How Long Should Each Breastfeeding Session Last?

As a new mother, it’s natural to have numerous questions about breastfeeding. One common question is: How long should each breastfeeding session last? This comprehensive guide will provide you with a detailed answer to this question, and more, to help you understand the complexities of breastfeeding.

Uncover the intricacies of breastfeeding in our comprehensive guide. We delve into how long each breastfeeding session should last, the factors that influence it, and tips for a successful breastfeeding journey.

Understanding the Basics

Before diving into the specifics, it’s crucial to understand that breastfeeding is a unique journey that differs for each mother and child pair. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life.

The frequency and duration of breastfeeding sessions are influenced by various factors, such as the baby’s age, appetite, and the mother’s milk supply.

How Long Should a Breastfeeding Session Last?

In general, most newborns breastfeed for 15 to 20 minutes on each breast. However, this duration is not a strict rule. Some babies might need to nurse longer, while others might be satisfied quicker.

Infants

  • Newborns: They tend to breastfeed every 2-3 hours, and the sessions can last anywhere between 10-45 minutes. This inconsistency is because newborns are still learning how to nurse efficiently.
  • After the first few weeks: As babies grow, their stomachs expand, and they can consume more milk at each feeding. The frequency of feedings may decrease, and the duration might become shorter, typically around 20 minutes per breast.

Older babies

  • After 3 months: As babies grow and start to become more efficient at nursing, they might only take about 10 minutes to empty a breast.
  • Once solid foods are introduced: The length and frequency of breastfeeding sessions may decrease further as your baby starts getting nutrition from other sources.

Remember, these are just averages, and there can be a lot of variation. Your baby might prefer to nurse for longer or shorter periods, and both are completely normal as long as the baby is gaining weight and producing enough wet and dirty diapers.

Factors That Influence Breastfeeding Duration

Several factors can affect how long each breastfeeding session lasts:

  • Age of the baby: Newborns feed more frequently and for more extended periods than older babies.
  • Baby’s hunger and fullness cues: Signs such as smacking lips, sucking on hands, and becoming more alert indicate hunger. Turning away from the breast or slowing down the sucking might signal fullness.
  • The milk’s flow rate: If the milk flows quickly, the baby may feed for a shorter period. If it flows more slowly, the baby might need to nurse for longer.
  • Mother’s milk supply: A mother with a lower milk supply might need to nurse for longer or more frequently to fulfill the baby’s needs.

When to Seek Medical Advice

While variation in breastfeeding duration is typical, it’s essential to monitor your baby’s weight gain and diaper output to ensure they are getting enough milk. Consult a healthcare provider or lactation consultant if:

  • Your baby frequently nurses for more than an hour at a time, or has shorter than 10-minute feedings regularly.
  • There’s a sudden change in your baby’s feeding pattern.
  • You notice your baby isn’t gaining enough weight or isn’t producing enough wet or dirty diapers.

Tips for Successful Breastfeeding

To ensure a successful breastfeeding experience, consider these tips:

Watching for Hunger Cues

Babies are very communicative, and they usually give us signs or ‘cues’ when they’re hungry. By recognizing these cues early, you can feed your baby before they become overly hungry, which can lead to fussiness or crying. These cues change as babies grow and develop, but some general signs can help you understand when your baby might be hungry.

Early Hunger Cues

Recognizing these early signs of hunger can help you feed your baby promptly. Here are some early hunger cues:

  • Mouth movements: Babies might stick out their tongues, move their mouths, and turn their heads toward anything that brushes their cheek (known as the ‘rooting’ reflex).
  • Hand-to-mouth: You might see your baby bringing their hands to their mouth or sucking on their fingers or fists.
  • Smacking or licking lips: These are signs that your baby is getting ready to eat.
  • Squirming or fidgeting: Babies might get restless when they’re hungry.

Active Hunger Cues

If early hunger cues are ignored, your baby may move to more active cues:

  • Reaching out: Your baby might try to pull your clothing or use their arms and hands to signal that they want to eat.
  • Fidgeting or squirming: A more pronounced restlessness can indicate growing hunger.
  • ‘Cooing’ or making sucking noises: These sounds can be a sign that your baby is ready to eat.

