How to Help Your Preemie Stay Awake to Nurse

By Kimberly Dyke
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It can be difficult for new parents to wake up a premature sleeping baby and keep him awake long enough to take a full feeding. Newborns need to nurse at least every two to three hours -- the live cells in breast milk can protect premature babies from infection, according to the Meriter website. A few simple tricks will help you awaken your preemie and take in all of the calories he needs to grow.

Step 1

Determine if your baby is in a deep or light sleep. Note that a baby in a light or dream sleep can be awaken quite easily and is more likely to stay awake. Remove your sleepy baby’s blanket and clothes to wake her up. Place your baby skin-to-skin and cover her with a light blanket while she is nursing, but remove it if she gets too warm and begins to sleep again. Change your preemie’s diaper for an additional gentle jolt to wake her.

Step 2

Move your baby and talk to him to help him wake up during a feeding. Hold him upright in your lap in a sitting position or straighten his body and gently stretch his arms and legs. Stroke his hands and feet, or rub his back for extra stimulation. Lightly tap on his lips with your fingers to remind him that it is time to eat.

Step 3

Wet a washcloth or small towel with cool water and wring it out. Wipe the cloth across your baby’s forehead, the nape of her neck and her cheeks to help wake her up. Rub the cool towel on the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands if she starts to get sleepy again.

Step 4

Tempt your preemie with the taste of milk to help awaken him during a feeding. Stimulate hunger cues by compressing the breast with your hand while the nipple is in baby’s mouth. Tickle his lower lip to encourage him to open his mouth wide to latch on and eat. Use different feeding positions to help your preemie latch on well. Ask lactation specialists and hospital staff for guidance on nursing your newborn effectively.

Step 5

Switch breasts if your baby falls asleep while nursing. Pause to burp your baby or rub her back before encouraging her to latch onto the other side. Continue to remove your preemie from the breast and gently wake her each time she falls asleep before offering your breast again until she completes a feeding.

About the Author

Kimberly Dyke is a Spanish interpreter with a B.A. in language and international trade from Clemson University. She began writing professionally in 2010, specializing in education, parenting and culture. Currently residing in South Carolina, Dyke has received certificates in photography and medical interpretation.