Sometimes parents worry that their baby won't wake up to eat. Or, if she does wake up, she falls asleep again in five minutes. It can be frustrating when the nurse asks when your baby fed last, and all you can say is that you tried to wake her, but she fell right back to sleep.
If Your Baby is Less Than 24 Hours Old:
If your baby is less than 24 hours old, I don't want you to worry. Most babies go through a sleepy period during their first 24 hours after birth. It is her nervous system recovering from the shock and stress of being born.
The nurses will encourage you to try to wake your baby about every three hours and to try to feed her. She should respond by moving around. She may even suck for a few minutes, but then fall sound asleep again. Imagine how it would feel to be woken out of a sound sleep and be told you must eat - NOW! If you are still really sleepy, you probably wouldn't want to eat either.
Most babies over 24 hours old do need to be fed about every three hours. After 24 hours or so, your baby should be more wakeful, suck with more vigor, and act hungrier.
If Your Baby is Under 38 Weeks Gestation
If your baby is under 38 weeks gestation (see What is term?), Her sleepy period may last longer than 24 hours. The problem is, early babies may also be less than six pounds. When a baby is this small she doesn't have the pound of reserve fat that a seven pound baby has. She may not be able to keep her blood sugar at a safe level if she goes too long without feeding. If this is the case with your baby, the doctors and nurses will talk to you about what you can do, to make sure your baby gets the milk she needs, so she doesn't lose too much weight.
Thanks to Janelle Aby MD, Stanford School Of Medicine, Newborn Nursery, and Lucille Packard Children's Hospital for the use of occasional photographs.