How Long Should a Baby Breastfeed at Each Feeding?

Young mom breastfeeding infant daughter at home
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When latched on properly and actively sucking, your baby should be left to nurse for as long as he wants. 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.

A newborn should be put to the breast at least every 2 to 3 hours, and he or she should nurse for at least 10 minutes on each side. This will help to ensure that the baby is getting enough breast milk at each feeding, and it will also allow enough time to stimulate your body to build up your milk supply.

As your baby gets older, she will not need to nurse as long at each feeding. Once breastfeeding is well established, and your baby is gaining weight and growing well, it may only take her about 5 to 10 minutes to empty the breast and get all the milk that she needs.

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 let-down begins, he won't get enough milk. Plus, as your baby breastfeeds, your breast milk changes from foremilk to hindmilk. 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 will allow your baby to gain weight and help him to remain satisfied between feedings.

Ending a nursing session before let-down will also leave your breasts full of milk. This can put you at risk for painful 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 longer periods of time, 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.

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View Article Sources
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.