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Sleepy and reluctant babies

All babies are different, but it's very common for babies not to feed all that much in the first 24-48 hours, and some don't attach at all. However, from day 2-3 days babies should become much more awake and feed in more frequent (but probably irregular) bursts at least 6 times in 24 hours.

Breastfeeding at first can be really hard to get used to and you might find yourself wondering if your baby has had enough milk - it can be very hard to judge how much breastmilk your baby has had, but they are clever wee things and you have to have some faith that your baby knows whether it needs more milk. There are signs to look out for if you think your baby isn't getting enough milk. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to know all the answers straight away and speak to your midwife or health visitor for ways to make feeding more comfortable.

Why are some babies reluctant to feed?

This happens most often when babies don't get skin-to-skin contact with mum soon enough or for long enough after the birth. Ideally, you want skin-to-skin contact with your baby straight away and for as long as it takes for your baby to want to feed. If you don’t have any complications, your midwife will help you get skin-to-skin with your baby quickly after they are born. Some reluctant babies are just too tired, sore, or sedated to feed after birth, and others can't because they are premature, ill or jaundiced.

Missing your baby's signs that they're hungry

New mums sometimes miss or don't understand their baby's feeding signs - our page Learning your baby's cues explains what you should be looking for. Don’t worry if it takes a while to get used to when your baby wants a feed - it is something you are both learning together and it’s baby steps for both of you. It's completely understandable to be worried about how much milk your baby is getting if they're not feeding in the early hours and days. It might help to know that babies are born with several days’ supply of fluid and stored fat to get them by until they're ready to feed.

What's the solution?

Your midwife will check in on you to make sure your baby is well and to help you spot the signs that they're ready to feed - remember you can ask your midwife (in the hospital or at home) to help show you how to get in a comfortable position to help get your baby feeding. The video below shows just this - very often all it takes is some help with positioning, skin-to-skin contact and a little patience!

Top tips to encourage a reluctant or sleepy baby to breastfeed

Tip #1: Hand expressing to keep your milk supply up

Start hand-expressing your colostrum and give it to your baby by syringe, spoon, dropper or cup. This helps to build a good milk supply for when your baby is ready to feed. If this is your first time breastfeeding, it will take some time to get used to expressing your milk. In the first couple of days you only make small amounts of colostrum so don’t become disheartened if it is difficult or takes time. It will get easier as each day and week goes by.

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Tip #2: Try lots of skin-to-skin contact

Aim for lots of skin contact and being close to soothe your baby and give them the opportunity to feed.

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Tip #3: Try to find a comfortable feeding position

Biological 'laid back' breastfeeding positions can help encourage babies to feed. Your midwife will be able to show you comfortable ways to feed.

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Tip #4: Get your baby ready for a feed

Massaging your baby's skin, changing their nappy and expressing a little milk for them to taste can help get your baby interested in feeding

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Tip #5: Don’t force your baby to feed

Don’t push your baby by the head or try to force them to feed as this could put them off completely.

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This article was created as part of 

Last updated: 20 May, 2019