How Long It Takes to Breastfeed a Baby

Breastfeeding Time, What Affects It, and When to Call the Doctor

Young mom breastfeeding infant daughter at home
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The time it takes to breastfeed depends on a few things including your baby's age and your breast milk supply. An average feeding can last 10 to 20 minutes, but a baby can breastfeed anywhere from five to forty-five minutes at each session. Here's a guideline for how many minutes babies spend breastfeeding, what changes breastfeeding times, what short and long feedings can mean, and when to call the doctor.

Things That Influence Breastfeeding Time

Some breastfed babies can take a full feeding in eight minutes. Others need 30 minutes or more to get the same amount of breast milk. The things that influence a baby's feeding time are:

  • Age: An older baby can typically get enough breast milk in a shorter period.
  • Latch: A good latch helps a baby more effectively remove breast milk and therefore get a full feeding in less time.
  • State of Alertness: A sleepy baby may not breastfeed as well or as fast as a baby who is awake and alert.
  • Health: A premature baby or a baby born with a health issue may tire out easily while breastfeeding. Frequent breaks can prolong feeding time.
  • Your Milk Supply: If you have a low breast milk supply or your baby is going through a growth spurt, the baby may spend more time breastfeeding to try to get more breast milk.
  • The Flow of Breast Milk: If your breast milk flows quickly and you have an active let-down reflex, there is more milk available for your baby right away. However, if your flow is slow and your let-down is difficult or delayed, it can take longer for your baby to get enough milk.

Breastfeeding Time by Age

Age may have the greatest effect on how long it takes to breastfeed. Newborns need time to practice and learn, while older infants become old pros who can empty a breast in no time. Here's some general information on age and feeding times.

Newborns: A newborn should be put to the breast at least every 2 to 3 hours and nurse for 10 to 15 minutes on each side. An average of 20 to 30 minutes per feeding helps to ensure that the baby is getting enough breast milk. It also allows enough time to stimulate your body to build up your milk supply. The signs your newborn is breastfeeding long enough at each feeding are:

  • your baby has at least six wet diapers a day after the fifth day of life
  • your child appears satisfied after each feeding and sleeps well between feedings
  • your breasts feel softer and less full after each feeding
  • your baby is gaining weight well

3 to 4 months: During the first few months, feeding times gradually get shorter and the time between feedings gets a little longer. By the time a baby is three to four months old, she is breastfeeding, gaining weight and growing well. It may only take your baby about 5 to 10 minutes to empty the breast and get all the milk she needs.

6 to 9 months: With the start of solid foods and drinking from a cup at approximately six months along with the ability to move around more freely, older infants may only take quick feedings at the breast then head off to play. But, they may spend more time breastfeeding to sleep at night.

Toddlers: While breastfeeding continues to be beneficial for older children, it should not be the central part of a toddler's diet. Toddlers should be eating and drinking a variety of foods. They might only breastfeed occasionally and quickly. However, they may spend more time at the breast if they are looking for security or comfort especially during an illness or after an injury.

Growth Spurts

Babies need more breast milk during and after a growth spurt. So, during times of rapid growth, a child may breastfeed more often and spend more time than normal nursing at each feeding. The increase in breastfeeding time is to try to get more nutrition and energy to support their growing bodies. And, by breastfeeding for a few minutes longer, it sends a signal to your body to make more breast milk.

Growth spurts can happen at any age, but they are common around six weeks, three months, and six months. They only last a few days, and then the baby usually settles back into a more normal breastfeeding routine.

Baby-Led Feedings

Experts recommend following your baby's lead when it comes to breastfeeding time and not worrying about the clock. When latched on properly and actively sucking, your baby should be left to nurse for as long as he wants. Then, once the baby stops sucking or falls asleep, you can break the suction of the latch, remove the baby from your breast, burp him or change his diaper, and offer him the other breast.

Very Short Feedings

It can take a few minutes for your milk to let-down and begin flowing well. If your baby falls asleep or stops nursing before the let-down, he won't get enough milk. Plus, your breast milk changes from foremilk to hindmilk as your baby breastfeeds. It's important for your baby to nurse long enough at each breast to get to the hindmilk, which is higher in fat and calories. This milk helps your baby gain weight and remain satisfied between feedings.

Ending a nursing session before let-down also leaves your breasts full of milk. It can put you at risk for painful breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, a decreased milk supply, and some of the other common problems of breastfeeding. Try to keep your baby awake and actively sucking at your breast for as long as possible. If your baby is only nursing for a short time (less than 5 minutes) at most feedings, contact the pediatrician. Poor nursing could indicate a health issue, and you will want to have your baby examined right away.

Excessively Long Feedings

During the first few days of breastfeeding, it's not uncommon for a baby to nurse for a more extended period, or to nurse very frequently. However, by the fifth day, your milk supply should increase, and your child should be able to get all the breast milk he needs within 45 minutes. If your baby is actively sucking at your breast for over 45 minutes at each feeding, it could mean that he is not getting enough milk. Call your doctor, the baby's doctor or a lactation professional to evaluate the problem and help to resolve it as soon as possible.

The Difference Between Bottle and Breast

Babies suck differently on the bottle and at the breast. Now, some babies have a difficult time with the bottle and feedings can take long, too. But, since the flow of infant formula or breast milk from a bottle nipple is steady, a bottle-fed baby with a regular, consistent suck can generally finish a bottle in about 10 minutes.

The flow of milk from the breast is not steady like a bottle. Breast milk may start out slow then flow faster once the milk lets down. The flow slows down again as the milk empties the breast. Breastfed babies adjust their suck speed to the flow of the breast milk. They suck approximately once per second or slower when the milk is flowing quickly, and speed up the sucking when the milk flow slows down. So, the time it takes to breastfeed depends on the amount and flow of breast milk and the baby's suck.

When to Call the Doctor

If you are worried about how long your baby's feedings are or if you have any questions about breastfeeding your baby, you should talk to the baby's doctor. You should also call the doctor if your baby:

  • is not breastfeeding well
  • is too sleepy for most feedings
  • has very long or very short feedings
  • has less than six wet diapers daily after day five
  • is irritable, crying, and does seem satisfied after most feedings

A Word From Verywell

Every baby is different, and so is every mom. Your baby may latch on and breastfeed well from the first feeding or take a while to catch on. You may have no trouble at all with your let-down reflex and building up a healthy breast milk supply, or you may have a difficult let-down and a delay in your milk production. There are so many things that can affect how long a feeding will take.

In the beginning, patience is the key. You and your baby need time to learn together. It can definitely be tough and exhausting if you're breastfeeding for forty minutes every two hours. But, don't give up. Before you know it you'll have a healthy breast milk supply, your baby will get the hang of breastfeeding, and feeding times will be quicker and easier. Of course, if you're worried about feeding times that are too long or too short or if you have any questions, your doctor or your baby's doctor is the best source of information.

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Article Sources
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  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

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