Why Do Babies Sleep After Breastfeeding? An Expert Explains

Perhaps the most common topic related to sleep and babies is how to get them to do more of it and more consistently. It's not often that you hear parents saying, "How can I get them to stay awake?" But when it comes to feeding time, it's important to make sure your little one gets enough in their belly before nodding off, but it's not always easy to keep them from snoozing. And even when they do breastfeed long enough, you'll often find they quickly fall asleep. But why do babies sleep after breastfeeding? And do they do the same if they are bottle fed?

"Babies sleep after breastfeeding because all of their needs are met: hunger, thirst, touch, smell, satiety," Leigh Anne O’Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and parenting coach, tells Romper in an email interview. "Babies need a lot of sleep and frequent feedings. And nursing takes a good deal of energy — babies are using their muscles and their brains [when breastfeeding]."

Plus, it's natural, Beth McMillan, an Ottawa lactation consultant, told Today's Parent. "Babies are biologically designed to sleep at the breast,” she said. “It’s clear from the composition of the milk and the baby’s hormonal response to nursing that babies are meant to go to sleep in association with breastfeeding. Human milk even changes over the day to have more sleep-inducing components during the evening and at night.”

That's true, says O'Connor, who notes that evening milk has more melatonin in it to help babies sleep longer. I mean, the female body, am I right?

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Of course, if you are trying to keep your baby from nodding off while breastfeeding, then you may want to have a few tricks up your sleeve in order to make sure they are properly fed.

First of all, check your latch. According to The Bump, a shallow latch may cause your baby to lose interest and fall asleep. But if the latch checks out, then try skin-on-skin contact to stimulate your baby's interest or tickle their feet or legs to keep them awake, the website noted.

You'll want to also make sure that you don't take your sleeping baby as a sign that they're full. Today's Parent said that it can instead result in a baby who gains too little weight and a decreased milk supply as a result of insufficient feeding. In order to keep those peepers open, the website encouraged moms to try switching to the other breast when the baby begins falling sleep. You can also try squeezing your breast between thumb and fingers as your baby is sucking — known as breast compression — to encourage your baby to nurse longer.

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Burping your little one and changing their diaper can also help keep your baby awake, suggested Kelly Mom. "Burping should be done with the baby sitting supported upright on mom’s knee or lap rather than over the shoulder because it’s also less sleep-inducing," the website noted. Certain breastfeeding positions can also help keep your baby awake.

Of course, if you're little one is bottle fed, then you might also had a snoozer-while-feeding on your hands. You can try the same rubbing, tickling, burping, changing-the-diaper tactics that you would if they were breastfeeding in order to make sure they get enough of their bottle. Just be sure to always throw away any leftover infant formula or breast milk after one hour, said Raising Children Network. "Storing half-empty bottles for future use is risky because they get contaminated quickly once they’ve been sucked on," according to the website.

Try to also keep in mind that babies have a good sense of what they need, so if your little one gets in a solid feed or finishes a good bit of the bottle, then don't overly worry about numbers, hours, and ounces. They'll be sure to let you know when they're hungry again.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.