Late Hunger Cues

If a baby’s early and active hunger cues are missed, they might become upset and move on to late hunger cues:

  • Crying: Contrary to what many believe, crying is a late sign of hunger. It’s always better to start feeding your baby before they start crying from hunger.
  • Moving head frantically from side to side: This is an urgent search for food.
  • Irritability or fussiness: A hungry baby can become quite upset.

By responding to early hunger cues, you can maintain a more relaxed feeding environment, which can also help improve your baby’s feeding experience. Over time, you’ll become an expert in understanding your baby’s unique signals. However, if you’re having trouble identifying your baby’s hunger cues, don’t hesitate to consult with a healthcare professional or lactation consultant.

Ensure proper latch

Ensuring a proper latch when breastfeeding is critical for both the mother and baby’s comfort and the baby’s ability to get enough milk. Here’s how you can ensure a proper latch:

1. Position Yourself and Your Baby Comfortably: Before you begin breastfeeding, ensure you’re comfortable. You can sit in an upright chair or use pillows for support. Your baby should be turned towards you, chest-to-chest, so they don’t have to twist their neck to reach your breast.

2. Support Your Breast: Hold your breast with one hand using a “C” or “U” shape, keeping your fingers well back from your areola (the darker part around your nipple). This position helps your baby get a big mouthful of breast.

3. Align Baby’s Nose with Your Nipple: Bring your baby’s nose in line with your nipple. This position encourages the baby to open their mouth wide and take in more of the breast tissue.

4. Encourage Wide Mouth Opening: When your baby’s mouth opens wide, their chin should touch your breast first.

5. Look for a Deep Latch: Aim to have your baby take as much of your areola into their mouth as possible, with more areola showing at the top of their mouth than at the bottom.

6. Verify the Latch: If latched properly, your baby’s chin and nose should touch your breast, their lips should be flanged (spread out), and you should see or hear them swallowing. A proper latch shouldn’t cause pain. If it does, try gently removing the baby from your breast and attempt latching again.

If you’re having difficulty achieving a proper latch, don’t hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider for help. They can provide personalized advice and demonstrate proper latching techniques to ensure a successful breastfeeding experience.

Remember, it might take some time to get used to breastfeeding. Patience, practice, and professional guidance can help both you and your baby become more comfortable with the process.

Practice Different Breastfeeding Positions

Learning and practicing different breastfeeding positions can make feeding more comfortable, improve the baby’s latch, and help ensure that the baby feeds efficiently. Here are some common positions that might work well for you and your baby:

1. Cradle Hold:

In the cradle hold, you’ll support your baby’s head in the crook of your arm. Their body will stretch across your stomach and chest. This is a traditional and popular breastfeeding position.

2. Cross-Cradle Hold:

This position is very similar to the cradle hold, but instead, you’ll use the arm opposite to the breast you’re feeding from to support your baby. This hold is particularly useful for newborns or babies having trouble latching as it allows the mother to have more control.

3. Football Hold (or Clutch Hold):

In the football hold, your baby’s body is tucked under your arm (on the same side that you’re nursing from) like a football. The baby’s head rests in your hand, while their body extends towards your back. This position is beneficial for mothers who have had a C-section, as it keeps the baby away from the incision site.

4. Side-Lying Position:

In the side-lying position, both you and your baby lie on your sides facing each other. Your baby can nurse from the lower breast. This position is great for nighttime feedings or for mothers recovering from a C-section.

5. Laid-back Position (or Biological Nurturing):

In the laid-back position, you recline on a bed or couch, and your baby lies on your chest, tummy-to-tummy. The baby’s instinctual feeding behaviors can shine in this position, and it can be very relaxing for the mother.

Remember, the best breastfeeding position is the one where both you and your baby are most comfortable and your baby can latch well. It might take some time and practice to find what works best for you, and that’s perfectly normal.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider or lactation consultant if you need help with breastfeeding positions. They can provide valuable guidance and make your breastfeeding journey smoother and more enjoyable.

Taking Care of Your Breasts During Breastfeeding

Breast care during breastfeeding is crucial, not only for your comfort but also for preventing complications like sore nipples, breast engorgement, and mastitis. Here are several tips on how to take care of your breasts while breastfeeding:

1. Maintain Proper Hygiene:

It’s essential to keep your breasts clean during the breastfeeding period. Wash your breasts with warm water during your daily shower, and avoid harsh soaps or body washes that can dry out your skin. It’s not necessary to clean your nipples before each breastfeeding session; in fact, doing so could remove natural oils that aid in lubrication.

