How Long Should my Baby Nurse For?
Do you watch the clock while your baby nurses? Poll your friends who have breastfed to see how long their babies nursed? Only to find that each mom has a different answer when it comes to length of time baby spends breastfeeding?! One mom tells you her baby spent an hour at the breast, another said she always fed her baby for 15 minutes on each side, while another said her baby only nursed for 5 minutes. Which piece of advice should you listen to? What is the appropriate length of time to breastfeed your baby? The answer is that each of your friends is correct; the length of time a baby can spend at breast during each nursing session can vary greatly between each mom and baby.
Average Nursing Time
According to Medela, the average time a baby will spend at breast during each nursing session can range from 12-67 minutes. How is it possible that some babies may nurse for only a few minutes while others will nurse for an hour? There are many different factors involved in the length of time a baby spends at breast.
- MILK FLOW! The force of your milk letdown and flow speed will vary between nursing moms. Some moms may have an immediate and forceful letdown with a very fast flow, while other moms may have a delayed letdown and a much slower milk flow.
- SUCKING EFFICIENCY! Every baby has a different sucking efficiency. One baby may have a very strong and efficient suck, while another baby may have a less efficient suck, requiring a baby to spend much longer at breast.
- BREAST MILK CAPACITY! The amount of milk each mom holds in her breast is called the breast milk capacity; this volume can be different between nursing moms. This number will not only affect how long a baby spends at breast during each nursing session but will also determine how many times a baby will go to the breast each day.
- THE SUPERBOOB! The breast you start each feeding on will also determine how long a baby will nurse. Most nursing moms have a breast that produces more milk than the other side (hello superboob!). When we nurse, we should alternate starting sides. If we always start on the larger producer, baby may spend more time on that side than if we start on the lower producer. It is important that the lower producing breast gets a good amount of nursing time to help keep up the supply on that side. If your baby is feeding frequently and only eating on one side, you may want to try offering both sides. We want baby to get a full meal at each feeding rather than snacking all day long!
- TIME OF DAY! The time of day may also affect how long a baby spends at breast. As our hormones change throughout the day, the volume of breast milk in your breasts may vary. During the periods of time when you have a greater volume of breast milk, baby may spend more time at breast than the periods in which your volumes are lower OR they may nurse quickly when your breasts are full and spend more time at the breast when the flow is slower.
- FREQUENCY! The frequency of feedings, or how many times a baby goes to breast, can also impact the amount of time a baby spends at breast.
- AGE! The age of your baby will also affect the time they spend nursing. As your baby grows, they will become more efficient at nursing and will spend much less time during each feeding session.
As you can see, many factors can contribute to the length of a feeding! Rather than watching the clock, try to follow your baby’s hunger and fullness cues. If your baby is gaining weight, seems satisfied after nursing and is having a good amount of wet/dirty diapers, then chances are he’s getting enough from the breast!
Check out this blog post for more info: How Can I Tell If My Breastfed Baby is Full?
-Katie Kunz, RN, IBCLC
Kent, J. (2017, October 24). What’s ‘normal’ when it comes to breastfeeding? Retrieved March 23, 2020, from https://www.medela.com/breastfeeding/mums-journey/normal-breastfeeding
Shealy, K. R., Scanlon, K. S., Labiner-Wolfe, J., Fein, S. B., & Grummer-Strawn, L. M. (2008). Characteristics of Breastfeeding Practices Among US Mothers. Pediatrics, 122(Supplement 2). doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-1315f