Should You Wake Your Baby to Feed Them?

Sometimes it's necessary to wake your baby up to feed them. Whether you do or not will depend on factors such as age, weight, and overall health.
Should You Wake Your Baby to Feed Them?
Mario Benedetti Arzuza

Written and verified by the doctor Mario Benedetti Arzuza.

Last update: 15 August, 2022

Many parents wonder whether or not they should wake their babies to feed them. Indeed, if you’re a new mother or father, you may well have found yourself asking this very question. However, there’s no need to worry, as the issues of sleep and feeding always cause doubts among parents.

Today, opinions vary. Some claim that babies need to feed every two to four hours without fail even if it means waking them up. In this article, we’ll analyze whether it’s advisable to interrupt their sleep to feed them or not.

Importance of feeding in babies

A supply of breast milk during the first months of life is essential for a baby’s good health and to stimulate growth.

Studies affirm that proper nutrition is vital for the prevention of diseases in adulthood such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.

Parents should ensure proper breastfeeding and progressive introduction of solid foods from six months. This is according to the baby’s state of health and sleeping habits.

How much sleep do babies need?

a sleeping newborn baby

Some parents prefer to wake their baby every three or four hours to feed, while others prefer to let them sleep. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just that everyone has different beliefs.

First of all, you need to know about healthy sleeping habits for babies. This will help to determine whether or not you should wake them when they’re sleeping.

Babies sleep most of the day, 16 hours on average. They generally wake up every two-three hours to eat, although this isn’t a rule. In fact, there are numerous cases of babies who sleep more than three hours in a row. This is completely normal, as each child is different.

Sleep during the first months

During the first two months of life, sleep depends on the baby’s hunger and satiety. For this reason, each child sets their own sleep rhythm. Around two months, after eating, the child begins active sleep and shouldn’t be woken up.

Active sleep usually lasts 30 to 40 minutes. During this period, the baby may seem restless, but this is completely normal. After this phase, they enter a period of deep sleep, known as quiet sleep.

It’s important to recognize that the increase in their sleep times at nighttime generally starts between four and six months. From then on, their sleep-wake cycle depends on the circadian rhythms and whether it’s light or dark.

Babies gradually stabilize their sleep rhythms. In fact, over time, they start to resemble adult cycles and parents are able to sleep better. Melatonin plays an important role in sleep modulation as children begin to develop. Indeed, supplementation with this hormone is associated with a better quality of rest, as confirmed in a study published in the journal, Neurological Research.

You might also like to read: How To Help Your Baby Sleep Better

Feeding Schedule

As we mentioned earlier, babies usually need to be fed every three hours. Therefore, they require around eight to 12 feeds per day. During this time, they wake up, cry, are fed, and go back to sleep. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that crying isn’t always due to hunger.

Although the three-hour period has remained as a reference, it’s just a guideline. There are babies who need to feed more frequently and there are others who need to be woken up to feed.

You might find this interesting: Sucking Reflex in Newborns: What You Need to Know

When should you wake your baby up to feed?

mother breastfeeding her baby

If your baby has good sleep habits and is an appropriate weight for their age, then you don’t need to wake them up to feed. Nevertheless, there are situations when it might be necessary. This depends on your baby’s age, weight, and overall health.

Newborns lose weight the first few days after being born. That’s because they need a few days to master breast or bottle feeding. Also, their stomachs can only tolerate small amounts of food at a time.

As you can see, it’s extremely important that newborns feed frequently. Therefore, it’s quite common to have to wake them a couple of times a day, especially if they’re underweight or were born prematurely.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t be guided strictly by the clock or by your baby’s crying. In fact, crying is often one of the last things they do when they need feeding. They’re more likely to be restless, move their lips, or make sucking movements before they start crying.

Breastfeeding and sleep

Both breastfeeding and sleep are regulated by the hormones, prolactin, and melatonin, which have a clear circadian rhythm of secretion.

Sleep and wakefulness are coordinated by hunger and satiety. It’s a cycle framed in the context of everyday movements and the passage from daylight to darkness at night.

In fact, mother and baby usually complement each other, and the relationship self-organizes and stabilizes in an intimately consensual way. This is undoubtedly part of the mystery of love, parenting, and breastfeeding on demand, which only mothers really understand.

Other factors you should consider

Pacifiers and bottles provide comfort to babies like this one

Once your baby has reached their optimum weight and is continuing to gain weight, it’s no longer necessary to wake them up to feed them. Wait until they wake up on their own and then feed them

You don’t really have to worry about how much your baby eats or how often. These developmental factors are more important:

  • They show slow and steady weight gain.
  • They’re satisfied between feedings.
  • They wet six or more diapers per day.
  • They poop three or more times a day.

If your baby doesn’t comply with any of these guidelines, you should visit your doctor. They’ll be able to examine your child carefully and give you any necessary instructions to avoid any health risks in your little one.

Remember that it’s always preferable to offer breast milk, as far as possible. In fact, scientific studies confirm that this is the best food for children until they’re one year old. That’s because its intake improves health and reduces the risk of developing diseases.

How to wake your baby to feed them

If you have to wake up your baby for feeding, the most practical and simple way is to place them close to your breast so they feel direct contact with your skin. This stimulates the feeding reflex and your baby will seek to feed without having to be totally alert. In addition, they’ll be able to fall back to sleep more easily.

On the other hand, if your baby finds it difficult to wake up, you could try removing some of their clothing so they can feel the change in temperature. You could also stroke their cheek and lips so they start searching for the breast. As a last resort, you could place your baby in their crib with only a few clothes on, since for some little ones this is the best alarm clock.

To wake or not to wake

In short, unless your baby is premature, underweight, or in poor health, it’s not recommended that you wake your baby to feed them. In fact, if they’re healthy but just sleepy, don’t worry: let them sleep as long as they need.

As a matter of fact, it’s good to allow your baby to sleep, as this will help them grow physically and develop good sleeping habits. You can use this free time to rest a little yourself or do some of those outstanding chores.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Andreas NJ., Kampmann B., Le Doare KM., Human breast milk: a review on its composition and bioactivity. Early Hum Dev, 2015. 91 (11): 629-35.
  • Arboledas G. Lactancia materna y sueño ¿Se potencian o dificultan?. Canarias pediátrica. 2015; 39(2): 66-70. 
  • Xie Z., Chen F., Li WA., Geng X., Li C., et al., A review of sleep disorders and melatonin. Neurol Res, 2017. 39 (6): 559-565.
  • Galiano M, Moreno-Villares J. Nuevas tendencias en la introducción de la alimentación complementaria en lactantes. Anales de Pediatría Continuada. 2011;9(1):41-47.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.