How to Help Your Preemie Stay Awake to Nurse

Preemies have special challenges with feeding.

Breastfeeding a premature baby can be instrumental in helping him grow and develop, notes Dr. David T. Tayloe Jr., writing for Your baby’s medical team will provide support and information for you about breastfeeding. Keep in mind that preemies often have special health issues that might make it challenging to breastfeed them successfully. If your preemie gets sleepy while breastfeeding, he may need help staying awake.

Undress your baby to help her stay awake while nursing. The process of removing your baby’s clothing might stimulate her to stay awake, but guard against chilling your baby, warns the Lincoln Pediatric Group website. Premature babies often struggle to maintain body temperature. Keep your little one warm by placing her directly against your bare skin while you breastfeed.

Press gently on your breast while your baby nurses to increase the milk flow; this is known as breast compression. Slow milk flow might make your baby sleepy because he needs to work so hard to nurse, while a faster milk flow might help your preemie stay awake, according to information provided by the International Breastfeeding Centre.

Watch your baby’s latch to ensure that it’s correct. You shouldn’t feel pain with a correct latch. An incorrect latch might make your baby work too hard to breastfeed, which could cause tiredness. If you have difficulty breastfeeding effectively, consult a lactation consultant for guidance and support.

Take your baby off the breast to rouse him from his sleepiness. Moving your baby from his comfortable spot in your arms might interrupt his sleep.

Express a small amount of breast milk by hand and place the drops on your baby’s lips to encourage more alert nursing, advises the Stanford School of Medicine website.


Follow your physician's instructions for feeding your premature baby. Generally, a preemie should feed between eight and 12 times in a 24-hour period, feeding every 1 1/2 to 3 hours on a demand schedule, according to post-discharge instructions prepared by registered dietitian Salisa Lewis for the Kosair Children’s Hospital. Avoid letting your preemie sleep for longer than one, five-hour stretch in a 24-hour period.

Have your preemie evaluated for weight gain and hydration according to your physician's recommendations to ensure that he’s eating efficiently and that he’s gaining enough.