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How Long to Breastfeed

how long to breastfeedAfter figuring out how to hold your baby and how to get a proper latch-on, the next obvious question is "How long am I supposed to do this for?"

Most mothers will want an exact answer such as "feed your baby 20 minutes per breast"; but this is not possible since every mother-baby pair is different. Although there are general guidelines to help you (see below), the best answer is "feed your baby until he has had enough". He has had enough when he starts non-nutritive sucking



  • Newborns can nurse for 5 to 10 minute per breast; every 2 to 3 hours. This comes to about 10 to 12 feedings per day. In the beginning, there is only colostrum, and thereís not very much of it, so be ready to feed often but for short durations.

  • One month or more: as baby gets older, his stomach will get larger. He will nurse less frequently but for a longer duration at each feeding session. For example, he may nurse 20 to 40 minute per breast every 3 to 4 hours.

  • By 6 months, Baby may breastfeed for 20 to 40 minutes per breast; 3 to 5 times per day.

Some babies drink quickly and are done after 10 minutes. Other babies drink slowly -stopping to rest after a few sucks- and will nurse for over 40 minutes. A baby is really drinking breast milk if:

  • he is taking long, deep sucks on the breast,
  • you can hear him swallowing,
  • you can see his mouth moving up and down,
  • you can see his temple moving with each suck,
  • you can see a sliver of milk on the side of his mouth pulsating with every suck, and/or
  • you can feel milk draining out of your breasts.
When these things are happening, then your baby is actively sucking and eating. Let him eat. You can't over feed a breastfed baby.




Non Nutritive Sucking

On the other hand, if your baby is sucking only occasionally or is making quick, shallow sucks, then he is not really drinking. He is comforting himself on your breast through non-nutritive sucking. Of course, all babies like to snuggle by and suck on mother's warm breast; this is expected and will happen. But...

  • Non-nutritive sucking may not illicit the let-down reflex, so although Baby may be on your breast, he is not getting any milk. If your baby is not drinking your milk, your body will not produce any more (no supply when there is no demand).

  • Continual non-nutritive sucking may give you sore nipples.

  • And lastly, it may not be to your benefit to be a human pacifier.

--> If your baby does non-nutritive sucking, even at the beginning of the feeding session, then you should speak to a lactation consultant and get professional help.

--> If your baby is doing non-nutritive sucking at the end of the feeding session, then the choice is yours: allow him to take comfort from your breast or remove him from your breast and hold & rock him instead.


How Much is Enough?

Newborns:
When a normal, full-term baby is first born, he doesn't need to eat very much because he has accumulated a supply of food stores while he was in the womb. It will take 3 or 4 days before he uses up his energy stores and need to eat. Luckily, this is the time when your mature milk should come-in too.

When babies are first born, they have excess body fluid because they were suspended in, and lived in a liquid environment. Your baby will actually loose weight for the first 5 or so days. After that, Baby should increase weight again and be back to his birth weight by day 10. During these early days, weighing your baby as a way to determine how much he has eaten does not work. You need to count the number of dirty diapers he has.

how long to breastfeed wet diapers

  • During the first 2 or 3 days after birth, when your baby is drinking colostrum, he should have about 2 or 3 poopy diapers per day. The poop (called meconium) is very dark in color: black or deep green. This is normal, the colostrum helps your baby remove the material that was in his intestines while he was in your womb.

  • After your milk has come in, your baby should have 6 or more poopy diapers a day. The poop is runny and may appear seedy. It can be yellow, yellowish-brown, or brown in color.

At all times, his urine should be pale yellow and he should not appear dehydrated (signs of dehydration include: bags under his eyes; dull, sleepy eyes; poor skin texture, and/or poor skin color).

After the Second Month:
how long to breastfeed weight gainAfter two months, your baby is getting enough breast milk if he is gaining weigh consistently. On average, aim for a gain of 4 to 8 ounces (about 100g) per week. Weight gain can be sporadic so don't be discouraged if he gains 2 ounce in one week but then gains 6 ounces the next week. This is especially true since babies go through growth spurts. During these times they will eat more often and drain breast milk quicker. Don't worry, when your breasts are emptied out, your body will know to produce more breast milk within 2 or 3 days: supply will increase with an increase in demand.

After Six Months:
After six months of age, your baby's growth rate will slow down a bit: about 2 to 4 ounces per week. Baby may start solid food at this time. Note that "solid" food means gooey baby cereals and mashed vegetables that are more liquid than solid. Nevertheless, this is the beginning of his journey towards solid food.

Some mothers will express breast milk and use it in baby cereals. Other motherís will use formula for mixing with baby cereals. Still yet, some mothers choose this time to ween their baby off breast milk and begin formula feeding. What will you choose to do?