It’s important for mothers to know that there is no magic number when it comes to how long you should nurse on each breast. For many years, moms were instructed to nurse on each breast for a prescribed amount of time such as 15-20 minutes on each side. Now, mothers are being encouraged to follow their baby’s lead and let their baby tell them when they’re done! Allowing your baby to breastfeed on-demand and end the feeding when they’re ready ensures your baby takes a full feeding and let’s you RELAX and simply enjoy your baby.
How long your baby nurses can vary greatly from one session to the next and also throughout your breastfeeding journey. In the early weeks, breastfeeding sessions do tend to be longer and it’s not uncommon for your baby to want to nurse frequently – especially during the evening hours. Cluster feeding is your baby’s way of telling your body to continue to produce ample amounts of milk to support his or her growth throughout infant years. Your baby and your body work in perfect rhythm to match your milk supply with your baby’s needs.
Sometimes, babies may simply want a small “snack” and other times they may be ready to enjoy a “four course meal,” both types of feedings can be normal. Just like how you and I might grab an orange and take a few sips of water at various points throughout the day or indulge in a succulent cheese burger with fries, a side salad, AND a milkshake at other points – your baby’s appetite varies, too!
Rather than scheduling feedings or watching the clock, focus on watching your baby and learning his or her hungry and full cues. As a general rule, you should:
- Alternate which breast you start with at each feeding – If you began nursing from your left breast at the previous feeding, consider beginning with the right breast for this feeding. If you cannot remember which breast you started with last, offer the fuller feeling breast first.
- Allow your baby to finish the first breast – Your baby may unlatch or begin to fall asleep as their hunger is satisfied. Your breasts should feel softer following the feeding.
- Offer your baby the other side – If she/he takes it, “great!,” if not, that’s OK, too; just be sure to let your baby decide if they are done. You may want to burp your baby or change their diaper before offering the other side.
As your baby matures, you may begin to notice a change in the duration of feedings (as well as the frequency). While newborns are still learning the “moves” to the dance we call ‘breastfeeding,’ older babies who have been nursing for several months may become extremely efficient nursers – taking in a full feeding in 10 minutes or less!
If you are worried about how long your baby nurses, the first thing to consider is how well they are gaining weight and the number of wet and dirty diapers they have each day (click here for more information on normal diaper output for breastfed newborns or click here for more information about normal diaper output for breastfed babies 6 weeks+). If your baby is gaining weight, following their growth chart, has adequate wet and dirty diapers per day, and is meeting milestones, continue nursing on-demand and take comfort in knowing that your baby is getting plenty of milk.
If you have concerns about your baby’s weight gain, diaper output or your milk supply, you should discuss your concerns with your pediatrician and schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant.
If your baby always nurses for extended periods or will not stay on the breast for more than a few minutes, call Lactation Consultants of Central FL’s breastfeeding warm line, email us at LCsofCFL@gmail.com or click here to schedule an in-home lactation visit.