Average length of a breastfeed

How long do breastfeeds last?

Breastfeeding times shorten as babies get older. In the first month, babies usually feed for 15 to 20 minutes at each breast. If they are on one side for more than 20 minutes, they should be taken off and given the other breast. If the baby regularly needs more than 20 minutes of active sucking on the second breast, the baby may not be getting enough milk. After the first month, feeds usually become shorter, and after six months, breastfeeds during the day may last only 2 to 15 minutes and nighttime ones are often a little longer and more focused. Some mothers worry unnecessarily about short feeds.

A) Babies under one month of age

Newborns usually feed for 15 to 20 minutes at each breast, and most need both breasts at each feed. The exact amount of time spent on each breast is determined by the baby’s behaviour at the breast.

They tend to have a little break of 5 – 10 minutes after the first breast and before asking for the second breast.

Once the milk comes in, patterns can start to change. If a mother has a large milk supply, the baby will tend to have shorter feeds. They may take a longer break between the breasts or may not want the second side.

B) Babies over one month of age

1) Why feeds become faster with age

Babies grow and develop quickly and their breastfeeding becomes more efficient. Research has compared the behaviour of breastfeeding babies between two and four months of age with that of babies under one month of age. While breastfeeding, the older babies (Sakalidis 2013):

  • Had a lower breathing rate.
  • Had a lower heart rate.
  • Had more sucks in a row.
  • Had shorter pauses.
  • Used less suction strength to stay latched onto the breast.

These changes probably reflect the baby’s increased strength and breastfeeding ability and the increasing softness of the breast.

2) Length of typical feeds after one month

After one month, breastfeeding times often shorten with babies typically needing 10-15 minutes on each side.  

In the second 6 months of life, breastfeeds during the day sometimes last only 2 to 15 minutes. Nighttime feeds are often a little longer than daytimes ones.

Babies whose mothers have a larger milk supply will breastfeed for shorter periods that other babies of the same age.

C) Mistaking shorter feeds by an older baby for other problems

Older babies feed faster. These normal changes in the baby’s feeding pattern can lead mothers to assume that there is a problem when none exists.

1) Assuming that the baby has not breastfed long enough on one side

Some mothers worry that the short feeds mean that the baby has not finished breastfeeding on the one breast. They then return the baby to the same side.  

If the baby is still hungry and needs the second side, offering the same breast can cause problems.

If the baby is no longer hungry after the first side, offering the second side will make the baby angry.

2) Assuming that the baby is weaning

Older babies have short feeds. This is normal and not a sign of weaning.

3) Assuming that the baby is not getting enough milk

Mothers may mistake these normal, short feeds as a sign that there is not enough milk. They may even start giving extra milk unnecessarily. Short feeds are normal. If you are concerned, there are reliable ways to see if the baby is getting enough milk.

D) Abnormal feeding times

If the baby regularly needs more than 20 minutes of active sucking on each breast or is still clearly hungry after the second side, there may not be enough milk in the breasts for the baby and the baby is continuing to breastfeed because of hunger.

A baby may also feed for very short periods if the baby is not effective at breastfeeding or realizes that there is only a small amount of milk in the breast.

References

Sakalidis VS, Kent JC, Garbin CP, et al. Longitudinal changes in suck-swallow-breathe, oxygen saturation, and heart rate patterns in term breastfeeding infants. J Hum Lact. 2013 May;29(2):236-45