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Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience for some parents. It can also be a really difficult time for others (raises hand). Whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding or combo feeding with baby formula, the big question is: how long should you breastfeed? We’re all doing our best, but we still want to know— what is the average breastfeeding time for most parents?
- How long should you breastfeed?
- Average Breastfeeding Time
- Feeding Your Baby Based on Size
- Hunger Cues Let You Know When Your Baby Wants to Breastfeed
- Should You Wake Up Your Baby to Breastfeed?
- Is There a Set Number of Minutes to Breastfeed?
- What is a Breastfeeding Timeline?
- Tips For Nursing
- Final Thoughts on How Long You Should Breastfeed
Many moms make a goal to follow AAP guidelines which recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. The AAP also states that there are continued benefits to the mother by breastfeeding past the first year— and up to 2 years.
We spoke with Jadah Parks Chatterjee, RN, IBCLC and Bobbie Medical Advisor to give you the best information on how long you should breastfeed. Together we’ve set up a guide to help determine what can be considered a common amount of time to breastfeed your infant. From their age and development level to their own personal cues, we’ve broken down all the key information to put your mind at ease in the feeding department.
How long should you breastfeed?
Chatterjee: I like to empower parents to breastfeed for as long as the parent and your baby are comfortable, fulfilled and happy. The American Pediatrics Association recommends human milk for baby’s to enjoy from the first moments of life through the first year of life. You can feed your baby for a shorter or longer period of time, as desired. The main point is that you are empowered to do what is best for you and your baby.
Average Breastfeeding Time
Chatterjee: The data shows us that 83% of parents provide breast milk to their newborns. By six months of life, approximately 55% of babies are still enjoying breast milk, and by the first birthday 35% of babies are still enjoying breast milk. I share these numbers only to show that by six months of life, you are not alone in choosing to continue providing breast milk, or not. At this six month mark, many parents are combo feeding or formula feeding entirely.
Feeding Your Baby Based on Size
“When first starting to breastfeed, we advise moms to feed their baby on demand approximately 8-12 times in 24 hours. One of the main factors is “how old is the baby.” Their weight gain is monitored by their pediatrician, and sometimes a lactation consultant.”
Feeding your baby is a crucial part of their development, and it’s important to know they are maintaining their growth curve. While you may not expect it because your baby is so small, you’ll actually be nursing frequently during the time you’re first starting to breastfeed your baby. While you should always feed based on your baby’s cues, make sure to follow any additional guidance provided by your pediatrician or by a lactation consultant.
Hunger Cues Let You Know When Your Baby Wants to Breastfeed
“We advise you to look for “hunger cues,” such as sucking sounds, rooting, hand-to-mouth movements, fussiness, quiet alert state, and stretching. We advise not to limit nursing time, and to allow your infant to feed from both breasts until satisfied.”
There will most definitely be cues from your infant when they’re hungry. “It’s okay if your baby cries,” says Chatterjee. “First determine they don’t have a dirty diaper. Chat with them, let them know what you’re doing. The sound of your calm voice calms your baby. Babies love to hear us sing. Don’t worry, they don’t judge you! The goal is a smooth transition— use singing and swaying to move to your favorite spot to nurse.”
Should You Wake Up Your Baby to Breastfeed?
“We advise moms to wake the infant if it has been more than 2-3 hours in the daytime, though this depends on the infant’s age, size, number and quality of feeds, as well as the individualized advice of the pediatrician.”
During the first few weeks of feeding, there won’t be a specific routine that’s been established. “Sleep when the baby sleeps is such a cliche— and also so true,” says Chatterjee.
In this instance, your baby won’t really understand when to wake up or when to feed, so it’s perfectly understandable (and acceptable) to give them a little nudge to wake them up and feed them. “It’s usually perfectly okay to let your baby sleep a little longer after the first month of life,” says Chatterjee. “Speak to your pediatrician. You want to inquire if they are eating enough, and be sure there are no other concerns regarding frequency and volume of food they enjoy.”
With that said, once breastfeeding is well established and your baby has visited the pediatrician, you can then feed your baby when she asks to be fed or is noticeably hungry. There will be clear cues from most babies that you can follow to ensure you know when she’s hungry.
As long as your baby is growing, gaining healthy weight, and developing well, you can proceed with your routine confidently.
Chatterjee also talks about the importance of a sleep routine, “A sleep routine is vital for your baby’s development, and your postpartum recovery.”
Is There a Set Number of Minutes to Breastfeed?
“We advise not to limit nursing time, and to allow your infant to feed from both breasts until satisfied. There is no “normal” amount of time to breastfeed, either in length of months or length of times per day, or time per nursing session. It really depends on the baby and the mom, and any other factors (which can be multiple).”
Again, while we all wish that there was a secret guide or magical number of minutes to breastfeed your baby, there is actually no perfect way to know what the right amount of time is.
In fact, the right amount of time can be vastly different for every baby, generally 20-30 minutes per feed.
Chatterjee says the best action to take is to ensure the baby is positioned stomach to stomach, nose to nipple. “This encourages a successful latch. Look at your sweet baby, are they sucking and swallowing?” says Chatterjee. “Have they paused? Are they sleeping? If you attempt to move them away, are they still looking to eat or sucking as if they are drinking? Likely they weren’t sleep, just taking a pause. Detach and re-latch at the breast more deeply.”
