Babies can vary in how long they breastfeed and in how they finish feeding. The changes in breastfeeding times and patterns can make it difficult to know how long to keep a baby on the breast and even cause mothers to worry that something is wrong.
However healthy babies are generally very good at letting you know when they are done or if they need more milk. Just listen to the baby and offer the breast when the baby shows hunger signs. Once latched, they will proceed through the three stages of breastfeeding.
There are a number of ways in which the baby can finish a feed.
1) The baby may let go of the breast
A normal baby will either:
a) Just let go
Some babies just let go of the breast.
b) Let go with a stretch
Some babies go through a number of steps to let go of the breast. They:
- Release the suction on the breast.
- Turn their head away from the breast.
- Stretch with one arm up and the other arm down.
- Squeeze their lips together as they let go.
Some babies will choke during the third or "I'm done" stage of breastfeeding and let go at that point. This is more common when the mother has a large milk supply.
2) The baby may need to be taken off the breast
During the third breastfeeding stage, the baby may stop actively sucking and need to be taken off the breast.
Babies like being with their mothers and often stay latched without effective sucking at the end of the feed. If the baby doesn’t let go at this point, it is appropriate to take the baby off the breast.
When you begin to take a baby off the breast or even move the breast, the baby often starts sucking again. This is only for a few sucks and then they go back to not sucking. It’s as if they are gently trying to trick you into letting them stay on the breast! However, at this point, they really are done and you can take them off.
3) After coming off the breast
Once off the breast, the baby will either be:
- Asleep and remain so if held but wake up when put down, or
- Happy when held.
When compared to younger babies, babies over one month of age are more likely to pop off the breast and be awake after feeds.
Don’t offer the breast if the baby resists latching or if the baby shows no hunger signs.
The video below shows a baby who will only suck when stimulated and who then comes off of the breast with a stretch.