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How many minutes should infants nurse?
Q: I am breastfeeding my newborn and I want to know two things. First, should I wake him up to feed him every few hours? Second, should I be feeding him on each breast for longer than 10 minutes? My nurse told me I should be feeding him 20 minutes on each breast, but my pediatrician said any more than 10 minutes is just pacifier time because the baby gets most of the milk in the first 7 minutes of nursing. Is he getting enough to eat in 10 minutes on each breast?
A: Shelley, it can be confusing to get different advice about feeding your baby. Unfortunately, the experts can only give you ranges of times for breastfeeding because every mother and baby are different in the amount and quality of your breastmilk, how quickly your milk lets down, how strongly your baby sucks, and how quickly your baby empties your breast. The best way to know how often and how long to breastfeed your baby is to watch your baby for his signs of hunger and fullness, and to see how he’s growing.

Here are some general guidelines:

How often to breastfeed:
You should feed your newborn whenever he appears hungry. Look for his signs of increased alertness, sucking motions or smacking sounds with his lips, moving his head around in search of your breast, waving his arms and squirming, and making fussing sounds. Generally, newborns breastfeed every 1-3 hours. Although most babies naturally awaken to feed, some babies are sleepier by nature. If your newborn is sleeping for longer periods of time, you can wake him to feed him after 3 hours during the daytime and after 4 hours during the nighttime. This will help you ensure that your baby gets enough nutrition, and it will help him get on a schedule of being awake and feeding more during the day and sleeping more at night. In all, your newborn should be nursing 8-12 times in 24 hours, he should have at least 6 wet diapers a day, and he should seem satisfied between feedings. By 3 months of age, your baby should be nursing 5-8 times in 24 hours.

  • How long to nurse at each feeding:
    Most experts recommend feeding newborns for 10-20 minutes at each breast. At the beginning of the feeding it may take up to several minutes for your milk to “let-down.” In the first part of the feeding, the “foremilk” is higher volume, more watery, and higher in protein. In the last part of the feeding, which generally occurs around 10-15 minutes, the “hindmilk” is lower in volume but higher in fat—this is important for your baby’s nutrition and is also thought to provide your baby the signal to finish nursing on that breast. Allowing your baby enough time on each breast helps ensure that he finishes the hindmilk and also that he empties your breast to prevent painful engorgement, plugged milk ducts, or infection. To know when your baby is finished on each breast, watch for his signs that he’s full—he stops swallowing, stops sucking or falls asleep. After your baby is finished nursing on one side, burp him (and consider changing his diaper if he had a bowel movement), then feed him on the other breast.
  • If you have any concerns about whether your baby is getting enough breastmilk, be sure to talk with your pediatrician and have her weigh your baby and show you the growth chart tracking his weight gain.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician