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Can a Baby Be Too Sleepy?

A slumbering infant is generally cause for celebration—but is there such a thing as a baby getting too much sleep? Here’s how to tell.
ByKorin Miller
Updated
November 10, 2017
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Image: Erin Wallis

Your sleep-starved mom friends might think you’re crazy for worrying about baby oversleeping, but it’s common for new parents to be surprised by just how much their newborn babies snooze. Here’s the deal: It’s totally normal for a newborn to sleep a lot. After all, growing is tiring work! But sometimes all that napping can get in the way of baby’s healthy growth. Read on to learn how many hours of shut-eye infants typically get, and when you may need to wake baby for a feeding.

Can a Baby Be Too Sleepy?

Newborn babies generally sleep around 16 hours a day in total, but it could be 18 to 20 hours or more. Still, if that snoozing occurs for long stretches of time, it’s natural to wonder if he’s sleeping too much.

“Sometimes in the first month, babies can be too sleepy,” says S. Daniel Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. The issue isn’t logging too many hours of shut-eye—rather, it’s about how much food baby is getting. It’s important to make sure she’s feeding well, regardless of how much she’s sleeping: For breastfed babies, that means feeding eight to 12 times a day; for bottle-fed newborns or older infants, that’s five to eight times a day.

When to Wake Baby for Feedings

If baby is older than a week, has regained his birth weight and is gaining weight at a healthy pace, it’s fine to let him snooze, says Diana West, a lactation consultant with La Leche League International. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most healthy babies don’t need to be roused for feedings.

But if, in the first week or two of life, your newborn is sleeping more than three hours at a time and failing to gain weight at a pace your pediatrician is satisfied with, she may recommend waking her to ensure proper nutrition, says Peter Greenspan, MD, vice chair of the department of pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. This can be especially true for babies born prematurely or with cardiac issues and other medical conditions.

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Your pediatrician will measure baby’s weight at each visit to see how baby’s growth is charting. “If we see that a baby is getting enough calories, that shows us they’re able to drink well and don’t need to be woken up for feedings,” Ganjian says. But it’ll take a few weeks after birth before the doctor has enough growth data to make that determination. Until then, Ganjian says, it’s best to ensure your newborn is feeding every two to three hours.

Of course, if you ever have a gut feeling that you should wake baby to feed him, go ahead and do it, West says.

How to Wake Baby for Feedings

If baby’s perfectly healthy but just a tad sleepy, celebrate the fact that you have a good sleeper on your hands! But when you need to rouse your little snoozer for a feeding and are running into trouble, you might have to use a few tricky tactics. Here, a few tips:

Unswaddle baby. Sometimes it just takes a little less coziness to get baby to wake up. Take off her swaddle blanket and undress her a bit, and she just might feel cool enough to open her eyes.

Change baby’s diaper. A little freshening up (and a wet wipe on his bum) can help wake baby.

Place baby on a firmer surface. Putting baby someplace where she may feel a little vulnerable (like on a floor play mat) can help rouse her, says Leigh Anne O’Connor, a lactation consultant and La Leche League leader.

Give baby a sponge bath. A gentle sponge bath with a warm, wet washcloth is likely to get baby to perk up.

Stroke baby’s back. Running your fingers up and down baby’s spine can help keep her awake to feed, Ganjian says.

Very gently blow in baby’s face. Sure, baby might give you a weird look, but this move can help startle him awake enough to eat, Ganjian says.

Try a wet washcloth. If all else fails, placing a cold, wet washcloth on baby’s foot should help rouse her, says O’Connor.

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