In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, this month’s blog topic addresses a common breastfeeding woe, frustration when latching. Often both mom AND baby feed off each other’s emotional state. As a CLC, I often hear “My baby just screams when I’m trying to latch him! He hates the breast!” Alternatively, I also hear “I just can’t seem to keep my baby awake to eat. She just wants to sleep all the time!” These are two issues that may be able to be fixed with one simple change: when you initiate the feed. By using the knowledge of newborn behavior and sleep states, this common complaint could be history.


Babies cycle through 5 different states:

  • Deep Sleep- This state is characterized by no movement of the eyes or limbs and shallow breathing. They don’t wake up for loud noises or when moved (picked up or put down.)
  • REM Sleep- Your baby is asleep but you will notice his eyes darting back and forth and some movement of the limbs, either stretching or startling. He might also let out little peeps or coos at this stage too letting you know they are no longer in a full deep sleep.
  • Quiet Alert- Although awake, these babies tend to stay still and process the world a bit. They’re often wide eyed  just taking it all in. They don’t make a lot of noise and they seem quite content.
  • Active Alert – Awake and ready for the world to know it! These babies are often moving around, bringing their arms and hands to their face, kicking their legs and moving their head side to side. They might be whining or fussing. This state is usually short lived and can move to crying very quickly.
  • Crying- This is the state everyone is familiar with- the crying baby. At this point, your baby is past the first hunger cues and is now very upset.


Many moms wait until their baby is active alert or crying to initiate a feed, often resulting in a long, unsuccessful, emotional and frustrating nursing session. This is when many women begin to think their baby doesn’t like the breast or that maybe she’s not making enough milk. In these situations, it’s best to hit the “reset button” with skin to skin. After initiating skin to skin (no shirts for mom or baby) babies tend to settle back to a quiet alert state, which is one of the best times to initiate a feed!

Additionally, latching can also be equally as hard if baby is in a deep sleep. It’s very hard to wake a baby from this state, which leads to a failed nursing session and a mom feeling helpless. “How do I keep my baby awake to eat?!” Babies don’t need to be awake to feed but they do need to at least be in a REM state to initiate. This is called dream feeding. The REM sleep state is one of the best times to feed a baby as they are typically much more patient and they’re happy you’re responding to their earliest hunger cues! No hangry baby here!

To recap: initiating feeds will be the easiest for mom and baby during the REM Sleep or Quiet Alert states. Trying to feed while your baby is in a deep sleep or crying will lead to frustration when latching. A baby’s sleep cycle last around 30 minutes. This means if you watch carefully you’ll have many opportunities to initiate a feed during a REM Sleep state. Rooming in at the hospital as well as at home can help you become familiar with your baby’s cues. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be complicated and for many, making this simple change is enough to change those tearful nursing sessions into magical bonding moments!


Katie Ellis is a local CLC in the DFW area and offers breastfeeding counseling and classes.

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