Ah, the “should” questions.  They start from day 0 on the postnatal ward, when I am most often asked “how long should I feed my baby for?”  Then at every age and stage after that.  Of course you want a guide to this crazy, unpredictable time, but I cannot possibly say how long your feeds should last, or how long a baby “should” go in between feeds.  Nor can anybody else.  Baby books, midwives or health visitors that insist on {insert time here} minutes on each breast are talking nonsense.  There are several reasons for this, and they are obvious really:

  • How hungry is your baby right now? Sometimes a baby is hungrier than at other times. Does baby want the equivalent of a quick cuppa, or are they in the mood for a three course meal?”
  • How much milk do your breasts produce? Overall, and today specifically, and what time of day?  Most women find their production is naturally highest in the early hours and through the morning, and lowest in the evening. I am guessing that from an evolutionary perspective, night time was generally a quiet and safe time to nurse.
  • How quickly does your milk let down to your baby? Some breasts work like fast watering cans, others gently drip milk.
  • How fast and effectively does your baby drink it? This can depend on maturity, size, oral anatomy, sleepiness, birth injuries and more. It changes with time.
  • Have your optimised your positioning and attachment so that baby can get the milk that is available? Kinked milk ducts and shallow latch are not going to help. See my articles on feeding your baby comfortably for more details.
  • Do you give your baby the opportunity to have both sides? This is a really good idea.  It maximises volume.  Please do not be concerned about what you may have been told about foremilk and hindmilk.  All your milk is great, it is volume not fat content that really counts (for more on this see my post about switching sides.)
  • What is your personal storage capacity (it varies even between breasts in one woman)?
  • Is your baby having a growth spurt, when she will ask for more milk than usual in order to meet her developmental needs and boost your milk supply? One of my favourite feeding gurus writes “Common times for a growth spurt are the first few days at home, at 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months and 9 months.” So, anytime really.

So the upshot is that a normal feed can be anything from a few minutes to about an hour, and sometimes feeds run into one big marathon session, and really it is largely irrelevant as long as your baby is getting fed and you are able to cope with the demands being made of you.

If you are concerned that your baby is not getting enough milk, please look at the other links on this website and consult your healthcare professional.