How Long Should a Baby Breastfeed on Each Breast?

Women are often given very specific instructions on how long and how often to breastfeed their babies.  In the hospital you may have been advised to feed your baby for ten minutes on the first breast and then ten minutes on the other breast and to do this every 2 to 3 hours.

During your baby’s first few days of life, it’s important to get off to a good start with breastfeeding.  A baby should be fed whenever she is hungry or “on demand.”  When your baby is a newborn she may be really sleepy and not very demanding when it comes to breastfeeding.  This is why you may have been instructed to feed your baby for at least 10 minutes on each breast during a feeding.  You want to make sure your baby is getting plenty of time at both breasts to make sure your breasts are getting stimulation and your supply gets off to a good start.  Since breastfeeding works by supply and demand, the more frequently your baby empties your breasts, the more milk you will make. 

Allow your baby to nurse as long as she wants on the first breast

However, while ten minutes per breast is a good minimum guideline, it’s not a rule and you really don’t want to limit your baby’s time at the breast.  Some babies are more efficient nursers and can empty the breast in 5 to 10 minutes, while others take longer.  The best approach is to let baby nurse as long as she wants on the first breast before offering the second breast.  Don’t watch the clock; instead watch your baby.  This way you can be sure your baby is nursing long enough to get to the fattier high-calorie hindmilk.

Signs that your baby has emptied the first breast

Sometimes it’s hard for moms to tell when a baby is ready for the second breast.  The best thing to do is to wait until your baby comes off the breast on her own.  When your baby is full and satisfied, she will have what breastfeeding moms describe as a “drunken sailor” look.  She’ll pull off the breast, sometimes with a little milk dripping from her lips, and look quite content. 

Sometimes a baby just doesn’t come off the breast though.  She may continue to nurse, but will stop sucking vigorously.  You can either allow her to keep nursing until she falls asleep or pulls off the breast, or if you see that her nursing has slowed down and you are no longer hearing active swallowing, you can gently slide your finger into her mouth to break the seal and then offer her the other breast. 

Another way to tell if your breast is empty is to just squeeze your nipple to see if milk comes out.  Keep in mind that your breasts are never truly empty.  Your body is constantly producing more milk.  But, if you squeeze your nipple and nothing comes out or it takes a lot of work to squeeze anything out, this is a good sign that your baby is ready for the second breast.

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