2. Use a Good Nursing Bra:

Invest in a good quality, supportive nursing bra. It should be well-fitted and comfortable, providing adequate support without being too tight. Ensure the bra is made of breathable fabric to avoid trapping moisture, which could lead to infections.

3. Ensure Proper Latching:

Ensure your baby has a proper latch during breastfeeding. An improper latch can cause nipple pain and trauma. If you’re having difficulty with latching, don’t hesitate to seek help from a lactation consultant or other breastfeeding professional.

4. Manage Engorgement:

Engorgement refers to your breasts becoming overly full and firm due to milk production. This condition can be quite painful. If your breasts are engorged, you might need to express a little milk to relieve the pressure before feeding your baby. A warm shower or a warm compress can also help.

5. Care for Sore Nipples:

If you’re experiencing sore nipples, applying 100% pure lanolin cream after each nursing session can provide relief and aid in healing. Also, breast milk has healing properties; a small amount expressed and rubbed gently on the nipples can be beneficial.

6. Use Breast Pads:

Consider using breast pads if you’re dealing with leakage issues. These pads, which can be disposable or reusable, are placed inside your bra to absorb milk and prevent it from soaking through your clothes.

7. Stay Hydrated and Well-Nourished:

Consuming a balanced diet and staying well-hydrated is beneficial for maintaining your overall health and supporting milk production.

8. Monitor for Any Abnormalities:

Keep an eye out for any unusual changes in your breasts, like persistent pain, redness, lumps, or other signs of infection. If you notice any of these changes, seek medical advice immediately.

Remember, taking care of your breasts is an integral part of the breastfeeding journey. If you’re experiencing any issues or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to healthcare professionals or lactation consultants.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is of paramount importance, particularly when breastfeeding. Here’s why:

The Importance of Hydration

Water plays an essential role in the production of breast milk. As per the Institute of Medicine, the adequate intake of fluids for lactating women is approximately 3.1 liters (or 13 cups) daily.

Breast Milk Composition

Breast milk is made up of around 88% water, along with essential nutrients and antibodies. This means that the mother’s hydration level plays a crucial role in milk production. However, the body is very efficient, and even if you’re mildly dehydrated, it will prioritize making milk for the baby.

How to Stay Hydrated While Breastfeeding

To ensure you’re well-hydrated, follow these tips:

Keep a Water Bottle Handy

Make it a habit to have a glass of water or a water bottle near you when you’re nursing. You may find that breastfeeding makes you thirsty, so having water nearby will help you meet your hydration needs.

Drink Frequently

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Thirst is a sign that your body is already mildly dehydrated. Instead, make a habit of drinking small amounts of water regularly throughout the day.

Eat Water-Rich Foods

Hydration doesn’t come from water alone. Consuming foods with high water content like fruits and vegetables can also contribute to your daily water intake.

Limit Caffeine

While moderate caffeine intake is generally safe during breastfeeding, too much can lead to dehydration. Limit your consumption of coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks and balance them with plenty of water and other non-caffeinated beverages.

Choose Beverages Wisely

While water is the best choice, other healthy beverages can also contribute to your fluid intake. These include milk, herbal teas, and fruit-infused water. Try to avoid sugary drinks like sodas and pre-packaged fruit juices, as they can lead to unnecessary calorie intake without providing any nutritional benefits.

Remember, the goal isn’t to drink an excessive amount of water but to keep your body well-hydrated by meeting your fluid needs. Always listen to your body’s signals and consult with your healthcare provider if you’re unsure about your hydration needs during breastfeeding.

Remember, breastfeeding is a personal journey that varies from one mother-baby duo to another. What matters most is that your baby is growing and developing healthily and that the breastfeeding experience is a positive one for both of you.


The duration of each breastfeeding session can vary greatly, depending on the baby’s age, hunger cues, and the mother’s milk flow and supply. While most newborns breastfeed for about 15 to 20 minutes per breast, older babies may nurse for shorter periods. Keep in mind that these are only averages and every baby is different.

When it comes to breastfeeding, your baby is the best guide. Follow their cues and reach out to a healthcare provider or lactation consultant if you have any concerns. Remember, your comfort and your baby’s health are paramount.

Breastfeeding is not just about nourishment; it’s about a mother’s love, care, and the unique bond formed during those quiet feeding moments.


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