My Baby Won’t Wake Up but Is Still Breathing – What To Do

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

Your baby will sleep a lot in those early days of life. However, you may find that some babies are harder to wake than others. It’s important to know what to do if your baby is asleep and unresponsive.

What to do if an infant is unconscious but breathing? When your baby is unconscious but still breathing, you need to check for responsiveness. Try to wake them up and see if they respond. If not, you need to contact 911 right away or have someone do it for you while you stay with the baby. In the meantime, check to ensure your child is breathing.

There are more steps to follow and warning signs to look out for if you can’t get your child to wake up after a nap. It’s important to find out the underlying cause of the issue.

Baby Won’t Wake Up But Is Still Breathing

You will spend hours a day watching your baby breathe. It’s terrifying to see them breathe but not be able to wake them up from a deep sleep. 

Are Newborns Hard To Wake Up?

Newborns can be hard to wake up, especially when they are in deep sleep. They may not move often, and this can cause you to listen carefully to ensure they are still breathing.

Newborns not waking easily during deep sleep can be perfectly normal.

Sleepy Baby: When To Worry

There is a time to be concerned when your infant won’t wake, even if he is breathing.

If you have tried to gently wake your baby and then moved onto more aggressive attempts, such as taking off their onesie or attempting to change their diaper, then you need to call for help. 

It may not be easy to wake up a newborn, and typical sounds around the house probably won’t do it, but it should not be impossible.

Baby Lethargic or Just Sleepy

When a child is sleepy, that is perfectly normal. You may have to work a little harder to wake them up, but once they are awake, they should be alert and interested in what is happening around them. 

When your child is lethargic, what you see will be different.

Lethargic Baby Symptoms

A child who is lethargic will have a hard time waking up and won’t be able to stay awake for long. They will be uninterested in what is going on around them, and they may refuse to eat. 

When my son was ill, signs of lethargy were some of the first signs that something was wrong. He was cranky, sleepy, and listless. 

Causes of Lethargy in Newborns

When a newborn is lethargic, there are a couple of different things that may be going on and need to be addressed.

First of all, an infection could be to blame. My son’s lethargy was caused by RSV. The infection affected his ability to breathe, and this made him listless.

Your child may also have low blood sugar. This could be a sign of an underlying problem that should not be ignored.

Baby Hard To Wake Up

If your baby won’t wake up when offered food or after a reasonable time of rest, he or she could be suffering from low blood sugar or illness. See your pediatrician to rule out causes.

A young mother bending over the bassinet trying to wake her baby.

Baby Sleeping Too Much Suddenly

Your child’s sleep schedule will fluctuate, but if your child is suddenly sleeping more than normal, there may be a problem. Problems can include:

  • Dehydration.
  • Not enough food.
  • Jaundice.
  • Heart problems.
  • Respiratory issues.
  • Infections.

Can Not Wake Up Baby at All

If, despite your best efforts, you can’t wake up your baby, call 911. Even if your child is still breathing, you need to seek medical attention.

How Do You Wake a Baby Who Won’t Wake Up?

You should call for help when your baby won’t wake up, but there are things you can do until help arrives.

Continue to try to wake your child by talking to them, bouncing them gently, or tickling their feet. You can run your hand across their face to see if the sensation causes a reaction. 

You can also hold your infant on her side to ensure there is nothing lodged in the mouth that is causing an issue.

What To Do if Your Baby Won’t Wake Up

If your baby won’t wake up, call 911 or have another person in the home do that for you while you continue to try to wake your baby.

Tilt his head back to ensure he is still breathing and that nothing is stuck in his airway. If he is breathing, you can hold your child on his side to keep his airway open while help arrives. 

Keep talking to your child, even if he isn’t responding. Try to speak in a calm, reassuring tone.

Newborn Sleep Cycle

Every child is different, but there are some basic patterns you can look for in newborn sleep.

What Is Normal

Expect your baby to sleep 14-17 hours a day in 2-4 hour spurts. Your child will go from light sleep to deeper sleep and then back to light sleep about every 45 minutes.

What Is Not Normal

It’s not normal for your child to have trouble staying awake right after a nap or to be hard to wake up after every sleep.

Your child should wake up on their own most of the time without you having to coax them awake.

How To Wake a Sleeping Baby

When trying to wake a sleeping baby, start by talking or singing to them. If they won’t wake, you can try to move their arms and legs or tickle their feet.

Try a diaper change or taking off your child’s onesie to see if the temperature change will wake them. 

Related Questions: 

How Long Should Newborns Be Awake?

Newborns sleep a lot, usually around 14-17 hours a day. They can sleep anywhere between 2 and 4 hours at a time, and most will then stay awake for an hour to 90 minutes before the next nap. 

Why Does My Baby Stop Breathing for a Few Seconds?

You may notice that your baby will hold her breath for several seconds while sleeping, especially in those early days of infanthood.

This is called periodic breathing, and it is normal in most cases. However, your doctor may tell you to pay closer attention to periodic breathing if your child was born early. 

Final Thoughts

If your child isn’t waking up as easily as he or she used to, follow your instincts and find out why by seeking professional help.