Slow Weight Gain and Sleepy Breastfed Newborns

April 26, 2008

I got an email from a friend asking me for some breastfeeding advice and she agreed that I could share with you all in case this information comes in handy.

And by the way, if you have a breastfeeding question please don’t hesitate to email me ok? I love helping moms with breastfeeding. I was a La Leche League leader for 6 years and have helped a lot of women breastfeed their babies. Plus I have almost 10 years now of nonstop breastfeeding myself. Ok here’s her question:

My little one arrived on the 10th. She weighed 6lbs 6oz at birth and when we left the hospital on the 12th she was 5lbs 12 oz. On the 15th we went to her first doctor’s appt and she had gained (6lbs 1oz) and the dr. said that was good (averaging 1oz. a day). Today she went for her 2week check up and her weight was 6lbs 4oz which isn’t to her birth weight yet, but close. I’m a bit concerned about this and so was the lactation consultant/nurse practicioner.

After some talking and her watching her nurse, which she latched on fine, she recommended that I take Fenugreek and Alfalfa (1-2 pills 3 times a day of each). She also recommended Mother’s Milk Tea. Seems it is a matter of milk supply and/or the baby not staying awake at the breast long enough to get to the hind milk. She falls asleep rather quickly most of the time.

I have to admit that I really thought she would have been back to or over her birth weight by now and I’m concerned about supply. I’m just curious what you think of the combination she told me to take. Do you have any experience or know other mother’s who have used those herbs for increasing milk supply? If so, how long should it be before I see a difference in my supply?

Also, if you have any suggestions of holds, etc. that might keep her awake longer while nursing could you pass those on as well.

Thanks so much for your help Carrie! :) I am so afraid that I might end up having to supplement or switch to formula and I don’t want to if I can keep from it and I really do look to you for true and honest information. Thanks again!

Hey Arika,

Here is your clue: “She falls asleep rather quickly most of the time.”

This is pretty common, and believe it or not some babies will sleep themselves into slow weight gain. So, if you work on this you will start putting the weight on her in a few days.

My second born was like this, always feel asleep on the breast within seconds. Here are some tricks to keep your baby awake long enough to get more into her tummy.

  • Don’t overdress her. When she nurses you might want to remove a layer of clothing, even everything but a diaper, and just put a light blanket her. If it’s warm in your house skip the blanket even. If she’s too warm it will make her very sleepy – like how an adult feels when they drive in a warm car.
  • When she starts falling asleep at the breast before she’s actively been sucking for about ten minutes or so, keep her awake. Tickle her feet, change her diaper, break her suction on your breast and switch sides… whatever you need to do to keep her actively sucking and swallowing for ten minutes. Later on you won’t need to do this, but during the sleep newborn period it’s important.
  • Is she nursing at night? If not, wake her up. I know that goes against the age old wisdom to never wake a sleeping baby – and I know you need your sleep! But if she sleeps longer than 5 hours at a stretch, wake her and put her to the breast.
  • The herbs are fine, but frequent nursing will work better. Take enough Fenugreek until your sweat smells like maple syrup.
  • Another trick to get her interested in actively nursing if she starts falling asleep: Put your fingers around your breast, with thumb on top and fingers underneath, high up so that you don’t break her suction. Squeeze gently. You will probably notice that she’ll get a surge of milk and it will get her interested again.

Try these tips for the next 3 days and sleep and rest and nurse as much as possible. Usually 2-3 days of increased feedings is enough to increase your supply – it that’s even the issue here, it probably isn’t. The sleepiness is probably the issue.

Arika wrote back to say:

Thanks so much Carrie. I really think the sleeping is a big part of it too and I appreciate the suggestions and will definitely use them.

I think a lot of it might be what you said about her being warm and comfy when nursing. I’ve also found a sitting up position seems to keep her awake longer too. As for night feedings, she is nursing at night and she might give me 1 or 2 four hour stretches when she sleeps but only once has it been more and that was 5 hours, so she’s making sure she’s nursing at night…which is a good sign. :)

Did you have any issues with a sleepy newborn and slow weight gain? How did you handle this?

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