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Ages & Stages

Now is as good a time as any to discuss briefly the age-old adage “never wake a sleeping baby. ”Many expectant parents take this advice to heart and prepare themselves and their homes accordingly. In anticipation, they begin by locating the ringer on/off switches on their phones and making signs to tape over their doorbells that read, “Please knock quietly—baby sleeping.” After bringing home a newborn of your own, however, you’re far more likely to discover that most young infants (older babies are a different story) can sleep through just about anything—vacuums, doorbells, and the ringing of telephones included. Instead of figuring out ways to ensure peaceful slumber, many new parents find themselves wondering if, in fact, their babies would awaken to the sound of a freight train going by or the house being hit by a tornado. You’ll find that as your baby gets older she will probably become a lighter sleeper, but for the time being you can feel free to relax a little on the noise control, unless of course you need it so you can sleep.

How to Wake a Sleeping Baby

As we mentioned at the outset, newborns have an impressive ability to ignore the world around them when they see fit to sleep. If you find yourself in the position of needing to wake up your baby, here are some simple techniques that sometimes (notice we said “sometimes”) work.

  • The kinder, gentler approach. You might as well start out with the kinder, gentler approach to baby waking and see what kind of response you get. This can include such basic measures as talking, singing, and gentle stimulation. Pick your baby up, talk to him, move his arms and legs around, even tickle the bottom of his feet or rub his cheek—whatever works to arouse him.
  • Dressing down. Whether it’s the physical stimulation or the increased exposure to cool air that does it, many newborns absolutely hate to be undressed. Your newborn may find it well worth the time and effort it takes to awaken and voice his opinion.
  • Double-duty diapering. Even if your baby doesn’t technically require one, going through the motions (even reusing the same diaper) may help if undressing alone doesn’t do the trick. This works especially well for those babies who have a tendency to fall asleep before finishing their meals. We think of it as dual-purpose diapering because not only do diaper changes tend to wake up sleeping babies, but this also tends to be a time when newborns are more likely to actually need to be changed.
  • Cleanliness is next to wakefulness. Giving sleepy babies a bath certainly takes things a step beyond undressing and changing diapers, but has been known to work when all else fails. While we certainly don’t approve of cruel and unusual punishment in any way, shape, or form, there may be times when some of you simply have no other choice than to resort to a bath to get your baby to wake up. This more “drastic” measure is most appropriately used sparingly, such as in the event that a newborn is long overdue to eat, and can be modified to accommodate your baby’s umbilical cord as needed.

The approaches we have described to you are obviously based on the assumption that your newborn is healthy. While it is true that newborns are known to be challenging to wake up at times, you should also be aware that babies who are not arousable or responsive despite their parents’ best efforts need medical attention. Do not wait to discuss any questions or concerns you might have about your baby’s sleepiness with your baby’s doctor: Seek medical help immediately if your newborn seems increasingly sleepy, unresponsive, or hard to arouse.

 

Author
Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
11/3/2014
Source
Heading Home With Your Newborn, 2nd Edition (Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.