May 24, 2016 Mary & Suzanne

Helping your sleepy baby wake up!

If you have been keeping up with our Passport to Baby’s First Year blog series, you have been introduced to the three types of babies that we often see in our therapy practices: the Sensitive Baby, the Sleepy Baby, and the Organized Baby. Quite often, the baby that is recognized the most quickly is the Sensitive Baby because, let’s be honest, no one is getting any rest and nothing seems quite right! Parents are struggling, and baby is struggling, and everyone is looking for answers.

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The Sleepy Baby

The Sleepy Baby is often considered a “good baby”: sleeping for long stretches, crying infrequently, tolerating changes in schedules, dirty diapers and not demanding very much attention. The concerning side of this behavior is that this baby may not be awake long enough to take in a good feeding, interact and bond with parents, or become aware of events in the world around him or her. In these long periods of drowsiness and sleep, the Sleepy Baby is missing gathering important information and learning about the people and events in his or her world. The impact of her caregivers and environment just isn’t enough to cause her to wake up and respond! This frequently causes poor eating, with a tendency to fall asleep during a feeding. This baby needs repeated waking to get a full meal in.

Parents bring this type of baby to see us when weight gain is not up to par or when developmental skills are becoming delayed. We also notice that the bond between parent and baby may not be as close as we would like because the baby tends to be less responsive.

Our Approach for the Sleepy Baby

What to do? Our approach for these babies is to use sensory strategies that will wake them up! Parents of the sleepy baby learn to be animated and very entertaining to engage their baby in the world and people around her. To help this baby wake up, we can use the sensory systems that are more alerting: fast movement, light touch and sound.

If parents use these activities a few times a day and before each feeding, baby will have a more coordinated suck/swallow and will stay awake during feeding. She will be more awake throughout the day and available to learning about her world and the people in it.

Before each feeding, wake baby up using some of our favorite strategies:

1. Fast vestibular sensation. Some ideas for movement are:

– Hold baby on his tummy in your arms with a secure grip. Begin to move him forward and backward quickly a few times.
– Move baby up and down quickly.

– Rock briskly in the rocker.
– Holding baby in an upright position against your shoulder, move yourself up and down quickly a few times.
– Allow baby to spend some time every day in a baby swing at the medium to fast speed in a mechanical baby swing.   Another great choice is a bucket swing at home or at your local park.


Watch for the “STOP SIGNS”(color change, hiccups, startles, yawning, fussing) and if you see any, slow the movement down or stop. Take a look at baby’s face. Does he seem more alert? Eyes open, arms and legs moving?



2. Light tactile input. Light touch is alerting to the brain.

– Rub baby’s arms, legs and back with a light, quick touch.



Leave arms and legs exposed to the air if the temperature is warm.
– Before feeding baby, stroke her arms, legs and face with a light touch. Stroking the baby’s cheeks and mouth before a feeding ‘wakes up’ the muscles baby uses to latch on, suck and swallow.
-Help baby splash in the bath.
Give baby a massage a few times a day. This helps wake a sleepy baby and calm a sensitive one. At the end of the massage, try more light touch on baby’s arms, legs and face. Does baby seem more alert?

3. Motor Play:

-Help baby move in the world, reach for a toy, practice head control and tracking toys with her eyes.
We find it more successful to wake the baby up with fast movement before we ask for motor coordination.


4. Sound and Vision:
– Talk to baby constantly about the world around him or her, what you are doing, what the dog is doing.
– Play background music that is alerting and entertaining while baby is awake. Use bright colors and entertaining toys with sounds.
– Face to face is very entertaining for babies!


-Carry baby in a sling for most of the time he or she is awake. This provides movement, firm touch to organize the movement input, the sound of your voice, different smells and sounds from the environment.

Being carried in a baby sling helps all types of babies develop. Whether your baby is sleepy or sensitive, or somewhere in between, research indicates the benefits of holding your baby close.

We understand the perks of having baby take extra long naps and go with the flow as you go about your day. It could mean one well deserved shower for you in an otherwise jam packed day! It is vital, however, to recognize and understand how and what your baby is processing in her environment to support and optimize her growth and development. Your sleepy baby needs you to let loose: dance together, sing together, and bond together. Those bright little eyes and sweet smile will thank you!


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