Give them the opportunity to tell you when they’re finished feeding. Your baby will remove herself when she’s finished. It’s not uncommon for babies to just sleep— many times this is an indication they may not be deeply latched.
There may also be times where she’ll shift to the other breast too. If not, it’s completely okay. Wait and monitor her cues in order to determine your next actions.
There’s not a “set in stone” schedule every child should be put on for a healthy feeding. In fact, trying to manipulate a natural feeding pattern you and your baby have developed is easier said than done.
However, keep in mind that if you wait longer in between feedings to breastfeed your child, then it can lead to the reduction of milk supply in your breasts and may increase the risk of engorgement. This is due to the fact that you’re signaling to your body that you don’t need to replenish your supply as often as before.
With your baby, you’ll notice that natural patterns and personal routines will begin to emerge as time progresses. This is completely normal. The best thing to do though is make sure that your personal routine isn’t being compared to another parent. Always do what’s best for you and your infant.
What is a Breastfeeding Timeline?
Breastfeeding a Newborn
The first days of a newborn’s feeding is super important, but it can also be the most unpredictable! To get you through this crazy but crucial time, Chatterjee helped us put together a few key points to look forward to when feeding your infant those first times.
- Since your baby’s super tiny and new to the world, they will spend the first few days of life eating and pooping!
- Your baby will want to eat as often as every 1 to 3 hours, according to feeding cues.
- During the first few days of feeding, your baby may make a ton of sucking and swallowing sounds. A baby that is deeply latched has a relaxed face, shoulders, and hands. Listen for their breath, watch them suck and swallow. It’s not uncommon to hear your baby swallowing. If you hear clicking during the feeding, that could be a sign the baby needs to be more deeply latched. Connect with your Infant Feeding Specialist for more support if it continues.
- If your pediatrician recommends infant formula, be sure to partner with your pediatric team to understand your baby’s dietary needs.
Breastfeeding During the First Weeks, 0-3 months
And just like that, things change! Just when you’ve started getting into the groove of feeding your baby, you’ll start to notice their needs begin to shift. At this stage in your baby’s feeding, a routine will begin to take hold. It’s important to see how their feeding might be different at this time of their development than before.
Here are a few things that Chatterjee says may seem “new” during this stage:
- Your baby’s stomach has already begun to grow, so they’ll be wanting more milk.
- The time between feedings will start to lengthen. On average, breastfeeding will be needed every 2 to 4 hours.
- If your baby sleeps for longer periods of time, then the feeding times may be between 4 to 5 hours apart.
- Feeding lengths might shift, and you may lose their feeding routine in that instance. While some feedings may only last a few minutes, others can be longer. Be sure to check that your position and latch are good.
- In 24 hours, there will be an estimated feeding count of 8 to 12 times.
- You can switch to formula or can even begin combo feeding at this time!
Breastfeeding at 6 – 12 Months
At this point in what may feel like your baby’s “feeding frenzy,” you can expect to finally have a truly solidified routine. You will also be able to grasp and understand your baby’s cues as well as their wants and needs.
The following is what you can expect as you move forward with his/her development:
- Your baby’s feeding routine will begin to expand as you start introducing some solid foods into their diet.
- Continue to feed as you receive those cues from your baby saying they are still hungry.
- Know that breast milk/baby formula are still a super important component to your baby’s feeding routine at this point in time even if they start to dabble in solid foods.
Breastfeeding at 12 to 24 Months
In the last few stages of your baby’s feeding routine, they will have varying times on when they want to eat. This is completely normal, so don’t panic! Your baby will have their very own internal clock to tell them when they’re hungry.
Some will want to only breastfeed once in the morning while others may still want to breastfeed at least a couple of times per day. Observe their development to see how you personally want to proceed.
Tips For Nursing
Breastfeeding itself can sometimes be quite tricky, let alone understanding your baby’s feeding schedule. When you begin to nurse, keep the following pieces of information in mind as you travel along on this new and rewarding journey in life.
- Newborns may nurse for up to 20 minutes longer on one or both breasts.
- Breastfeeding may be split into 5 to 10 minutes on each side.
- Your own milk supply will generally come in 2 to 5 days after giving birth.
- You will have a “let-down” reflex right after you begin feeding. This is what allows the milk to flow from the nipple.
- Your milk flow might vary in rate, which will help determine the length of time you need to feed your child.
- If your baby becomes easily distracted, nursing might take longer than usual.
- It’s okay to combo feed (i.e. both breastfeed and formula feed!).
Final Thoughts on How Long You Should Breastfeed
It’s important not to get stuck on what’s considered “normal” on this journey we call parenthood! We find that it’s not always easy to determine when to feed your child, especially since no baby is exactly the same as another, not even your own.
By following the guidelines above and trusting your personal parental intuition, the answers to feeding your baby will come along more easily than you think.
If you’re having slight fear or are hesitant about your baby’s feeding routine, feel free to partner with a doctor to ensure everything is on the right track. And remember, there’s no wrong routine as long as your infant is getting the proper nutrients they need.