this isn't the most effective way since she might have just finished the bottle before going to nap. Also, that doesn't give us much quality awake time which makes me sad 🙁 I don't know if I should just stop the feeding after 30 min no matter how much or how little she has taken… hoping that maybe the next feeding she'll be hungrier and more awake? I struggle with this since she didn't gain weight as a newborn because of my milk supply, so for the last four weeks I've been consumed with her getting full feedings and gaining weight…which is why I'm a late starter. I'm also having lots of trouble with her napping and I think the main reason is she really gives me nap cues the entire feeding, making it really hard to decipher when she is overtired or just still waking up. Now, during the dreamfeed and night feedings she goes back down effortlessly…but still takes much effort to feed her. For example this is what our day has been… Help!!6:30: waketime, 4.5 oz, laid back down by 7:30, was asleep herself by 8:00 slept til 9:30 (perfect right?!)9:30: feeding 5.5oz- worked whole time to get the feeding in. Laid down by 10:30 (after 3 S's)stir cried stir cried until 11:30 when i finally moved her to the swing and she continued to cry. I gave her a paci and she slept on me until 1. ( I know this time was awful but I was/am at a loss of how to handle the CIO if it seems utterly unproductive)1:00 feeding- 4.5 oz, bath, and played after bottle thinking maybe I need to keep her up a bit longer since she is so sleepy in the beginning. didn't work! was down by 2:15, slept until 2:50 then woke up screaming. I decided to give her paci after 15 min intense CIO- calmed only initially got her at 3:20 and held off her next feeding until 3:504:00 feeding 3 oz- put her in the bjorn to sleep because i thought she needed a good nap to set us up for success tonight for bed…otherwise the day is a rollercoaster of overtiredness…right?6:30 feeding- hard to wake- 4.5 oz laid her down at 7:30…currently screaming…. I'm exhausted and confused. HELP ME!!!!I am commited to the CIO, but I've read on your blog that if they are overtired it is pointless. I have such an inner struggle with the CIO thinking its my fault, she is too tired, and therefore the CIO is pointless.

  5. MJ,6 weeks is still pretty young for keeping awake during and after feedings. You might do better taking it the way I did with Kaitlyn. I added one waketime per week. So I worked to keep her awake after feeding for only one waketime each day, then I let her sleep immediately after for the rest.As to if you should stop after X amount of time and have her wait for the next feeding, that is up to you and you will have to go with your gut. I have done that at times with my kids if I feel like they are snacking. You might want to spend a few days just getting her to sleep whatever way is necessary. It sounds like she is overly tired. So you might want to get her all rested up before you start trying to figure out waketime lengths and doing CIO. Then keep a log of things so you can see a pattern. Be sure to review the blog label "optimal waketime."

  6. This post was just what I needed to read today! I left a comment on another post about having trouble b/c my 3.5 week old was taking longer and longer to nurse. After reading through a few more posts, I realized that our main problem is that she is really sleepy when nursing. I didn't realize this at first because she sucks pretty consistantly. When I took the time to count the sucks vs. swallows, I realized that she is pretty much just using me as a pacifer for a nice nap 😉 I had become more slack while nursing, allowing myself to eat, read, watch TV, etc. Going back to giving nursing 100% focus for each feeding for a while. I do find it extremely frustrating though. I have to do everything but stand on my head to keep her consistantly sucking and swallowing. It is definitely easy to lose patience…feels like each feeding takes up all my mental and physical strength. Pack postpardum emotions on top of it and you have a recipe for a momentary breakdown! It's nice to know that others have the same problems. I'm going to do the give it 10-15 thing to keep myself from being too worked up if she isn't doing well and pump to drain both breasts so it doesn't affect my milk suppy. Any other suggestions?

  7. Kelly, be sure to read the posts on keeping a newborn awake while eating.Just know that it does get better. You will be able to watch TV, read, whatever soon. Just hang in there!

  8. Thanks for putting it in perspective. Its way easy to blow one bad feed out of proportion. Love your posts, they've been a great resource for me.

  9. This is just what I needed to read today! My little girl twin is falling asleep during feedings and it's so hard to keep her awake! My little boy has 'woken up' this week and is becoming more vigorous, yay! It's quite humorous though to try and keep one baby awake without detaching the other one…we'll get there. 🙂

  10. Hi! My 20 days old baby, has eating cycles twice a day where she eats 3-4 times during same cycle and is awake for 2 to 2.5 hrs. and sleeps for over 2 hrs. Is this normal?

  11. Hi Judith, It depends. If she is having witching hour during that time, it is normal. If she isn't, it isn't normal under normal circumstances. It could be normal if yor supply needs boosting, however.

  12. My 3 week old is following a 2.5 to 3 hour schedule during the day. starting at 7:15 to 7:30am then going down at 7 or 8pm and feeding to bed at 10 or 10:30. She is napping well during the day and have been really working on the feeding to be full feeding, cause she is a sleepy feeder, so often feeds take 45 min or longer. if they do then I limit wake time to just a few minutes. Basically I feel like we are following Babywise method to a tee. But unfortunately she wakes up every 2 hours at night to feed, or is fussy. Last night was awful. She went done at 10:30 then up at 12pm. worked to give her full feed until 1 pm. Got up again at 2 fed 10 min, then at 3:30, again at 4:30.

    I am feeling like Babywise method is just not working. Doing the hard work to stay on schedule during the day. And nights are horrible. Have yet to get a night where she has slept for 3 hrs or 4 hrs. Which is all I am aiming for.


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