During the first few weeks of breastfeeding, you may wonder: how long should my baby nurse? How long should my baby nurse on each side? Does my baby need to nurse on each side, every time?
These are very common questions!
How long should my baby nurse?
Heads up that the info in next section applies to *newborns.*
On average, your newborn should nurse for about 15-30 minutes until they are satisfied. Sometimes that will be after feeding from one breast, sometimes that might be two. If your baby feeds for longer or less time once in awhile, that’s okay. As lactation counselors, we get concerned when your baby nurses for less than 15 minutes or more than 30 minutes ALL the time.
Why might your baby not be nursing enough or nursing too long? This is something a lactation professional should evaluate in a full assessment. If your baby doesn’t feed for long enough, we’ll be concerned that they aren’t getting enough. If your baby feeds for much longer than normal, there may be a reason it’s taking them longer to reach satiety.
As your newborn grows into infancy, it’s normal and expected for the time feeding at the breast to decrease, although the amount ingested should not. Your infant will simply get better at feeding!
How long should my baby nurse on each side?
Instead of being worried about specific time lengths on one breast, we teach our clients to recognize and respond to baby’s signs of satiety (fullness) and to be aware of the difference between an active feeding session (full meal!) and less active feeding (just a snack please!)
What are some of these signs?
- In general, hungry babies have tense muscle tone.
- In general, full babies are loose and floppy.
- During active feeding, babies exhibit a distinct suck-swallow, or suck-suck-swallow pattern.
- During active feeding, baby’s jaw drops low and pauses while swallowing, which is often accompanied by an audible puff of air. This motion resembles a rocking chair movement.
- During inactive feeding, baby’s jaw moves up and down in short, quick bursts, like a piston, without much or any pause to swallow.
Some babies will even let you know they are full by popping off your breast and turning their head away, sleepy.
Does my baby need to nurse on each side, every time?
Some babies like one breast, some like two, and some like to change it up! There is no hard and fast rule that you must always offer both breasts. In the beginning of your breastfeeding journey, it’s a good idea to offer both breasts while you are figuring this whole thing out. But don’t worry or panic if your baby isn’t interested in latching onto the second breast. It’s never too early to teach your little one that you can communicate with each other and that you will listen to and respond to their needs… even if that need is “Nope, I’m not hungry anymore, mom!”