You look at your sleeping baby…and you know it’s time for your new baby to eat because your breasts are full and aching. But he’s lying there, angelic and perfect and totally asleep. Should you wake him to breastfeed, or let sleeping babies lie?
“Thanks! Your site answered all my questions!”
As with most baby issues, the answer depends on your situation.
In general, you should let a sleeping baby sleep, and be thankful that you have a baby who will let YOU sleep. You’ll find out, as you continue breastfeeding, that your body will learn quickly what times your baby chooses to eat, and your breasts will fill in anticipation. The baby will wake and eat when he is ready – and that’s the very best option for him, in almost every case.
Situations when you may want wake a baby…
In certain situations, however, you do want to wake your sleeping baby for breastfeeding. Sometimes it’s not up to you how you schedule your baby’s day.
If, for instance, you are breastfeeding and working full time, it’s wise to wake the baby and feed him before you go to work. This minimizes the time you’ll need to spend pumping, making it easier to continue breastfeeding despite the barriers you will have.
The same goes for any time you need to travel, go out, or any other situation when it will be difficult to feed your baby when he wants to be fed.
Situations when you should wake a baby…
Your doctor may also need to put your baby on a strict eating schedule. The two most common reasons for this: prematurity and a vague medical condition called “failure to thrive.” Another reason is jaundice.
A premature baby needs to eat every two hours, whether he wakes to do so or not. Regular feeding like this should continue until your baby’s doctor says he can go to an on-demand schedule.
Failure to Thrive
A baby who is diagnosed with “failure to thrive” does not gain weight or develop as he should. There are hundreds of reasons for this, from poor sucking ability to an underlying and undiagnosed medical condition. If your baby is diagnosed with this problem, he should have every possible opportunity to eat, which means waking a sleeping baby if he fails to wake up himself for a feeding.
Jaundice is another reason to feed your baby as frequently as possible. A baby with jaundice shows pronounced yellowing of the skin – in dark-skinned babies, the whites of the eyes will show the yellowing best – and if not treated, the condition can lead to mental retardation. This condition occurs very soon after birth, and is a problem with the liver in which bilirubin cannot be effectively removed from the blood. Carefully-limited exposure to sunlight is one treatment (and one this writer effectively used with her baby), but the components from the broken-down bilirubin need to be washed from the baby’s body.
The easiest way to do this is by frequent feedings. If you cannot effectively reduce the baby’s yellowing, you’ll need to take him back to the hospital, where intensive light therapy will be used in 24-hour periods to wash the bilirubin from his body (not a fun procedure!)
The General Rule
In general, unless your doctor tells you or your situation dictates otherwise, the best breastfeeding schedule for your baby is one where he chooses when to eat – and when to sleep.
If you’re one of the fortunate few with a healthy baby who sleeps through the night, enjoy it, and use the extra energy you’re blessed with to play with your new son or daughter…and not worry about whether you’re doing things right.
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