Why does baby get sleepy while breastfeeding?

Sleepy breastfeeding babyEver wonder why your baby gets so sleepy when breastfeeding? There can be multiple factors contributing to this.  If you have a newborn, what better place could there be for a nap other than snuggled up next to mom’s warm breast? This is one of the many reasons doing skin to skin while breastfeeding is beneficial. It is easier to stimulate a sleepy baby when you have bare skin to tickle. Other newborns may be sleepy at the breast because they were early or premature.

Some newborns do not have the stamina to stay awake because they are losing weight or not gaining weight well enough. The sooner you get help with a newborn in this situation, the quicker the issue can be resolved. If you go in for a weight check with baby’s doctor and the baby is not gaining an ounce per day, you should not be told to just come back in next week for another weight check. There are many interventions to help improve the situation so coming in for a lactation consultation at that point is imperative!

But what if we are talking about the normal healthy newborn whose mother’s milk is in and she has a good milk supply? You have probably heard the term “drunken sailor look” when baby has a good feeding and is full, sleepy and content. The physiological reason why this occurs involves the release of cholecystokinine.

“One gastrointestinal hormone, cholecystokinine (CCK) signals sedation and a feeling of satiation and well-being. During suckling, CCK release in both mother and infant produces a sleepy feeling. The infant’s CCK level peaks twice after suckling. The first peak occurs immediately after the feeding. It peaks again 30 to 60 minutes later. The first CCK rise is probably induced by suckling; the second by the presence of milk in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The drop of infant CCK levels 10 minutes after a feeding implies a ‘window’ within which the infant can be awakened to feed from the second breast or to reattach to the first side for additional fat-rich milk. Waiting 30 minutes after the feeding before laying the baby down takes advantage of the second CCK peak to help the infant to stay asleep.”

From New Beginnings
Issue 1 2014 Volume 39 © 2014, La Leche League United States of America

When baby gets to that sleepy stage, sitting baby up and burping helps to see if baby is truly full or just temporarily satisfied. It can also be an indication that your baby not only got the more watery foremilk at the beginning of the feeding but emptied the breast well enough in order to get the nice creamy hindmilk. This also helps baby to feel and satisfied, go longer between feedings and gain weight well.

When babies have a good feeding, cholecystokinin is released giving babies the message they are full. This is also one of the reasons that breastfed babies have less issues with childhood obesity. Their brain gets the message they are full and they quit eating. You cannot force a baby to latch on and nurse longer than they choose to so it helps their brain to get programmed not to overeat. We have a huge epidemic of childhood obesity in this country and breastfeeding starting at baby’s birth is the best way to help this issue from the beginning.

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If you have any breastfeeding questions, don’t hesitate to give me a call or send me an email.

Diane Erdmann RN BSN IBCLC
Breastfeeding Support & Supplies