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Breastfeeding a sleepy or unsettled baby

This fact sheet has information for mothers about the common concern of trying to feed a sleepy or unsettled baby.

Remember...

  • New babies can be very sleepy, but they need to feed often. There are some things you can do to help your baby wake up to feed. Try picking them up and talking to them, changing their nappy, or stroking their legs and tummy.
  • It is normal for babies to be unsettled during at least one part of every day. Your baby may feed often during this time.
  • Regular feeds during the day and night can help your body to make more milk for the next day.
  • Many babies regurgitate their milk. This is when they bring swallowed food back up into their mouth. This usually settles by 6 to 10 months.

From birth to around 8 weeks, there may be some issues that make it harder to breastfeed:

Sleepy baby

Some babies may be sleepy because of:

  • long labours or surgery during birth
  • drugs given during labour.

The first 3 days are an important time to start a pattern of breastfeeding. If your baby is not demanding feeds after about 5 hours, they can be woken and put to the breast. Aim to feed your baby a minimum of 6 times (but preferably at least 8 to 10) in 24 hours. Ask if your baby can be in the same room as you in hospital. This will be easier to demand feed.

Try these ideas to help wake your baby to feed:

  • Allow lots of skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby. You can do this by cuddling your baby close against the breast.
  • Change their nappy before a feed.
  • Express a few drops of colostrum (the first milk) onto your baby’s lips to help your baby start looking for your breast.
  • Unwrap your baby. Talk to them and gently stroke their legs and tummy.
  • Stroke their lip and cheek.
  • If your baby is still too sleepy to accept the breast, try expressing your colostrum and offering this to your baby. If your baby continues to be sleepy, seek advice from your GP or breastfeeding-trained health professional. Sleepiness can sometimes be a sign of jaundice.
  • Avoid perfumed shampoos and soaps.
  • Try to limit lots of other people holding your baby.

Unsettled baby

Babies cry for many reasons. It is your baby's way of communicating with you.

  • It is normal for babies to be unsettled during at least one part of every day. This usually occurs in the evening but can happen at any time.
  • When your baby is unsettled they may want to feed often. These feeds can be good for you as they can help with your milk supply for the next day.
  • Regurgitation can also cause babies to be unsettled. It is common in babies younger than 3 months of age.
  • Regurgitation settles over time as your baby grows and spends more time upright. Breastfeeding is not the cause and does not make the condition any worse. Breastfeeding also does not cause colic or reflux.

As you and your baby get to know each other, you will learn how to manage these unsettled times.

Resources for parents, families and carers

Booklet: Child Health Information (PDF, 1.34MB), Queensland Government (given to parents of every baby born in Queensland with the Personal Health record)

Breastfeeding and your baby, Queensland Government

Growing Strong—Breastfeeding: Good for Baby, good for Mum (PDF, 637kB), Queensland Government

Healthdirect Australia—Breastfeeding, Australian Government

Raising Children Network—Newborns nutrition, Australian Government

Raising Children Network—Breastfeeding videos, Australian Government

Booklet: Breastfeeding and postnatal care, New South Wales Government—available in English, Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Farsi, Hindi, Korean, Punjabi and Tamil languages

Booklet: Breastfeeding your baby, New South Wales Government

Booklet: Breastfeeding your baby (PDF, 2MB), Victoria Government

Brochure: Breastfeeding (PDF, 1.13MB), Victoria Government

Breastfeeding, South Australia Government

Related content

Breastfeeding: How do I start breastfeeding?

Common breastfeeding concerns: When do I stop breastfeeding?

Acknowledgements

This fact sheet is consistent with the National breastfeeding strategy 2010–2015.

Information is drawn from:

  • Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service 2015, Child health information: Your guide to the first 12 months.
  • National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012, Infant feeding guidelines.
  • Preventative Health 2008, Growing Strong: Feeding you and your baby,Queensland Health./li>
  • Preventative Health 2010, Breastfeeding and your baby, Queensland Health.
  • Queensland Maternity and Neonatal Clinical Guidelines Program 2010, Breastfeeding initiation.

This fact sheet is also the result of input and effort from many health professionals in Queensland. Their assistance with the content is greatly appreciated.

This information is provided as general information only and should not be relied upon as professional or medical advice. Professional and medical advice should be sought for particular health concerns or events. Best efforts have been used to develop this information, which is considered correct and current in accordance with accepted best practice in Queensland as at the date of production. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not accept liability to any person for the information provided in this fact sheet nor does it warrant that the information will remain correct and current. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not promote, endorse or create any association with any third party by publication or use of any references or terminology in this fact sheet.