Breastfeeding: How Long Should a Feeding Take?

One of the most common questions new moms ask is how long each feeding of their newborn should take. And while the answer depends on your baby and not the clock, it helps to have a general time frame when you're breastfeeding for the first time.

During the first several weeks of your baby's life, a breastfeeding session should take from 20 to 50 minutes. This includes burping, changing a diaper and waking a sleepy baby—the whole process from start to finish.

If the feedings are shorter, your baby might not be filling up with milk, which means you'll be feeding him again a short time later. This happens especially with sleepy babies—newborns who fall asleep too early into the feeding, when your milk flow starts to slow down after let-down or breast drainage.

Now and then, your baby may need to feed for longer than usual. A common pattern in newborns is that they'll nurse for a while, then have some "awake" alert time during which they'll stop feeding, look around and hiccup before they start nursing again. They'll probably need another 5 minutes or so of feeding to fill them up, as well as to help them move from being awake to asleep. In these situations, the feeding may take closer to an hour and a half. Keep in mind that this includes your baby's alert time—those wonderful moments when he looks around at his new world and, most importantly, at you!

While 20 to 50 minutes per feeding is a guideline, it's important to make sure your baby has had a good feeding. Check that he's swallowing regularly and not just sucking. Also make sure that you've offered both breasts. The increased flow in the second breast often encourages your baby to finish the feeding if he's starting to slow down.

In the first few weeks of your newborn's life, he'll most likely feed 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. This will average out to feeding every 2 to 3 hours, including at night. However, no newborn goes by the clock, so some feedings might be closer together while others could have a longer break in between. The important thing is to feed your baby when he's hungry—and he'll let you know when that is.

Tips for success

  • Try not to go by the clock. Instead, watch for signs that your baby has had a filling meal. He should have swallowed regularly, and both of your breasts should be drained.
  • Some feedings may take as long as 1½ hours because they include your newborn's awake time as he looks around and discovers his new world.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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