During the first few weeks of a baby’s life, they do almost nothing but sleep. It is important to enjoy this time. Later, it will seem like they have copious amounts of energy and do not like to fall asleep at all. This is why people keep warning new mothers about getting enough sleep when the baby is sleeping. Sleep will be hard to come by later.
Babies seem to be very sleepy all day and almost seem to struggle to stay awake. Babies are adjusting to life outside the womb, and this is tiring. Also, sleeping during the day can keep them awake at night, and mothers have to find a way to cope. Babies will have their days and nights mixed up.
Falling asleep can also happen during feedings. When a baby is nursing, it is common to see the baby fall asleep at the breast. It is common for babies to fall asleep when their tummy is full. Falling asleep is a natural response to exhaustion. When a baby falls asleep at the breast, the mother can stop feeding to avoid adverse effects. If the baby puts on weight at a healthy pace, there is no harm in falling asleep during nursing sessions.
When the baby moves from breast to bottle feeding, there are some risks of falling asleep. Understanding these better will help you mitigate them.
Here are a few risks that your baby faces when it falls asleep during feeding.
Choking Risks – When babies fall asleep, it is possible that liquid can go into their lungs. This can lead to choking. This is like what happens when food goes down the windpipe when you are eating. This is quite dangerous for the baby. The baby is still developing reflexes. It is not good at waking up if something interferes with breathing.
Tooth Decay – This is not so much risk during breastfeeding. When babies fall asleep during breastfeeding, the mother can stop feeding. If the baby falls asleep with the bottle in the mouth, the liquid or formula can drip into the mouth. This causes the teeth to soak and puts the baby at risk of tooth decay. For this reason, remove the bottle as soon as the baby starts giving signs that it is full. Do not let the baby suckle on the bottle for longer than necessary.
Ear Infections – If the baby is lying flat while feeding, the milk or formula can flow into the ear canal. This increases the risk of ear infections. For this reason, the baby must never be given the bottle when lying down. When breastfeeding, hold the baby to raise its head than the rest of its body. You can use your arm to create the tilt. Use a feeding pillow to prop the baby up, or use a baby chair to ensure that the baby is sitting up when feeding.
Dependency – Babies that fall asleep while feeding might link feeding and sleeping. Many new mothers know how babies get cranky before falling asleep, feeding, and sleeping peacefully. But as time goes, this becomes another risk. This habit can be hard to break once it forms. To avoid this, we recommend a different place for feeding to the one the baby uses to sleep. This is after the baby reaches the age of 3 months or more. Keeping the two separate can prevent this habit from forming.
You can introduce babies older than six months to a sippy cup. You should aim to take the baby off the bottle by the time they are a year old. You should not worry too much if the baby does not finish a bottle, as they know when their tummies are full. Here are some tips to keep your baby from falling asleep when bottle feeding:
1. Change their position
Changing positions when the baby is feeding makes sure that they stay awake. When they move about, they tend to stay awake. When nursing, try switch nursing, where you shift the baby from one breast to the other. You can follow the same for bottle feeding by helping the baby switch positions when feeding. This makes sure that they do not get too comfortable in the same position. Putting them in a sitting position will also help them stay awake longer.
2. Burp your baby
Burping your baby involves picking them up and putting them over your shoulder to pat them down. Burping frees up some space in the tummy and removes the feeling of being full. Also, picking up the baby awakes them from the restful state they are in a while feeding. This can help keep them awake.
3. Remove the bottle
If the baby is sleepy mid-way through the feed, removing the bottle may help them stay awake. Extracting milk from the bottle takes some effort, and the baby will tire from doing this for a while. Removing the bottle gives the baby a break. You can remove the breast from the baby’s mouth during breastfeeding or switch from one to the other. The break from the sensation of feeding will help the baby wake up. It will stay that way for longer, even when you resume feeding.
4. Change their nappy mid-feed
Like picking up the baby or removing the bottle, you can change the baby’s nappy mid-feed. Changing the nappy involves picking up the baby and changing positions all around. This can prevent the baby from feeling sleepy through the rest of the feed. This works better during bottle feeding. The baby may get cranky if it is interrupted mid-feed. While breastfeeding, if you remove the food source so you can change the baby’s diaper, you are bound to have a cranky baby on your hands. \
5. Stroke their feet
External stimulus can also prevent the baby from falling asleep during the feed. Gentle stimulation of the senses is an excellent way to keep the baby awake. One way to do this is to stroke the baby’s feet when feeding. Stroking the feet invokes a reflex response in babies, which helps them stay awake. Tickling the baby’s feet or swirling a finger on the top of their head can also help with the same response. You can also pat their cheeks gently. All of these gentle actions keep them awake.
Keeping in tune with the stimulation of the senses, another way to do this is to blow air on the cheeks or the forehead. Doing this will keep them alert. Again, you have to do this also in moderation as it can take away the attention from feeding. Over-alerting babies will distract them from what they are doing.
6. Give them a toy
Using a toy or a favorite blanket to keep them distracted during feedings can also help them stay awake. This is why you will usually find hanging toys above the crib or little dangling ones on the side of a high chair. Movement keeps them occupied and helps them stay awake.
7. Sing or speak to your baby while they feed
Singing or speaking to the baby helps keep a baby engaged during the feed. This also stimulates the senses and helps the baby stay awake. Playing some music or making noises around the baby can also help do the same. Ensure that the music you are playing or the song you are singing is not too soothing. This will help the baby fall asleep, defeating the purpose of the exercise. Do not play thunderous music around your baby. It could lead to problems with attention and hearing. When many people talk while the baby is feeding, it tends to get distracted. So, it would be best if the mother or caretaker speaks or sings softly to the baby.
8. Strip the baby down to the diaper
If the baby is too warm, it is more likely to fall asleep when feeding. One way to prevent this is to strip the baby down to the diaper when feeding. The mother can also apply cool washcloths to the baby’s skin to keep them from sleeping. If you think that the baby is too cold, you can drape a breathable blanket over them. Or get them to make skin-to-skin contact with you. Skin-to-skin contact with the mother ensures that the baby stays warm enough. It also assures that you are close and stimulates them that way.
If the baby is still falling asleep during bottle feedings, check the nipple of the bottle. If the milk flow is too slow, the baby might struggle to extract the milk and thus get tired. When the milk flow gets slow, it is normal for a baby to feel bored and go to sleep. If everything is right, consult your pediatrician for supplementation suggestions. The pediatrician can give you tips to keep the baby less tired. If the baby falls asleep during the feed, always throw away any leftover food in the bottle. This is especially for anything that remains in the bottle after an hour. This is because any liquid in a bottle for a long time can get contaminated. Do not store milk or formula in the bottle after the baby has stopped feeding.
You can break your baby’s association between feeding and bedtime gradually. It is not a quick process. You can reduce and then stop the baby’s nighttime feedings. Reduce the amount of liquid in the bottle by an ounce. Do this over some time. You can also dilute the milk or juice.
There will be a few nights of fussing when the baby does not feed just before sleeping. The baby will take some time to get used to this. This is also an excellent time to introduce a new toy to help them fall asleep without a feed. If you are willing to be patient and wait for a bit, the baby will soon get used to sleeping without feeding.