What To Do When...

On this page we’ll answer some of the most common breastfeeding questions. You’ll learn ways to encourage sleepy newborns to breastfeed, tips to relieve engorgement, and how to hand express and cup feed.

Feeding a sleepy baby

Newborns are sleepy and often need stimulation throughout the feed to keep them active and swallowing at the breast. This is normal and temporary. To make sure your baby is eating enough, it’s important for your baby to be as awake as possible while feeding. Keeping your baby stimulated throughout the feed will encourage swallowing. Here are some tips to encourage your baby to continue to swallow during a feed.

Dress your baby in a diaper only

Your baby will be more alert if wearing only a diaper during feeds. Clothing will make your baby warm and sleepy. Your baby will be just the right temperature next to your skin and you will be able to touch your baby’s skin during the feed.

Stimulate your baby throughout the feed

To keep your baby awake, touch your baby with your hands or a cool cloth, or gently blow on your baby to stimulate him. Once your baby starts to suck, you can use breast compressions to encourage him to swallow.

Use breast compressions

Use breast compressions to encourage your sleepy baby to swallow. Wait for your baby to suck, or stimulate your baby to suck, and then compress (squeeze) your breast and hold during the sucking. You should notice your baby swallows while you compress. When your baby stops drinking, release the compression. Repeat this, moving your hand to compress all around your breast until your baby is no longer swallowing during the compression. Sit your baby up to wake him and start over on the other breast. Watch this short video to see compressions.  


Engorgement is when your breasts become so full of milk that the blood vessels leak fluid into the surrounding tissue space, causing the breast to swell. This swelling, or engorgement, is painful and can make it difficult for your baby to latch on. It is temporary. Frequent feeding and using cold packs will help. If your engorgement is more severe, watch this video to learn a very simple and effective technique for quick relief: Reverse Pressure Softening.

Collecting and storing your breastmilk (pumping)

You may need to express breastmilk if you are separated from your baby because of illness or prematurity or want to increase your breastmilk supply. If you are separated from your baby, start expressing as soon as possible and remove milk from your breasts at least 8 times in 24 hours. The amount of milk you collect depends on many things such as time of day, how long since the last feeding and your level of stress.

Are you pumping and would like to learn tips to help your milk flow? Watch this video.

For guidelines on expressing milk, how long it keeps in the fridge and freezer, and how to clean the equipment, download our fact sheet: How to Collect and Store Your Breastmilk (PDF, 2 pages, 153 KB).

Hand expression

Hand expression is a useful skill to learn and you can start right after your baby is born. During the first few days of your baby’s life, you will be expressing colostrum. Make sure you catch this “liquid gold” on a spoon or in a cup and feed it to your baby. Your expressed milk is especially important for your baby if he was born early, has low blood sugar, is separated from you, is having trouble latching, or if he has lost more than a normal amount of weight.

Watch this video and this video to learn how to hand express. 

Cup feeding

If you are away from your baby or have trouble latching, your baby can be fed from a cup. Cup feeding is less likely than bottle-feeding to confuse your baby while he or she learns to breastfeed. Note that your baby laps the milk up with his tongue. Be careful not to pour the milk into your baby’s mouth. Watch this video to see how a baby cup feeds.